x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Hot and cold? In global temperature terms, all things are relative

How low can you go? What is cold and wintery in the UAE is a pleasant sunny day on other parts of the world

From left: Ice floes fill the Hudson River as the Lower Manhattan skyline can be glimpsed in New York City. Afton Almaraz / Getty Images; Tourists enjoy the sun on a beach at a resort island at the Male Atoll in Denmark. Reuters /Reinhard Krause; Residents in Abu Dhabi enjoy the cool weather. Ravindranath K / The National
From left: Ice floes fill the Hudson River as the Lower Manhattan skyline can be glimpsed in New York City. Afton Almaraz / Getty Images; Tourists enjoy the sun on a beach at a resort island at the Male Atoll in Denmark. Reuters /Reinhard Krause; Residents in Abu Dhabi enjoy the cool weather. Ravindranath K / The National

It’s cold in the UAE. Electric heaters are being pulled out of cupboards, sweaters and even woollen coats are fashion essentials. Outside, an umbrella and waterproof shoes would seem to be sensible accessories.

It has also been cold in New York, but that is a very different beast. Something called a polar vortex has gripped most of North America and frozen Niagara Falls solid.

Here we can expect the coldest day of the year tomorrow, with a low of 13°C. In New York on Sunday the temperature dropped to –13°C.

Cold, then, is a relative concept. So is heat. It is high summer in New Zealand, where temperatures in the city of Christchurch on Tuesday are expected to hit 19°C. That’s about a degree colder than the highest point of the day expected tomorrow in Abu Dhabi.

The highs and lows tell only part of the story, though. Abu Dhabi’s relatively mild winter is offset by scorchingly hot summers. New York has bitterly cold winters, but it also gets pretty hot in July and August. Christchurch never gets very hot, but it doesn’t get very cold either, never dropping below 4°C last year.

Measuring the spread of temperatures gives a different picture, as an analysis of 12 cities around the world last year demonstrates.

At the most extreme is Fairbanks, the Alaskan city 250 kilometres from the Arctic Circle. On January 28 last year, the citizens of Fairbanks had to deal with –44°C. By August 1, they were stripping down for a 29°C heatwave, a difference of 73 degrees.

In contrast, tropical Male in the Maldives dropped to 22°C this time last year. In summer it reached 34°C on May 1, a difference of only 12 degrees. What defines Male is rain and humidity. The monsoon season runs from May to November.

In New York, the temperature varied by 49 degrees last year, from a frigid –12°C on January 23 to a high of 37°C in late July. Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland experienced a temperature swing of 42 degrees, dropping to –13°C in December from a high of 19°C on July 23.

In London, the swing was 35 degrees. Moscow experienced a typical Russian winter, plunging to –18°C on January 19, then hitting 30°C by July 4. Istanbul also had freezing temperatures, –7°C in January, rising to 35°C in August, a difference of 42 degrees.

What distinguishes all these cities – with the exception of Male – is that by this measure they all experience more extremes of temperature than Abu Dhabi, which dropped to 15°C on January 2 last year, then rose to 49°C by July 9, a difference of 34 degrees. Similar patterns could also be found in Mumbai and Cairo.

But when it comes to talking about weather extremes, consider what are arguably the coldest and hottest places on Earth. In the depths of the Antarctic winter last June, the US research station at the South Pole recorded –107.9°C.

Just three weeks later, in California’s Death Valley, the mercury hit 54°C. A difference of 161.9 degrees.

Both are places perhaps to avoid when taking an early summer break this year.

jlangton@thenational.ae