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Hottest temperatures ever: How do countries in Europe compare?

Climate change is causing more frequent extreme weather events.
Climate change is causing more frequent extreme weather events. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Ian Smith
Published on Updated
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As Europe faces a second heatwave, we look at the highest temperatures ever recorded across the continent.

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Large parts of southern Europe have been struck by an intense and prolonged period of extreme heat.

Temperatures in Greece, Spain and Italy have been over 40C and it is set to continue.

With these high temperatures comes a host of issues, from wildfires, droughts and desertification to heat related deaths. Scientists and climate experts warn that extreme weather events such as heatwaves are increasing rapidly as a result of climate change.

As the heat continues to sweep across Europe this summer, temperature records could be broken.

What is the record temperature in Europe?

The current hottest temperature recorded in Europe was 48.8C close to the town of Syracuse on the Italian island of Sicily in 2021.

The conditions forced the entire country to declare a state of emergency. A heat dome of high pressure spanning the Mediterranean created a domino effect of extreme weather events.

Before that Greece was the holder of the unwanted record for 44 years. A temperature of 48C was recorded in Athens in 1977.

Other parts of southern Europe have also hit temperatures above the mid-40C mark. Portugal dealt with 47.3C in 2003 in the small south-eastern town of Amareleja. And Spain saw temperatures of 47.6C in 2021.

Last year was Spain's hottest since record-keeping started in 1961, and also the country's sixth-driest despite the presence of weather phenomenon La Niña, which slightly dampened global average temperatures.

Iceland has the coolest high temperature record in Europe with 30.5C documented in 1939.

Ireland has the second coolest high temperature record of 33.3C. This was recorded in 1887 and is the only high temperature record from the 19th century in Europe.

And as we enter an El Niño weather cycle combined with continued global warming it looks like more heat records will be broken.

The continent has been warming twice as much as the global average since the 1980s, according to a report released earlier this year by the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the European Copernicus network.

18 European countries have recorded their highest temperature since 2010, according to WMO data.

How are record temperatures recorded and verified?

Despite the frequency of new records over the last 13 years, it’s not a quick process to verify them.

The WMO maintains a global weather and climate extremes archive, which logs records for temperature, pressure, rainfall, hail, aridity, wind, lightning and weather-related mortality.

To do all of this takes time. The organisation reaches out to the national weather service of the country in question to get information such as the equipment used and the observation practices.

A committee of experts examines this data over the course of six to nine months. It then recommends a finding to the WMO’s Weather and Climate Extremes rapporteur who either accepts the record into inclusion in the archive or dismisses it.

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For example, the European record temperature in Sicily was recorded in 2021 and preliminarily accepted but was actually only confirmed this week by the WMO.

What is the hottest temperature ever recorded?

The agency also looks into older records. The current world highest temperature record is 56.7C in Death Valley, US on 10 July 1913.

But for years it was believed to be 58C purportedly recorded in Libya in 1922 until a WMO team carried out an investigation between 2010 and 2012.

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