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Middle East in the grips of a major heatwave

Records smashed as extreme temperatures hit the region.

Iran, Iraq and northern portions of the Arabian Peninsula are experiencing what can only be described as a summer heatwave.

Now a heatwave is defined as a prolonged period of extremely hot weather. As summer weather in much of the region is always ‘extremely hot’, it could be argued that this is one region where heatwaves can’t, by definition, occur.

Yet by any standards, the temperatures reported in Iran, Iraq and the north of the Arabian Peninsula over the last few days are extreme.

On Thursday Mitribah, Kuwait reported a maximum of 54.0C (129.2F). Although it has yet to be officially verified, if confirmed, this is the highest temperature ever recorded in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Globally, only Death Valley, California has recorded higher temperatures. The absolute record here is 56.7C (134F) recorded on 10 July 1913.

For many years, the record was officially held by Aziza, Libya with 58C (136.4F). In 2012 this was disqualified by the World Meteorological Organisation after it was decided that this temperature was unreliable. (The observing site was not representative of its surroundings, the thermometer was not fit for porpose and the weather observer was new and untrained.)

Also on Thursday, Basra set a country record  for Iraq of 53.4C (128F). Remarkable though that was, it was exceeded on Friday when the mercury hit 53.9C (129F). This is the second highest Eastern Hemisphere temperature, fractionally behind Mitribah.

Iraq’s heatwave prompted the closure of all government offices on Wednesday and Thursday, the last day of the working week.

The extreme heat is said to be having an impact on the refugees displaced by the assault on Fallujah. Shortages of drinking water and electricity were reported in the camps at Habbaniya and Amiriyat al-Fallujah.

El Nino has now died out, so an explanation for the heatwave probably lies elsewhere. 2016 is already shaping up to the warmest year, globally, since records began in1880. Although a small portion of this warming is due to the El Nino earlier in the year, a much more likely cause is the continuing emissions of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere as a result of human activity.

Temperatures are likely to remain extremely high in the coming days and there is even the possibility of further records being broken towards next weekend.


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