Skip to main content

So, we asked a bit of a trick question on Facebook this morning:

How can temperatures so far from the equator be higher than those near the equator?

We wanted you to ponder the question and so we only provided you with the names of four locations, their temperatures, and how far they were from the equator.

To have been fair, we should have provided you with more information to consider because elevation and the presence of ocean currents also influence land temperatures. 

Let's talk about these influencing factors:

LATITUDE  |  In geography, latitudes are the parallel lines that measure the north and south distances from the equator. They run in an east-west direction. The closer the latitude to the equator, the hotter the climate. The further the latitude from the equator, the cooler the climate. Why? Because the earth is a sphere, and when it rotates, the wider part, or equator part, is closer to the sun's radiating heat.

ELEVATION  |  Elevation, in geography, is the distance above sea level. It is measured in meters or feet and shown on a map through contour lines, which connect points at the same elevation by bands of color (or numbers) and give the exact elevations of different points on earth. These elevation contours show the heights and shapes of mountains, the depths of ocean bottoms, and the steepness of slopes. When towns are built at higher elevations, they experience lower temperatures. 

Consider the elevations of our four examples and contrast them with towns nearby at different elevations in a 200-mile radius. 

  • Patagonia, Arizona (4,058' elevation) - 97 degrees today
    Phoenix, Arizona (1,086' elevation) - 108 degrees today
    174 miles distance - note the elevation
  • West Yellowstone, Montana (6,664' elevation) - 85 degrees today
    Arco, Idaho (5,325' elevation) - 92 degrees today
    174 miles distance - note the elevation
  • Crater Lake, Oregon (6,178' elevation) - 83 degrees today
    Portland, Oregon (50' elevation) - 104 degrees today
    182 miles distance - note the elevation
  • Kenscoff, Haiti (4,934' elevation) - 83 degrees today
    Port-au-Prince, Haiti (322' elevation) - 99 degrees today
    15 miles distance - note the elevation

Would the knowledge of this elevation information better helped you answer our original question? Perhaps. But there's another huge player that affects land temperatures ... the ocean.

OCEAN CURRENTS  |  The world's ocean (covering 70% of earth's surface) is continually acting as a conveyor belt for warm and cool waters, pulling heat from the tropical regions (to cool them) and sending heat to the polar regions (to warm them). This great reservoir is continuously exchanging heat, moisture, and carbon within the atmosphere, and its process is what drives all weather patterns.

Atmosphere and land areas absorb heat, but the majority of solar radiation is held within the ocean, thanks to the high heat capacity of water. Oceans, lakes, streams, and waterways release heat and moisture as needed, which influences cloud cover and rainfall. So depending on these atmospheric conditions, a town's temperature can change at any given time.

We didn't ask an easy question at the beginning.There are several variables to consider (including some not listed), but aren't you glad that modern technology can read, chart, interpret, communicate and store this information for us?! We are.