California's Death Valley may have just set a world-beating temperature record with a dizzying 54.4°C (130°F) recorded on Sunday, August 16.
It still needs to be verified by the National Weather Service, but if it’s confirmed it smashes quite a few records: the hottest temperature recorded at Death Valley in 100 years, the hottest August temperature recorded there by 1.6°C (3°F), and potentially the world’s hottest temperature recorded anywhere.
The temperature was recorded in the aptly named Furnace Creek at 3.41pm local time on Sunday, August 16, as California bakes in a heatwave that has seen wildfires, firenadoes, and power outages across the state, with no signs of letting up.
The official global heat record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), is also at Furnace Creek, which recorded an air temperature of 56.7°C (134.1°F) on July 10, 1913. However, the validity of this temperature has been disputed by many experts, particularly after a former world-record measured in Libya was overruled in 2012.
Heat records are measured in three ways: air temperatures, ground temperatures, and via satellite. The standard for measuring temperature is through the air – 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) above the ground and shielded from sunlight. However, this doesn’t take into consideration other factors like environmental conditions. One of the main criticisms against the 1913 record is that a sandstorm recorded at the same time may have superheated the ground and shelter where the gauge was stationed.
The former record held for 90 years was 58°C (136.4°F) at El Azizia, Libya on September 13, 1922. But in 2012, the WMO officially overturned this after evidence of an error in the temperature recording was revealed during an investigation carried out against the backdrop of the 2011 Libyan revolution. It's thought the temperature was taken above an asphalt-like material (rather than desert soil or sand) by an inexperienced observer, inflating the temperature.
The WMO has agreed to consider evidence to overrule the 1913 record, but even then the next agreed upon heat record is 53.9°C (129°F) recorded at, you guessed it, Furnace Creek, Death Valley, on July 1, 1913, so it can be universally agreed that Death Valley is one of, if not the, hottest place on Earth.
It's one of the driest places on Earth too, with a yearly rainfall of just 6 centimeters (2.36 inches), and yet that doesn't mean it's a bland rocky desert where nothing survives. Death Valley not only briefly hosted a 16-kilometer-wide (10-mile) lake last year after 22 millimeters (0.87 inches) of rain fell in just 24 hours, it also hosts one of America's most spectacular superblooms every few years. It's even home to the world's rarest fish, the Devil's Hole pupfish, and a rare species of bee that carves its nest in the sandstone rock.
It turns out, even in one of the hottest, driest, deadliest places on Earth, life finds a way.