For the second year in a row, Death Valley, California, reached the highest daily average temperature ever observed on Earth (reliably). According to the US National Weather Service, temperatures reached a 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4ºC) last Friday, edging the previous record of 129.9 degrees Fahrenheit set on August 16, 2020.
The blistering temperatures occurred amid a heatwave in the West region of the United States, where the areas between southern Nevada, Central Valley in California, and interior Oregon were especially affected. Intensified by climate change, the heatwave is also fueling fast-moving wildfires. A total of 59 large blazes are currently burning across a dozen states.
The new record was registered at the Stovepipe Wells weather station in the northern part of Death Valley National Park. This is separate from the frequently referenced temperature measurements at Death Valley’s Furnace Creek, located further southeast. The record will now have to be reviewed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
Still, the measurements at Stovepipe Wells are probably legitimate as they were produced from the U.S. Climate Reference Network, the gold standard for weather observation. The network relies on high-quality instruments that monitor weather is stable, undisturbed locations, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
The record was set after three days of extreme temperatures in Death Valley, which began with the 130-degree high at Furnace Creek on Friday. If confirmed, it would mark the planet’s highest temperature since at least 1931. Only two other measurements have been higher: a 134-degree reading from Furnace Creek in 1913 and a 131-degree reading from Tunisia in 1931, neither of which are as reliable as this measurement.
The legitimacy of these measurements is questioned by climatologists such as Christopher Burt, an expert on weather extremes. Burt wrote that the 1913 reading isn’t possible from a meteorological perspective, while the 1931 reading has “credibility issues.” This means the readings at Furnace Creek from 2020 and 2021 could be the highest pair of reliably measured temperatures observed on Earth.
DEATH VALLEY UPDATE 🌡️
High temp at Death Valley today = 130F.
⚠️ If this says anything about how hot SAT-SUN will be, HEED THESE WARNINGS. Do not put yourself, nor first responders in danger this weekend!
This observed high temp is considered preliminary & not yet validated. https://t.co/BwovUm42PE
— NWS Las Vegas (@NWSVegas) July 10, 2021
Still, there are other factors to contemplate that could affect the recent record at Furnace Creek . William Reid, a climatologist expert on Death Valley meteorology, said that an increase in vegetation and structures built in the vicinity of the Furnace Creek site in recent decades has allowed the station to record hotter temperatures.
“An increase in vegetation and some man-made structures not too far south of the station have resulted in poorer ventilation through the station area. Since the station is above a bare and sandy surface, hot air along the ground during afternoon sunshine is less effectively mixed away from the instrumentation. The result is higher temperature readings during the afternoon comparably,” Reid wrote
Whether the record is officially confirmed or not, it’s clear that heatwaves are getting worse – and climate change has a lot to do with it. They are occurring more frequently, are more intense, and are lasting longer than they did in the past. Global temperatures have already increased by 1ºC compared to pre-industrial times, and show little sign of slowing down. We’re now entering into a period of climate heating and we can expect plenty more records to come in future years.
This is the third heatwave in just three weeks in the West, following the Pacific Northwest event at the end of June and the blast in the Southwest in the middle of the month. A panel of scientists recently agreed that the current heatwave would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change. Even in today’s warming world, the heat was a once-in-a-millennium event.