Hot & cold extremes- a moment of science

Storm Team 2

I’m sure several of you are asking “it can’t get much hotter than this?” Well as it turns out- it can! Read on to find out just how extreme the heat & cold can get in the Lowcountry, the world, and the universe.

COLD EXTREMES

Let’s begin in our backyard: what’s the coldest temperature Charleston has on record? 

The Atlantic helps keep our winters fairly mild, with typically less than a dozen mornings below freezing annually. Sometimes a blast of arctic air behind a very strong cold front can drop temperatures well below that; and that’s what happened January 21st, 1985 as the temperature fell to the single digits: 6 degrees.

Now that’s cold, but nothing compared to the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth: minus 128.6 degrees Fahrenheit in Antarctica at the Soviet Vostok Research Station.

Nearly 130 below is incredibly cold, but just how low can temperatures go?

The coldest temperature possible is minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, or simply zero Kelvin. Kelvin is a different temperature scale which most scientists use as there’s a simple lower limit: absolute zero. Getting to absolute zero isn’t practically possible but lab tests have gotten close with a substance cooled to a half a billionth degree above absolute zero!  Outside a lab, the coldest natural temperature in the universe is a frigid one Kelvin, roughly negative 450 Fahrenheit, at the Boomerang Nebula, a short 5 thousand light-years away from where our journey started on Earth.

HEAT EXTREMES

So the lower limit to temperature is absolute zero, is there an upper limit?

Sort of?

This theoretical number is called “absolute hot.” It’s the temperature in which our current understanding of physics breaks down. The actual number: over 100 million, million, million, million, million degrees is meaningless as there’s no way scientists can get close to it in a lab.


That’s enough theoretical thermodynamics, let’s get back to records!

The US holds the top place for the hottest recorded temperature on Earth with Death Valley in California. This natural park is already hot with average high temperatures hovering around 115 during the summer. On July 10, 1913, the air temperature jumped up to just over 134 degrees Fahrenheit. That record has held since then despite claims against its validity. 

Charleston’s hottest recorded temperature is a bit below that, but still plenty hot with Charleston airport recording 105 on August 1, 1999. 

There you have it! The coldest and hottest temperatures we’ve seen in the Lowcountry, on Earth, and to the outer realms of possibility! 

Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson

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