65 Degrees Celsius in Saudi Arabia This Ramadan? 'Nonsense'

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Hundreds of thousands of Muslims circle the Kaaba during the last week of Ramadan in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, September 28, 2008.Credit: AP

Worry not, Saudi Arabia: Global warming may be coming on faster than expected but the report that the temperature in parts of Saudi Arabia could reach 65 degrees Celsius in Ramadan next month is nonsense, reassures an Israeli professor. 

The temperature could well reach and pass 65 degrees - on asphalt road surfaces, or hot sidewalks. But the warning from a Saudi meteorologist of a possible 65-degree temperature "not in the shade" is meaningless, explains Prof. Pinhas Alpert, Tel Aviv University meteorology expert.

"This is really nonsense," Alpert says. "Temperature not measured in the shade doesn't mean anything. I could show you a temperature of 80 degrees Celsius right here, outside on the asphalt at mid-day."

Think about that. In the middle of summer, if you step on the black road – or even light-complected beach sand - in bare feet, it burns. It is much hotter than the temperature of the air, which meteorologists measure in the shade, using thermometers inside shaded weather station huts. 

The wind can flow freely through the slatted huts, but sunlight cannot penetrate and touch the thermometer. Moreover, the huts are painted white, lest they absorb heat, Alpert explains. 

The Saudi Gazette quotes climatologist Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al-Ghamdi saying that in some parts of Saudi Arabia, while under the direct sunlight may reach around 65 degrees in Ramadan, temperatures in the shade would reach 50 degrees. 

In other words, even Al-Ghamdi is actually predicting a July month only slightly hotter than the average for Saudi Arabia, which is about 45 degrees - but temperatures of up to 54 degrees (in the shade!) are not extraordinary. Riyadh averages about 42 degrees Celsius in July.

An air temperature of 65 degrees Celsius, which is equivalent to 149 degrees Fahrenheit, would be incompatible with survival, at least of people, though a specific fatal temperature is hard to nail down. In India, more than 2,300 people have died of heat-related causes in the last month, and the temperature didn't pass 48 degrees Celsius.

"I have never encountered an air temperature of 65 degrees Celsius," Alpert sums up. "The Israeli record is 54 degrees Celsius, which was measured in Tirat Zvi during the 1950s. The world record is supposed to be a measurement of 56.7 degrees in Death Valley, in California and Nevada. But there is no consensus as to whether the measurement was done correctly." 

Next month is the holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast. Like Jews on Yom Kippur, they are not supposed to drink water during the fast, which lasts from pre-dawn until dusk each day during that month. But it seems Saudis won't have to consider breaking the fast because of heat stroke, at least not more than usually.