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Earth’s most extreme climates

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Words: Jonathan McIntosh

Our planet is home to a mixed bag of different climates. Some locations are so frigid that droplets in our breath crystalise as you exhale, while others experience non-stop rain for weeks on end. From the coldest, hottest and driest to the windiest and wettest, we spotlight the world’s most extreme climates.

Hottest: Furnace Creek, USA

When thinking of jetting off to toastier climes, we tend to daydream of relaxing on a beach in 20-30°C temperatures. But the perfectly named Furnace Creek in California’s Death Valley takes sweat-inducing climates to a new level.

The hottest place on Earth recorded a temperature of 56.7°C on 10 July 1913 – although the World Meteorological Organisation concluded in 2012 this was improperly recorded by roughly 7°C. Regardless, Furnace Creek still holds the title as the hottest place on the planet, having recorded 54.4°C in August 2020 and boasting 47°C highs during summer.

But the above figures only take air temperature into consideration. Surface heat is much higher, with a ground temperature of 93.9°C recorded on 15 July 1972 – just a few degrees shy of the boiling point of water!

Coldest: Eastern Antarctic Plateau, Antarctica

Data collected from the Landsat 8 satellite between 2004 and 2016 from Dome Argus – Antarctica’s highest ice feature at 4,000 metres high – and Queen Maud Land’s research base, Dome Fuji, has recorded temperatures as bitter as -94°C.

Researchers believe this figure only accounts for the air temperature of the Australia-sized area, with ground temperatures believed to reach a bone-chilling -98°C.

Despite temperatures rarely reaching above -30°C, remarkably, humans have found ways to live and work here. The Dome Fuji Station opened in 1995 and ice cores drilled into the landscape provide insight to 720,000 years of paleo-climatic history.

Watch NASA’s video breakdown of the area from the cosiness of your home while enjoying your favourite warming cuppa. A rather different way to chill out…

Driest: Atacama Desert, Chile

On average, this desertscape gets less than one millimetre of rain per year – making it 50 times drier than California’s Death Valley. Even more astonishingly, some parts of the Atacama Desert have recorded no significant rainfall in the past 500 years!

This dryness is caused by Atacama’s unique weather pattern created by a combination of cold air from the Pacific Ocean’s Peru Current (alternatively known as the Humboldt Current) and the hot desert air. The cold ocean current chills the air, making it lose its moisture before being swept inland to the desert.

The only available moisture comes from a fog called camanchaca, formed when cold air from the Antarctic oceans hits warm air. This is harvested by plants and animals alike, with Atacama’s human inhabitants using fog nets to catch it for drinking water.

In 2015 and 2017 some areas experienced rare rainstorms. Researchers thought these would help its flora and fauna burst to life. But the opposite happened, with the rains decimating more life than it gifted.

If you fancy seeing Atacama for yourself, make sure to pack plenty of water for the journey.

Windiest: Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica

The South Pole sits at an elevation of roughly 2,800 metres and its sheets get progressively steeper downwards to the Antarctic shores. These cold sloping surfaces develop extremely strong katabatic – down-slope – winds and their speeds are exacerbated because there is no land mass to slow them down.

Commonwealth Bay’s katabatic winds are recorded at over 150 miles per hour on a regular basis, with the average annual wind speed clocking in at a gusty 50 miles per hour. The bay’s form is also partly responsible for its tempestuous climate. Its half-moon shape squeezes blusterous streams of air together, forcing them to flow faster.

Wettest: Mawsynram, India

Nestled high up in north-east India’s Khasi Hills – and in the path of warm, moist air from the Bay of Bengal – this town is soaked by 12,000 millimetres of rain every year. For context, Argyllshire in Scotland – Britain’s soggiest spot – is comparatively bone dry with its 2,274 millimetres of yearly rainfall!

The majority of Mawsynram’s rain falls during its monsoon season from April to October, and locals have developed unique strategies to ensure rain doesn’t dampen their lifestyle – even though it is not uncommon to find clouds actually inside homes. The houses are soundproofed with grass to dull the thundering rainfall and traditional full-body bamboo umbrellas, called knups, are a popular way to stay dry.

If you’re heading to this locale any time soon, heed your parents’ eternal advice: take a coat.

Join the discussion

If you had to travel to one of these extremes, which would it be and what would you take to help you survive?

Our new online community, Mensa Community, provides a digital space for you, our members, to discuss any number of topics and issues. If you haven’t already signed up, you can log in here using your My Mensa login details.

 

Playing it cool

Signed in 2015, the Paris Agreement is committed to keeping the average rise in global temperature below 2°C. But what could happen if this target isn’t met.

Can AI predict extreme weather?

AI models use historical weather data to create forecasts rivalling those using traditional methods. This video explains how AI forecasting could help forecast extreme weather.

Life finds a way

Humans can adapt to the world’s most hazardous places. Here’s how we’ve set up home in notoriously inhospitable spots.

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Earth’s most extreme climates

Words: Jonathan McIntosh

Our planet is home to a mixed bag of different climates. Some locations are so frigid that droplets in our breath crystalise as you exhale, while others experience non-stop rain for weeks on end. From the coldest, hottest and driest to the windiest and wettest, we spotlight the world’s most extreme climates.

Hottest: Furnace Creek, USA

When thinking of jetting off to toastier climes, we tend to daydream of relaxing on a beach in 20-30°C temperatures. But the perfectly named Furnace Creek in California’s Death Valley takes sweat-inducing climates to a new level.

The hottest place on Earth recorded a temperature of 56.7°C on 10 July 1913 – although the World Meteorological Organisation concluded in 2012 this was improperly recorded by roughly 7°C. Regardless, Furnace Creek still holds the title as the hottest place on the planet, having recorded 54.4°C in August 2020 and boasting 47°C highs during summer.

But the above figures only take air temperature into consideration. Surface heat is much higher, with a ground temperature of 93.9°C recorded on 15 July 1972 – just a few degrees shy of the boiling point of water!

Coldest: Eastern Antarctic Plateau, Antarctica

Data collected from the Landsat 8 satellite between 2004 and 2016 from Dome Argus – Antarctica’s highest ice feature at 4,000 metres high – and Queen Maud Land’s research base, Dome Fuji, has recorded temperatures as bitter as -94°C.

Researchers believe this figure only accounts for the air temperature of the Australia-sized area, with ground temperatures believed to reach a bone-chilling -98°C.

Despite temperatures rarely reaching above -30°C, remarkably, humans have found ways to live and work here. The Dome Fuji Station opened in 1995 and ice cores drilled into the landscape provide insight to 720,000 years of paleo-climatic history.

Watch NASA’s video breakdown of the area from the cosiness of your home while enjoying your favourite warming cuppa. A rather different way to chill out…

Driest: Atacama Desert, Chile

On average, this desertscape gets less than one millimetre of rain per year – making it 50 times drier than California’s Death Valley. Even more astonishingly, some parts of the Atacama Desert have recorded no significant rainfall in the past 500 years!

This dryness is caused by Atacama’s unique weather pattern created by a combination of cold air from the Pacific Ocean’s Peru Current (alternatively known as the Humboldt Current) and the hot desert air. The cold ocean current chills the air, making it lose its moisture before being swept inland to the desert.

The only available moisture comes from a fog called camanchaca, formed when cold air from the Antarctic oceans hits warm air. This is harvested by plants and animals alike, with Atacama’s human inhabitants using fog nets to catch it for drinking water.

In 2015 and 2017 some areas experienced rare rainstorms. Researchers thought these would help its flora and fauna burst to life. But the opposite happened, with the rains decimating more life than it gifted.

If you fancy seeing Atacama for yourself, make sure to pack plenty of water for the journey.

Windiest: Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica

The South Pole sits at an elevation of roughly 2,800 metres and its sheets get progressively steeper downwards to the Antarctic shores. These cold sloping surfaces develop extremely strong katabatic – down-slope – winds and their speeds are exacerbated because there is no land mass to slow them down.

Commonwealth Bay’s katabatic winds are recorded at over 150 miles per hour on a regular basis, with the average annual wind speed clocking in at a gusty 50 miles per hour. The bay’s form is also partly responsible for its tempestuous climate. Its half-moon shape squeezes blusterous streams of air together, forcing them to flow faster.

Wettest: Mawsynram, India

Nestled high up in north-east India’s Khasi Hills – and in the path of warm, moist air from the Bay of Bengal – this town is soaked by 12,000 millimetres of rain every year. For context, Argyllshire in Scotland – Britain’s soggiest spot – is comparatively bone dry with its 2,274 millimetres of yearly rainfall!

The majority of Mawsynram’s rain falls during its monsoon season from April to October, and locals have developed unique strategies to ensure rain doesn’t dampen their lifestyle – even though it is not uncommon to find clouds actually inside homes. The houses are soundproofed with grass to dull the thundering rainfall and traditional full-body bamboo umbrellas, called knups, are a popular way to stay dry.

If you’re heading to this locale any time soon, heed your parents’ eternal advice: take a coat.

Join the discussion

If you had to travel to one of these extremes, which would it be and what would you take to help you survive?

Our new online community, Mensa Community, provides a digital space for you, our members, to discuss any number of topics and issues. If you haven’t already signed up, you can log in here using your My Mensa login details.

 

Playing it cool

Signed in 2015, the Paris Agreement is committed to keeping the average rise in global temperature below 2°C. But what could happen if this target isn’t met.

Can AI predict extreme weather?

AI models use historical weather data to create forecasts rivalling those using traditional methods. This video explains how AI forecasting could help forecast extreme weather.

Life finds a way

Humans can adapt to the world’s most hazardous places. Here’s how we’ve set up home in notoriously inhospitable spots.

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