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Death Valley Approaches Global Heat Record as US Reels From Extreme Weather

Long the hottest place on Earth, Death Valley put a sizzling exclamation point on 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, reached 128F (53.3C) on Sunday at the aptly named Furnace Creek, the National Weather Service said.

The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 134F (56.7C) 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 130F (54.4C) 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 US.”

Furnace Creek is an unincorporated community within Death Valley national park. It is home to the park’s visitor center, which includes a digital thermometer popular with tourists. On Sunday afternoon, dozens of people gathered at the thermometer – some wearing fur coats as a joke – hoping to snap a picture with a temperature reading that would shock their friends and family.

That digital thermometer hit 130F at one point on Sunday, but it is not an official reading. The National Weather Service said the highest temperature recorded on Sunday was 128F – a high that was unlikely to be surpassed as the sun went down. Meteorologists say that thin cloud cover most likely kept temperatures from reaching potential record highs.

The heatwave is just one part of the extreme weather hitting the US over the weekend. Five people died in Pennsylvania on Saturday when heavy rains caused a sudden flash flood that swept away multiple cars. A nine-month-old boy and a two-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. Heatwaves are not as visually dramatic as other natural disasters, but experts say they are more deadly. A heatwave in parts of the south and midwest killed more than a dozen people last month.

Temperatures in Phoenix hit 114F (45.6C) on Sunday, the 17th consecutive day of 110 degrees or higher. The record is 18 days, set in June 1974. Phoenix is on track to break that record on Tuesday, said Gabriel Lojero, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Heat records are being shattered all over the US and Europe. Meanwhile, dramatic floods have hit the US north-east, 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.

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 Niño and La Niña cycle. An El Niño 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 Russ Vose, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate analysis chief, have said that most of the record warming the Earth is now seeing is from human-caused climate change, partly because this El Niño only started a few months ago and is still weak to moderate. It is not expected to peak until winter, so scientists predict next year will be even hotter than this year.

There is some debate about Death Valley’s record of records. Some meteorologists have disputed how accurate Death Valley’s 110-year-old high is, with the weather historian Christopher Burt disputing it for several reasons, which he laid out in a blogpost a few years ago.

The two hottest temperatures on record are the 134F in 1913 in Death Valley and 131F in Tunisia in July 1931. Burt, a weather historian for The Weather Company, finds fault with both of those measurements and lists 130F in July 2021 in Death Valley as his hottest recorded temperature on Earth.

He said that “130 degrees is very rare if not unique.”

In July 2021 and August 2020, Death Valley recorded a reading of 130F, but both are still awaiting confirmation. Scientists have found no problems so far, but they have not finished the analysis, 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.

Source : The Guardian