The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Death Valley soars to 130 degrees, matching Earth’s highest temperature in at least 90 years

(National Weather Service)

As the third massive heat wave in three weeks kicked off in the West on Friday, Death Valley, Calif., soared to a searing 130 degrees. If confirmed, it would match the highest known temperature on the planet since at least 1931, which occurred less than a year ago.

Death Valley also hit 130 degrees last August, which at the time preliminarily ranked among the top three highest temperatures ever measured on the planet. It is still being reviewed by the World Meteorological Organization, which is the arbiter of international weather records.

Severe heat wave builds across Western U.S. after nation’s hottest June on record

The 130-degree reading observed Friday and last August only trail two other high temperatures ever measured on the planet: 1) The high of 134 set in Death Valley on July 10, 1913, and 2) a 131-degree reading from Kebili, Tunisia, set July 7, 1931.

But Christopher Burt, an expert on world weather extremes, questions the legitimacy of both of those measurements. He called the 1913 Death Valley reading “essentially not possible from a meteorological perspective” and wrote that the 1931 Tunisia reading has “serious credibility issues.”

In other words, the 130-degree readings from Death Valley on Friday and last year, if validated, may be the highest pair of reliably measured temperatures ever observed on Earth.

As it stands, Friday’s high broke the daily record for July 9 of 129, also from 1913.

Death Valley is the lowest, driest and hottest location in the United States. Furnace Creek, where its temperature is measured, sits at 190 feet below sea level in the Mojave Desert of southeastern California. It is notorious for its blistering heat.

Friday’s 130-degree reading comes after it hit 126 degrees on both Wednesday and Thursday. It’s predicted to reach as high as 132 degrees on Saturday and 130 on Sunday. Nighttime lows may stay above 100 until the middle of next week.

Reservoirs are drying up as consequences of the Western drought worsen

Saturday marks the anniversary of the controversial 134 degree reading from 1913. Temperatures that high are unlikely this weekend.

The sweltering heat in Death Valley comes on the heels of its hottest June on record. And it was just three summers ago that it posted the hottest July ever recorded on the planet for the second year in a row. During that month, it hit at least 120 degrees on 21 days.

The heat occurring in the West this summer is linked to both a historically intense drought and human-caused climate change. The historic heat wave that occurred in the Pacific Northwest to close June was made at least 150 times as likely due to human influence, according to a panel of scientists.

More on heat waves

Our warming climate: It’s not just you ⁠— summers in the U.S. are getting hotter, and experts say heat waves will likely become even more frequent and intense. Take a look at what extreme heat does to the human body.

How to stay safe: It’s better to prepare for extreme heat before you’re in it. Here’s our guide to bracing for a heat wave, tips for staying cool even if you don’t have air conditioning, and what to know about animal safety during extreme heat. Traveling during a heat wave isn’t ideal, but here’s what to do if you are.

Understanding the science: Sprawling zones of high pressure called heat domes fuel heat waves. Here’s how they work. You can also read more about the link between weather disasters and climate change, and how leaders in the U.S. and Europe are responding to heat.

Tell the Post: What questions do you have about extreme heat, wildfires, droughts or other climate-related topics?