Remote sensing-derived wheat crop yield-climate models were developed to highlight the impact of temperature variation during thermo-sensitive periods (anthesis and grain-filling; TSP) of wheat crop development. Specific questions addressed are: can the impact of temperature variation occurring during the TSP on wheat crop yield be detected using remote sensing data and what is the impact? Do crop critical temperature thresholds during TSP exist in real world cropping landscapes? These questions are tested in one of the world's major wheat breadbaskets of Punjab and Haryana, north-west India. Warming average minimum temperatures during the TSP had a greater negative impact on wheat crop yield than warming maximum temperatures. Warming minimum and maximum temperatures during the TSP explain a greater amount of variation in wheat crop yield than average growing season temperature. In complex real world cereal croplands there was a variable yield response to critical temperature threshold exceedance, specifically a more pronounced negative impact on wheat yield with increased warming events above 35 °C. The negative impact of warming increases with a later start-of-season suggesting earlier sowing can reduce wheat crop exposure harmful temperatures. However, even earlier sown wheat experienced temperature-induced yield losses, which, when viewed in the context of projected warming up to 2100 indicates adaptive responses should focus on increasing wheat tolerance to heat. This study shows it is possible to capture the impacts of temperature variation during the TSP on wheat crop yield in real world cropping landscapes using remote sensing data; this has important implications for monitoring the impact of climate change, variation and heat extremes on wheat croplands. © 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.