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Record-Breaking Heat Sears Southern Asia

Rajasthan's Thar Desert, located in northwest India. Image credit: Daniel Mennerich via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Southern Asia is on the tail-end of one of the worst heat waves seen in this region of the world in modern history, with several countries over the past few weeks measuring the hottest temperatures they’ve ever recorded. The historic warmth started in southeastern Asia during the middle of April, and the stifling heat has spread into India in recent days.

The brutality of this heat wave can seem oddly timed to those of us in the United States. We’re entering the waning days of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when we expect the warmth and humidity of summer to greet us more frequently than the cool and comfortable days of the not-too-distant past. Even though it’s getting toasty enough to flip on the air conditioner in some regions, the spring we see here isn’t the spring our hemispheric neighbors experience around the world.

April, May, and June are typically the hottest months in southern Asia, where it never really gets all that cool to begin with. It would keep getting hotter through the summer if it weren’t for the monsoon, a seasonal pattern that brings clouds and ample rainfall that help to keep extreme temperatures at bay.

Clear skies over southern Asia allowed the afternoon sun to send temperatures soaring into the triple digits. Image Credit: NASA

This heat wave is the result of a persistent ridge of high pressure stuck over the region, occasionally nudging east (baking southeastern Asia) and jogging back west, where it’s now roasting India.

We tend to use the term “heat wave” loosely these days, but this event wasn’t fooling around. Several countries saw the hottest temperatures they’ve ever officially measured—mostly by just a hair—including a reading of 108.1°F in Laos on April 13 and 108.7°F in Cambodia two days later. Many other countries in the area saw similar (or even warmer) temperatures, but they fell just shy of breaking their all-time high-temperature records.

India also broke its nationwide all-time high temperature on May 19, when the official thermometer in Phalodi saw a high of 123.8°F, beating the previous all-time heat record of an even 123°F set nearby back in 1960. The unlucky town is located almost smack in the middle of the Thar Desert, a few hundred miles west of New Delhi and near the country’s border with Pakistan.

Phalodi’s 123.8°F reading approaches the upper bounds of the type of raw heat the weather is able to generate. Death Valley in California holds the world record for hottest temperature ever verifiably and accurately recorded, where the weather station in the southern California desert measured a high of 134°F on July 10, 1913. Including the Death Valley temperature, the United States has only officially seen two temperatures as hot as what Phalodi experienced during this heat wave: Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and Laughlin, Nevada, recorded temperatures of 128°F and 125°F respectively during a particularly brutal spell on June 29, 1994.

Aside from a brief reprieve (such as it was) from the heat brought about by Cyclone Roanu as it grazed India’s east coast, the intense spell of temperatures higher than 100°F will continue across much of central and northern India, as well as the deserts of Pakistan, through the beginning of June. 

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Even in Real Time, the Northern Lights Look Like a Beautiful Timelapse Video
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Nothing compares to seeing the Northern Lights in person, but this video shared by The Kid Should See This is a pretty decent substitute. Though it may look like a timelapse, the footage hasn’t been altered or sped up at all. The undulating green lights you see below are what the aurora borealis looks like in real time.

Astro-photographer Kwon O Chul captured the footage of the meteorological phenomenon in Canada’s Northwest Territories in March 2013. The setting, the Aurora Village in Yellowknife, is a popular destination for tourists coming to see the Northern Lights up close. In the video, you can see how the camp’s glowing teepees complement the colorful ribbon of lights above.

Even if you plan your Northern Lights sightseeing trip perfectly, it’s impossible to guarantee that you’ll get a clear view of the aurora borealis on any given night, since factors like solar activity and weather conditions affect the light show’s visibility. But if you want to know what to expect when the lights are at their peak, take a look at the clip below.

You can check out more of Kwon O Chul's photography on Facebook.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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Alaska Got 15 Inches of Snow in 90 Minutes Last Week
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Alaska is obviously no stranger to snow, but this month's white weather will likely go down in the state's record books. As The Weather Channel reports, Thompson Pass—a 2805-foot-high area in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains—received a whopping 15 inches of powder in just 90 minutes on Wednesday, December 6.

Thompson Pass sits just outside of Valdez, a tiny port city on Alaska’s south coast. Located along the Gulf of Alaska, Valdez is perhaps best known for the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and for its rich Gold Rush history. Today, it’s important for commerce, since it’s the northernmost ice-free port in North America. But ice-free doesn't mean blizzard-free: The city is regularly cited as one of the snowiest places in the U.S., if not the snowiest. On average, locals can expect to see (and smell) 300 or more inches of frozen precipitation per year. As for Thompson Pass, it very often receives more than 700 inches of the wet stuff in a year.

Still, Mother Nature truly outdid herself on December 6, when Thompson Pass was slammed with what weather historian Christopher Burt deemed to be one of modern history’s most intense snowfalls. By the storm’s end, 40 inches of heavy snow had accumulated in just 12 hours, according to The Washington Post.

Who angered the winter weather gods? Or, more scientifically speaking, which atmospheric conditions led to the storm? According to experts, a stream of warm water vapor from the Pacific Ocean hit Alaska’s coast, traveling through an aerial channel known as an “atmospheric river.” When atmospheric rivers hit land, they release this water vapor as either rain or snow, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Intensifying the phenomenon was the North American Winter Dipole, which The Washington Post’s Jason Samenow described as a “fancy term to describe abnormally warm conditions in the West and cold conditions in the East.”

"Under such a pattern, the jet stream, the super highway for storms that divides cold and warm air, surges north in the western half of the nation, and crashes south in the eastern half,” Samenow said.

Valdez residents are accustomed to snow, but last week's storm was particularly challenging for townspeople. An avalanche buried Richardson Highway, the city’s only overland route that leads in and out of town. It reopened on Thursday, December 7, according to The Cordova Times, but driving conditions were poor.

While extreme, the Thompson Pass blizzard might not be history's weirdest snowfall. For example, arid countries like Kuwait and Iraq have experienced snow. In January 1887, 15-inch snowflakes were reportedly spotted at Montana’s Fort Keogh. And in 1921, over six feet of snow fell between April 14 and April 15 in Silver Lake, Colorado—the most snow to ever fall in a 24-hour period in the U.S.

[h/t The Weather Channel]

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