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Record heat bakes Middle East as temperatures top 125 degrees
It has been called ‘the harshest heat wave in history for this time of the year’
By Matthew Cappucci June 7, 2021 at 1:14 p.m. EDT191
Temperatures in the Middle East have topped 125 degrees after a run of record-breaking heat. Several countries tied or challenged national records amid the blistering heat wave, which has brought a string of temperatures about 15 degrees above normal to the already baked region.
Five countries joined the 50-degree Celsius club, which equates to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. This extreme heat comes a full month before high temperatures reach their annual average peak.
Such blistering heat episodes are becoming increasingly common in an environment shaped by the continuing impacts of human-induced climate change. The Middle East is already one of the hottest regions in the world, with triple-digit temperatures and bone-dry conditions the norm.
On Saturday, high temperatures hit 123.8 degrees in Sweihan, a small town about 50 miles east of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Omidieh in southwestern Iran also climbed to 123.8 degrees, while Jahra, Kuwait, on the Persian Gulf, managed 123.6 degrees.
Sunaynah, an inland desert town in northern Oman, logged a high of 122.2 degrees. Sibi in central Pakistan did the same [Tweet omitted.]
Temperatures rising near or above 120 degrees can melt crayons, warp railroad tracks, soften asphalt and extend the takeoff distance of airplanes. Heat is the deadliest type of weather, and the casualties it causes outnumber big-name disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and wildfires.
Following Saturday’s blowtorch, somehow Sunday turned it up a notch, when the mercury soared to an astonishing 125.2 degrees in Sweihan, United Arab Emirates.
According to Etienne Kapikian, a meteorologist with MeteoFrance, the Sweihan high temperature beat out the 124.3-degree reading set there on July 2, 2017, thus becoming both a monthly and record high. It’s also the hottest June temperature ever observed in the United Arab Emirates and ties the nation’s record.
Climate historian Max Herrera tweeted that “the Middle East and Central Asia are under the harshest heat wave in history for this time of the year.”
Herrera also noted that impressive temperature readings were observed at higher elevations, too.
It reached 113.9 degrees in Bam, Iran, at 3,018 feet altitude. At Uch-Adzhi in Turkmenistan, a nation that borders the Caspian Sea, temperatures peaked at 116 degrees. Termez, in extreme southern Uzbekistan, recorded a high of 112.5 degrees Sunday, with 110.7 degrees measured at Isambaj in Tajikistan at an altitude of 1,847 feet.
The Monday evening weather balloon launch from Abu Dhabi International Airport measured temperatures exceeding 90 degrees all the way up to nearly 5,000 feet above the ground.
This early-season scorcher is the result of building high pressure, also known as a heat dome. That kinks the jet stream northward and suppresses rain chances, allowing heat to become established while diverting cooling clouds, fronts and disturbances. Sinking air also causes additional warming.
Heat domes like the one affecting the Middle East and Asia cause the atmosphere to bulge vertically, since gases expand when heated. That means the halfway point of the atmosphere’s mass, known to meteorologists as the 500 millibar level, is now roughly a football field taller.
A dome of heat over North Africa. (WeatherBell)
It is worth noting that this heat dome isn’t particularly intense, yet temperatures are already at record values. This points in large part to the influence of human-induced climate change. In other words, Earth’s background warming works with natural variability to push what might otherwise be more routine fluctuations into record territory.
Heat extremes have already been documented dramatically increasing in frequency in the Middle East and North Africa.
There is even research to suggest that parts of the Middle East might become uninhabitable as ambient temperatures continue to warm and extremes become more frequent. This is particularly true along the Persian Gulf, where coastal humidity can combine with exceptional temperatures to occasionally induce choking heat indexes over 140 degrees.
Matthew Cappucci is a meteorologist for Capital Weather Gang. He earned a B.A. in atmospheric sciences from Harvard University in 2019, and has contributed to The Washington Post since he was 18. He is an avid storm chaser and adventurer, and covers all types of weather, climate science, and astronomy.