September 30, 2023

California’s Death Valley is buzzing as the relentless heat wave continues

Long the hottest place on Earth, Death Valley put a sweltering exclamation mark on Sunday on a record-warm summer baking nearly the entire globe by flirting with some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded, meteorologists said.

Temperatures in Death Valley, which runs along part of Central California’s border with Nevada, were expected to reach 128 degrees (53.33 degrees Celsius) on Sunday at the aptly named Furnace Creek, the National Weather Service said.

The highest temperature ever recorded was 134 degrees (56.67 degrees Celsius) in July 1913 at Furnace Creek, said Randy Ceverny of the World Meteorological Organization, the organization recognized as the world record holder. Temperatures at or above 130 degrees (54.44 degrees Celsius) have only been recorded on Earth a few times, mostly in Death Valley.

“With global warming, such temperatures are becoming more common,” Ceverny, the coordinator of the World Meteorological Organization, said in an email. “Long term: global warming is causing higher and more frequent temperature extremes. Short Term: This particular weekend is being driven by a very strong high pressure ridge over the western US”

On Sunday, meteorologists in Death Valley tracked high clouds in the area that could keep temperatures in check.

“The all-time record seems pretty secure today,” said Matt Woods, a meteorologist with the Las Vegas office of the National Weather Service, which monitors Death Valley.

The heat wave is just one part of the extreme weather hitting the US this weekend. Four people died in Pennsylvania on Saturday when heavy rains caused a sudden flash flood that swept away several cars. Three other people, including a 9-month-old boy and a 2-year-old girl, remained missing. In Vermont, authorities were concerned about landslides as rain continued after days of flooding.

Death Valley’s brutal temperatures come amid sweltering hot weather that has put about a third of Americans under some kind of heat advisory, watch, or warning. Las Vegas also faced the possibility of hitting an all-time record temperature on Sunday, as residents from Sacramento to Phoenix struggled with triple-digit days and low nighttime lighting.

Heat records are being broken all over the southern US, from California to Florida. But it’s much more than that. It is global with devastating heat hitting Europe along with dramatic flooding in the northeastern US, India, Japan and China.

According to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer, the world has been in uncharted territory for almost the entire month of July.

June was also the warmest June ever measured, according to various weather agencies. Scientists say there’s a good chance 2023 will go down in history as the warmest year on record, with records dating back to the mid-1800s.

Death Valley dominates global heat records. In the valley it is not only hot, it stays very hot.

Some meteorologists have disputed how accurate Death Valley’s 110-year-old temperature record is, and weather historian Christopher Burt disputes it for several reasons, which he laid out in a blog post a few years ago.

The two hottest temperatures on record are the 134 in 1913 in Death Valley and 131 degrees (55 degrees Celsius) in Tunisia in July 1931. Burt, a weather historian for The Weather Company, finds errors in both measurements and lists 130 degrees in July 2021 in Death Valley as its highest recorded temperature on Earth.

“130 degrees is very rare, if not unique,” Burt said.

In July 2021 and August 2020, Death Valley recorded a reading of 130 degrees (54.4 degrees Celsius), but both are still awaiting confirmation. Scientists haven’t found any problems so far, but they haven’t completed the analysis, said Russ Vose, NOAA’s chief of climate analysis.

There are other places similar to Death Valley that might be just as hot, like Iran’s Lut Desert, but like Death Valley are uninhabited, so no one measures there, Burt said. The difference was that in 1911 someone decided to put an official weather station in Death Valley, he said.

A combination of long-term man-made climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is making the world hotter by the decade, with ups and downs from year to year. Many of those ups and downs are caused by the natural cycle of El Nino and La Nina. An El Nino cycle, the warming of part of the Pacific Ocean that changes the world’s weather, adds even more warmth to already rising temperatures.

Scientists like Vose say most of the record warming Earth is now seeing comes from human-induced climate change, in part because this El Nino started just a few months ago and is still weak to moderate. The peak is not expected to be until winter, so scientists predict next year will be even hotter than this year.


Borenstein reported from Washington and Beam reported from Sacramento, California.


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