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South Pole 'miracle': Record heat, plus snow, on Christmas

Scot Jackson / National Science Foundation

It's busy at the South Pole in December and especially this year, the centennial of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen's trek to the South Pole. Ceremonies included this one on Dec. 14 where Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg presented a Norwegian flag to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

It's being called a Christmas miracle: the South Pole, where temperatures this time of year (the southern hemisphere's summer) tend to be around minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit, set a record high on Christmas Day with a whopping 9.9F -- that's right, 9.9, not 99.

On top of that, it also snowed on Christmas Day. What's odd about that? The pole actually gets little in the way of snowflakes -- it's one of the driest places on Earth with just .20 inches a year -- and most of the "snow" there is actually ice from over the years, some of which scatters with the winds.

"We like to call this our little Christmas miracle that we ended up getting snow and getting a record high for the books," Phillip Marzette, senior meteorologist at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, told The Antarctic Sun, a newspaper at the main U.S. base of McMurdo.

The Antarctic Sun

This South Pole Station announced the record warmth on its inhouse video system.

And no, the record heat is not a case of global warming (though some coastal areas of Antarctica are seeing rapid glacial melt tied to rising sea temperatures).

Winds came in from an unusual direction on Christmas Day, Marzette said, bringing with them relative warmth that started to raise temperatures rapidly at 6 a.m.

The warmth was only around for the day, and within a few days it was back to normal: minus 15F or so.

So what was the previous South Pole high? 7.5 F, set on Dec. 27, 1978. As for a record South Pole low (data goes back to 1957), that was minus 117F on June 23, 1982.

Some other fun facts:

  • Warmest temperature recorded anywhere on the continent: 59F at a research base in the McMurdo Dry Valleys on Jan. 5, 1974.
  • Coldest temperature (not just on Antarctica but worldwide): minus 128.6F at Russia's Vostok Station on July 21, 1983.