The all-time high of 121 degrees set in British Columbia on Tuesday has left weather and climate experts all over the world shocked, speechless and deeply concerned about the future of the planet.
Lytton, located about 60 miles northeast of Vancouver, broke that previous all-time record of 113 on three straight days, soaring to 116 on Sunday, 118 on Monday and finally 121 on Tuesday. Before this siege, it had stood since 1937.
“To break a national heat record by more than 8F over three days … words fail,” tweeted Bob Henson, a meteorologist and freelance journalist.
Claire Martin, a meteorologist for Environment Canada, the country’s weather and climate agency, expressed the same sentiment upon learning the news: “Words fail me.”
Historic map. All time high for Canada set at Lytton with 49.6C (121F). At least 7 stations at or above 45.0C, Canada's previous hottest temperature prior to this heat wave. 45.2C in Kelowna. A historic day that will be tough to beat in the Canadian climate record #BCheat pic.twitter.com/31hSLPXTzM— Rob's Obs (@robsobs) June 30, 2021
The 121-degree record stands out as extraordinary on numerous counts:
- It’s hotter than any temperature recorded in the Lower 48 states outside the Desert Southwest. Only four states have seen a higher temperature. It’s even 4 degrees above Las Vegas’s all-time high of 117 and just one degree from Phoenix’s all-time high of 122.
- It’s hotter than any temperature observed in Europe or South America, according to world weather records expert Maximiliano Herrera. Only 26 countries on the planet have been as hot or hotter, he wrote.
- It is the most extreme high temperature observed north of 45 degrees latitude, according to Herrera.
- It was the highest temperature in North America on Tuesday, tied with Death Valley, Calif., notorious for holding the record for the planet’s most extreme heat.
- Lytton’s average high temperature at this time of year is a mere 77 degrees, meaning Tuesday’s record high was nearly 45 degrees above normal.
Herrera reflected on the magnitude of the record in a tweet: “I am crying really … sometimes i just pinch my skin to make sure it’s not a dream, it’s really happening … 30 years working in this job, never seen anything like this madness …”
Robert Rohde, a climate scientist for Berkeley Earth, posted a chart on Twitter displaying just how exceptional the record was in the context of Lytton’s temperature history:
Stunning breakout far above all previously measured values to set a new national temperature record for Canada of 49.6 °C (121 °F).— Dr. Robert Rohde (@RARohde) June 30, 2021
This heatwave has reached further above historical means than any other summer heatwave previously recorded anywhere in North America. pic.twitter.com/aNURI7W8Yh
“The reading is so high that it’s hard to comprehend,” tweeted Mika Rantanen, a climate researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
The Lytton temperature even topped Sydney’s all-time record of 120 degrees, tweeted Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales. “Sydney sits at 33 latitude, Lytton at 50,” she wrote. “Temperatures this high should not be occurring here!”
How could it get so hot in Canada? As we explained in an article Tuesday, weather systems and winds aligned to maximize heat over the region, while climate change intensified the effect.
Dennis Mersereau, a freelance weather writer, added that Lytton’s microclimate also primed it for exceptional temperatures.
“Lytton was the perfect spot (in a manner of speaking) to break this record three days in a row,” Mersereau wrote. “The tiny town sits in a tight valley along the Fraser River that cuts longitudinally through the heart of British Columbia. Lytton’s low-lying location makes it an effective heat sink during a record-shattering heat wave.”
Scott Duncan, a meteorologist based in London, was flabbergasted by the record. “I didn’t think it was possible, not in my lifetime anyway,” he tweeted. “This moment will be talked about for centuries.”
But, as climate change increases the likelihood of exceptional temperatures like this, it’s only a matter of time before even more extreme records are set, replied Robert Brulle, a professor at Brown University who specializes in environmental politics and climate change.
“It won’t be talked about for centuries,” he tweeted. “These records will fall as climate change accelerates! This is just a mild version of what we can expect in the future.”
An earlier version of this story stated that the new national record of 121 degrees in Canada exceeded the all-time high in Phoenix of 119. But Phoenix's all-time high is actually 122 from June 26, 1990. This has been updated.