An even hotter – albeit totally unconfirmed – temperature was later picked on Sunday. A thermometer outside Furnace Creek Visitors Center in the heart of Death Valley reportedly read 56.6°C (134°F) just before 4 pm local time. However, these temperatures apparently typically measure higher than the official reading, so you shouldn’t necessarily expect it to be confirmed and verified.
Nevertheless, the more reliable temperature of 54.4°C (130°F) seen on Friday is still one of the hottest temperatures ever recorded.
The history of record-breaking temperatures is a bit of a messy story. The official global heat record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is an air temperature of 56.7°C (134.1°F) recorded at Furnace Creek, a ranch in Death Valley, on July 10, 1913.
However, some experts have doubted the validity of this recording, especially since the longstanding world record holder in Libya was overruled in 2012. This record air temperature of 58°C (136.4°F) was detected at El Azizia in Libya on September 13, 1922. It stood as the world record for 90 years until the WMO officially announced the record was invalidated in 2021 following a “danger-fraught investigation” during the 2011 Libyan revolution.
Death Valley is one of the driest places on Earth too, gathering an average yearly rainfall of just 6 centimeters (2.36 inches). As per the US National Park Service, the extreme environmental conditions seen in Death Valley are all down to the area’s shape and depth. The valley is a narrow basin some 86 meters (282 feet) below sea level, lined by high mountain ranges. The valley becomes baked by the Sun and hot air becomes trapped by the high surrounding walls. The trapped warm air does eventually become slightly cool and gets pushed back down to the valley floor, but this only serves to further condense and warm the air at ground level. The end result is waves of superheated air becoming pumping through the valley.
It isn’t just Death Valley that’s currently bearing ridiculously hot weather. Record-breaking temperatures are expected to hit the states of California and Nevada this week, with Las Vegas predicted to surpass its record-high temperature of 47°C (117°F).
All of this comes just a couple of weeks after a record-breaking heatwave struck the Pacific Northwest. A report published last week argued that these blistering temperatures would be “virtually impossible” to achieve without human-caused climate change.
“The observed temperatures were so extreme that they lie far outside the range of historically observed temperatures. This makes it hard to quantify with confidence how rare the event was,” the report reads. “In the most realistic statistical analysis the event is estimated to be about a 1 in 1,000-year event in today’s climate.”