Your mental image of Siberia is probably a snowy, wind-whipped expanse, perhaps with a cluster of buildings to house those banished from Russian society. Not this week. This week, Norilsk, the northernmost large city in the world, the second largest city north of the Arctic Circle, and the site of one of those gulags, hit a balmy 32 degrees Celsius — about 90 Fahrenheit. It's normally in the mid-60s.

The online outlet The Siberian Times ("up-to-date information in English from across Siberia's six time zones") featured a photo of people sunbathing on the shores of Lake Baikal in its report on what may be a new record high.

The average temperature in July is 13.6 but the mercury was touching 32C, a long way from the coldest-ever recorded temperature of minus 61C.

The previous hottest was 31.9C, more than three decades ago.

'I've never worn a bikini before in Norilsk, just to top up my tan', said Polina, 21, a student.

Minus 61 degrees Celsius is about 78 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

Norilsk-TV.ru, however, disputes that this is a record. Translated by Google:

According to meteorologists, such hot weather in Norilsk recorded more than once. For example, in July 1979, the thermometer has been raised to the level of 32 degrees.

Maria Corina, head of the service economy Taimyr Center for Hydrometeorology: "The only difference this year is that there is such a high temperature for the past five days. Since 1972 in Norilsk, this has not happened."

The Weather Underground (from which the map above comes) described the bizarre heatwave on Wednesday. The site was also unable to figure out if Norilsk has seen such temperatures before.

The extraordinary and perhaps unprecedented heat wave continues in the central arctic region of Russia. Some locations have now endured 10 consecutive days above 30°C (86°F). Wildfires are erupting in the taiga forests …

The prolonged heat wave is the result of an amazingly intense and prolonged heat dome that has centered itself over north central Siberia.

A similar "heat dome" was responsible for the heat wave blanketing the East Coast last week.

Norilsk, home to some 175,000 people, is known primarily for its nickel mines. Under Stalin, it was also the site of the Norillag camp, unwilling residents of which helped create the aforementioned mines. In 2007, it was named one of the ten most-polluted places in the world. This is what it looks like for much of the year.


Associated Press

The city is far enough north — over 300 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle — that it's built on permafrost, permanently frozen ground solid enough to support buildings and infrastructure. In other words, and as we outlined yesterday, extended periods of high temperatures would not be a good thing.

Is this the result of climate change? Scientists will note that isolated weather incidents can't be linked directly to changes in the climate. Heat domes existed before we started burning coal and oil. But scientists will also note that climate change tends to result in more extreme weather events. Yes, heat domes have existed a long time, but a heat dome in a much-hotter atmosphere would naturally suggest much higher temperatures. Unprecedented temperatures.

Incidentally, we think we may have solved one mystery plaguing the city. The top story at Norilsk-TV.ru (again, as translated by Google) is "Heavenly mystery."

The optical effect or residents of extraterrestrial civilizations are watching us. These issues now ask hundreds, or even thousands of Norilsk. All night and all morning phone edition of "Messages" does not die down. Confused and frightened witnesses shared their experiences and asked to find out the truth about the phenomenon. …

On the video there is no gluing. Luminous sphere that freezes, then starts to move rapidly in a spiral.

Guys, that mysterious glowing sphere is the Sun.