Long the hottest place on Earth, Death Valley put a sizzling exclamation point Sunday on a record warm summer that is 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 forecast to reach 128 degrees (53.33 degrees Celsius) on Sunday at the aptly named Furnace Creek, the National Weather Service said.
The hottest temperature ever record was 134 degrees (56.67 degrees Celsius) in July 1913 at Furnace Creek, said Randy Ceverny of the World Meteorological Organization, the body recognized as keeper of world records. Temperatures at or above 130 degrees (54.44 degrees Celsius) have only been recorded on Earth a handful of times, mostly in Death Valley.
“With global warming, such temperatures are becoming more and more likely to occur,” Ceverny, the World Meteorological Organization’s records coordinator, 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 very strong upper level ridge of high pressure over the Western U.S.”
On Sunday in Death Valley, meteorologists were tracking high clouds in the area that could keep temperatures in check.
“The all-time record seems fairly safe today,” said Matt Woods, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Las Vegas office, which monitors Death Valley.
The heat wave is just one part of the extreme weather hitting the U.S. over the weekend. Four people died in Pennsylvania on Saturday when heavy rains caused a sudden flash flood that swept away multiple 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 a blistering stretch of hot weather that has put roughly one-third of Americans under some type of heat advisory, watch or warning. Las Vegas also faced the possibility of reaching an all-time record temperature on Sunday, while residents from Sacramento to Phoenix grappled with triple-digit days and little nighttime relief.
Heat records are being shattered all over the U.S. South, from California to Florida. But it’s far more than that. It’s worldwide with devastating heat hitting Europe, along with dramatic floods in the U.S. Northeast, India, Japan and China.
For nearly all of July, the world has been in uncharted hot territory, according to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer.
June was also the hottest June on record, according to several weather agencies. Scientists say there is a decent chance that 2023 will go down as the hottest year on record, with measurements going back to the middle of the 19th century.
Death Valley dominates global heat records. In the valley, it’s not only hot, it stays brutally warm.
Some meteorologists have disputed how accurate Death Valley’s 110-year-old hot-temperature record is, with weather historian Christopher Burt disputing 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 fault with both of those measurements and lists 130 degrees in July 2021 in Death Valley as his hottest 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 have found no problems so far, but they haven’t finished the analysis, NOAA climate analysis chief Russ Vose said.
There are other places similar to Death Valley that may be as hot, such as Iran’s Lut Desert, but like Death Valley are uninhabited so no one measures there, Burt said. The difference was someone decided to put an official weather station in Death Valley in 1911, he said.
A combination of long-term human-caused climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is making the world hotter by the decade, with ups and downs year by year. Many of those ups and downs are caused by the natural El Nino and La Nina cycle. An El Nino cycle, the warming of part of the Pacific that changes the world’s weather, adds even more heat to the already rising temperatures.
Scientists such as Vose say that most of the record warming the Earth is now seeing is from human-caused climate change, partly because this El Nino only started a few months ago and is still weak to moderate. It isn’t expected to peak until winter, so scientists predict next year will be even hotter than this year.
Borenstein reported from Washington and Beam reported from Sacramento, Calif.
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