On Sunday, July 11, a weather station at Stovepipe Wells in northern Death Valley National Park recorded an average temperature of 118.1 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest average daily temperature observed on Earth, Jason Samenow reports for the Washington Post.
The day started with a low temperature of 107.7 degrees Fahrenheit—a record-high in North America—and peaked at a high of 128.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the late afternoon. The measurements come amid a heat wave in the western United States and a drought worsened by human-caused climate change. The high temperatures and dry weather have exacerbated a wildfire in Oregon and threatened the power grid in California, reports Giulia Heyward for the New York Times.
But the high temperatures in Death Valley draw “heat tourists” each summer.
“If you spend more than 15 minutes outside, you can feel it,” says Patrick Taylor, Death Valley National Park’s chief of interpretation and education, to Erica Werner at the Washington Post. “Your heart rate goes up a lot. Sometimes it gets so hot, you can’t feel yourself sweat.”
A digital thermometer at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center displays a temperature reading for visitors. On Saturday, it hit 135 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest it had ever recorded—although a more accurate National Weather Service sensor measured a high of 129.4 degrees that day.
A day earlier, Furnace Creek saw a high of 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which was the hottest reliably recorded temperature on Earth. The record is a tie with a measurement taken at the same location in August last year, reports Dave Mistich at NPR.
There are two hotter measurements on record: 134 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley’s Furnace Creek in 1913, and 131 degrees Fahrenheit in Kebili, Tunisia, in 1931. However, those two measurements have come under scrutiny because of questions about the surrounding meteorological conditions and equipment used to take the readings, per Samenow at the Washington Post.
The 130-degree Fahrenheit measurements recorded in 2020 and this year, as well as the 118.1-degree average temperature measured on Sunday, will be reviewed by the World Meteorological Association before they are considered official. But because the measurements were produced by the U.S. Climate Reference Network, which is the gold standard for weather observation, they are probably legitimate, reports the Post.
Death Valley’s high temperatures are part of the third heat wave in the western U.S. in about three weeks, which began in the Pacific Northwest at the end of June. Last month was the hottest June on record in the United States.
“Despite being astonishing in visceral terms, they are not surprising in scientific terms. They are very much in line with predictions about what will happen in a warming world,” says University of California, Los Angeles climate scientist Daniel Swain to Jonathan Watts at the Guardian.
“There is some level of astonishment at the pace at which records have been broken in recent weeks, but in some ways what we have seen in Death Valley – an all-time reliable heat record – is less extraordinary than some of the other records we saw in Canada and the north-west, where records were exceeded by such a large margin that they left people dumbfounded.”