Death Valley hits 130° F, the hottest recorded temperature on Earth since 1931

Logged in aptly-named Furnace Creek, it’s the third highest temperature on record

Furnace Creek

Furnace Creek, in California’s Death Valley, logged a temperature of 130° Fahrenheit (54.4° Celsius) on Aug. 16. It’s the third-hottest temperature recorded on Earth, and the hottest since 1931. The area also holds the No. 1 hot spot, with 134° F (56.7° C) recorded in 1913.

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Amid a sweltering heat wave across the western United States, a remote spot in Death Valley, Calif., may have just earned the title of hottest place on Earth in nearly a century.

On August 16, the Death Valley spot — appropriately named Furnace Creek, with a population of 24 — logged a temperature of 130° Fahrenheit (54.4° Celsius). If verified by the World Meteorological Organization, or WMO, that temperature will be the hottest recorded since 1931, and the third hottest since record keeping began.

Furnace Creek also holds the record for hottest recorded temperature on Earth, logged in 1913 at 134° F (56.7° C). In second place is Kebili, Tunisia, with a logged temperature of 55.0° C (131° F) on July 7, 1931.

The  verification process for such global records of weather extremes, which are archived at WMO, may take months, says archive chief Randall Cerveny, a meteorologist at Arizona State University in Tempe (SN: 7/1/20). Substantiating a record involves an international committee of atmospheric scientists poring over the original observations, the equipment used to make it and the calibration practices. But “based on available evidence, we are preliminarily accepting the observation,” Cerveny says.

Some scientists have contested the 1913 observation. In 2016, an analysis posted online at Weather Underground suggested that the logged temperature was “essentially not possible” based on meteorological conditions, including that there was no evidence of a particularly intense heat wave from any other stations in the area at the time. For now, though, the record stands, because “no credible substantial evidence” supporting this claim has been submitted to WMO, Cerveny says.  

There is precedent for previous records being dismissed once disproven. In 2012, WMO determined that what was then thought to be the hottest recorded temperature, a 1912 observation of 57.8° C (136° F) in Libya, was not valid. That was supported by the discovery in 2010 of the original, mislogged observation sheet bearing five separate errors.

Carolyn Gramling is the earth & climate writer. She has bachelor’s degrees in geology and European history and a Ph.D. in marine geochemistry from MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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