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Long building covered with frost.
Photo Credit: Marie McLane
The South Pole Station in September 2013, when a bevy of new weather records was set for the month, including a new one-day record high and new average high for September.

Sizzling September

More weather records fall as South Pole emerges from long winter

Another month at the South Pole. Another month of record high temperatures at the bottom of the world.

The 2013 winter – the months of June, July and August – will already go down as the warmest such season at the South Pole since records began in 1957. That trend continued into September – now the warmest on record – with four new daily maximum record temperatures falling in the middle of the month.

“Saying that it has been a warm winter this year is a bit of an understatement at this point,” said Phillip Marzette, senior meteorologist at the South Pole Station External U.S. government site.

Of course, warm is a relative term at the South Pole, where the average annual temperature is about minus 56.9F (minus 49.4C).

The average temperature of minus 60.2 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 51.2 degrees Celsius) broke the previous highest average temperature for the month of September of minus 62.7F (minus 52.6C) set in 2005. In addition, the average maximum temperature of minus 53.5F (minus 47.5C) broke the previous highest average maximum temperature of minus 55.3F (minus 48.5C), also set in 2005.

The four new daily records include:

  • Sept. 11: Minus 28.3F (minus 33.5C) broke the previous maximum temperature record of minus 30.5F (minus 34.7C) set in 2001.
  • Sept. 12: Minus 28.1F (minus 33.4C) broke the previous maximum temperature record of minus 28.8F (minus 33.8C) set in 2001.
  • Sept. 13: Minus 17.9F (minus 27.7C) broke the previous maximum temperature record of minus 21.3F (minus 29.6C) set in 1983.
  • Sept. 15: Minus 26.7F (minus 32.6C) broke the previous maximum temperature record of minus 42.0F (minus 41.1C) set in 1964.

The record high on Sept. 13 also ranks as the new maximum temperature for the month of September, which was previously set on Sept. 28-29, 1994, with a high of minus 20.7F (minus 29.3C).

Frost cover barber pole.
Photo Credit: Marie McLane
Frost covers the ceremonial pole in September.

In August of this year, the record average temperature of minus 63.9 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53.3 degrees Celsius) broke the previous record of minus 64.5F (53.6C) set in August 1996. The departure from normal was 11.6 degrees Fahrenheit (or 6.4 degrees Celsius). The record average max temperature of minus 56.2F (minus 49.0C) broke the previous record of minus 57.3F (minus 49.6C), also set in August 1996.

However, June 2013 really set the tempo for the winter, when the all-time maximum temperature record for the month of June was set not once but twice.

On June 2, the wintertime temperature hit minus 22.2F (minus 30.1C), shattering the previous record for that day of minus 35.7F (minus 37.6C) set in 1987. The new June record barely lasted two weeks. On June 19, the temperature climbed to minus 19.8F (minus 28.8C). The record-setting day was bookended by two single day maximum temperature records as well.

June 2013 was tied for the third warmest June since 1957, with an average of minus 62.9F (minus 52.7C), the warmest it has been for the month since 2007 (warmest June). That was 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit (5.8 degrees Celsius) above normal.

“The same pattern occurred in the middle of [September] like it has since June – a wave of moisture from the western seas that gave us clouds, winds and high temperatures for a couple of days,” Marzette said. “It has been unusual given that normally there is one month that is warm throughout the year, but nothing like this where it has been this for three out of four months.”

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Curator: Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Winifred Reuning, Division of Polar Programs