Death Valley’s 130-degree Heat Wave May Have Set a 107-year Record

The heat is on! The air temperature in California’s Mojave Desert may have broken a threshold held since 1913.

Sand dunes with disntant mountains in Death Valley
Photo: Lena Steinke/EyeEm/Getty Images

Death Valley has long been a site of extremes, earning the eastern California park in the Mojave Desert the slogan: “Hottest. Driest. Lowest.”

And on Sunday, the site hit yet another extreme, a temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. If confirmed, it will be the first time since 1913 that the temperature has hit that threshold, the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center confirmed in a tweet. In July 2013, it came close with 129 degrees.

With its low position at about 190 feet below sea level and its dryness with less than two inches of rainfall a year, the desert’s geographical position causes air to warm as it gets lower, leading to an average daily high of 115 degrees.

Death Valley also holds the Guinness World Record for Highest Recorded Temperature for hitting 134 degrees Fahrenheit at its Furnace Creek Ranch location (also known as Greenland Ranch) on July 10, 1913. While this past weekend’s record breaks a threshold, it’s still shy of record setting.

Despite the record being set 107 years ago, Death Valley has only held the honor for eight years since El Azizia, Libya, previously had recorded a high of 136.4 degrees on Sept. 13, 1922. For decades, the oddity confused scientists since El Azizia sits on the Mediterranean coast, where the nearby water would have a cooling effect.

After 90 years as the record holder, the World Meteorological Organization disqualified it in 2012, citing numerous factors including surface the temperature was recorded on, and handed the honor back to Death Valley for its 1913 record.

Other places on the planet also claim to be the “hottest place on earth,” but it all comes down to how the heat is measured. The Death Valley record refers to air temperature — in fact, the ground temperature there was recorded as 201 degrees on July 15, 1972 (yes, almost the threshold of boiling water!).

NASA has also developed technology using a Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on satellites to measure the “land skin” temperature, or the heating of the land surface. According to their seven-year study, the highest surface temperature on Earth was actually on the other side of the globe, in Iran’s Lut Desert. Also coming close were the badlands of Queensland, Australia, and China’s Flaming Mountain.

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