July 21 – Lowest Recorded Temperature Day

Posted on July 21, 2018

So, if I were to tell you that, on this date in 1983, people recorded the lowest temp ever measured on the ground...

Where would you think that temperature was recorded?

You probably realize that most of us are having summer, not winter, in July - because we live in the Northern Hemisphere. So you probably realize that you should guess a place that experiences winter in July - somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. And you might have then guessed that it was in the middle of Antarctica.

If that is what you guessed, you're right!

A frigid - 89.2 C (-128.6 F) was measured on that cold, cold July day in the Soviet Vostok Station. 

Above, Vostok Station from the air...
Below, Vostok Station's location
from space!

But...I thought the world was getting warmer...?

Sometimes people wonder how we can have record-breaking cold spells if the planet is heating up. Even if they aren't science deniers, and they accept that global warming really is happening (and that it's the result of human activity), they still wonder about super cold spells and gigantic blizzards.

First, this world record is actually pretty old - 35 years old, to be exact.

The first Antarctic stations
were built on islands and
Second, we must remember that getting a temperature reading far into the Antarctic continent almost surely couldn't happen until the 1950s at the earliest, because that's when people began to build scientific stations in the interior of the continent. We may have missed SO many lower temperatures before that time!

Third, global warming is also called "climate change" - and climate is the pattern of weather over long periods of time. So short events like a powerful 2-week storm or a 1-day cold snap get lots of attention from us, but doesn't much impact the average temperatures that, we have seen, are clearly going up.

Fourth, actually, warmer weather means more ocean evaporation. And more ocean evaporation means more clouds, more rain, more snow. Also, higher temperatures means more air heating up and rising, which of course causes areas of low pressure and creates wind as air rushes in from elsewhere. 

What do you get when you have more moisture in the air, more low pressure areas, more wind and rain and snow? 

The answer is: more storms, and more intense storms. 

It's more complicated than that, of course, but global warming / climate change can actually produce more extreme weather in all directions - drier here, wetter there, colder now, hotter then.

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