Recording temperatures requires accurate data, so this list comes with the usual caveat that the selection has been curated since records began. Even so, there is now a clear winner at the Top of the Hots, with evidence suggesting things are only going to get hotter.
In 1913, a temperature of 56.7C (134.1F) was recorded in the appropriately named Furnace Creek, in the heart of Death Valley in California. This record has long been the subject of controversy, but there is little doubt now that America’s driest region is the hottest place on earth.
On 16 August 2020, Death Valley saw a preliminary high of 54.4C (130F) according to the National Weather Service (NWS), making it the hottest temperature according to modern methods. This July was the hottest on record in several states across the US, with high pressure over the West Coast being attributed for the excessive heat.
Another 1913 record high – 55C (131F), in Kebili in Tunisia – has been widely discredited, so we’re not going to include it. Instead, the more recent 53.9C (129F) from the remote Mitribah region in Kuwait is no 2 on our list, recorded in 2016 – only a day after Basra, in Iraq, hit 53.8C (128.8F) – during a heatwave in the region.
This remote location is essentially a frightening series of hot acidic springs, beautiful salt formations and a vast gas field. The extreme elements make Dallol the hottest place on earth in terms of annual average temperature. Basically, this place is sweltering 365 days a year. The environment on the ground adds to the heat, which is why other record highs tend to come from areas with specific factors in play. Heathrow Airport, in London, is where many temperature records are set in the UK, because the tarmac makes it hotter. Likewise other airports also score highly. In 2017, Ahvaz Airport, in Iran, hit 54C (129F), for example.
The southern city of Turbat is a place of huge religious significance for the Mahdavia Muslim sect in Pakistan. Life in this historic city is centred on the Kech River, and the international airport serves as an important gateway to most Gulf states. Areas with large populations aren’t typically where you’ll find record high temperatures, possibly because previous generations would have moved away from the extreme conditions. But in 2017, the World Meteorological Organisation recorded temperatures hitting 53.7C (128.7F) in Turbat.
The typical method to measure how hot a place is records the air temperature; however, by another metric this uninhabited desert region is easily the hottest place on earth. Satellite records of ground temperatures saw Dasht-e Lut clock in with a frankly mind-boggling average of 70.7C (159.3F). We’ll never complain about the sand being too hot on a beach holiday again.
When it comes to discomfort, we often complain that humidity – when an excess of air moisture mixes with a temperature known as the dew point – is the worst to cope with. On a human level it’s when the perspiration our bodies create, to cool us down, cannot evaporate. Saudi Arabia has some of the highest humidity levels in the world, but Iran also ranks highly. In 2015, a combined humidity and air temperature known as the Heat Index measured a record high in Bandar-e Mashar.
The Urban Heat Island phenomenon is the name given to the set of conditions that makes cities far hotter than the surrounding countryside. Logically, the temperature should remain constant between the two; they both get the same amount of sunlight after all. However, human factors contribute to rising inner city heat, and this is true of Athens, the hottest city in Europe. A large population, trapped heat from pollution and little opportunity for respite at night make the Greek capital a sweltering experience. The hottest temperature on record here was 48C (118.4F).