Death Valley weather station
Official weather station at the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center in Death Valley, California. The white box houses the fan-aspirated temperature sensor. (Photo credit: Jeff Masters)

Death Valley, California hit an astonishing 129.9 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4°C) at 3:41 p.m. PDT Sunday, August 16, 2020, which was rounded to 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the final report from NOAA.

According to weather records experts Christopher Burt, who wrote the comprehensive weather records book “Extreme Weather”, and Maximiliano Herrera, who tweets under the Twitter handle Extreme Temperatures Around the World, the observation may be the hottest reliably recorded temperature in world history, breaking the 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit readings at Death Valley in 2013 and in Kuwait in 2016.

Cautions about the record

Herrera and Burt are cautious about accepting the new record set at the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center in Death Valley. The measurement came in mid-August. But extreme high temperature records are much easier to set in July, which is the hottest month of summer. Also concerning was the fact that Sunday’s temperatures at Furnace Creek showed some odd jumps during the day. (See the raw high-resolution data here by choosing a time up to six days in the past from the drop-down menu, then choosing “Decoded Data”.)

However, there were some relevant wind direction changes at Furnace Creek that occurred during these temperature jumps, bolstering the idea that the temperature changes were real. The National Weather Service noted that transient high cirrus clouds may have played a role in the temperature changes. Further support for the 130 degrees Fahrenheit reading at Furnace Creek came from the nearby Stovepipe Wells site in Death Valley, which peaked at 125 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday. That site, which lies in a cooler part of the valley and is 200 feet higher in elevation, is typically three to five degrees cooler than the Furnace Creek site.

The Greenland Ranch USWB weather shelter in Death Valley, California, site of the official world record extreme temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit on July 10, 1913. Photo is the oldest known photograph of the weather station (circa late 1910s to as late as 1921) and is looking west. (Image credit: NWS Las Vegas archives via Chris Burt)

The official world record will remain 134°F

“If Sunday’s observation passes an investigation (instrument calibration, etc.) then, yes, this a new reliably measured global extreme heat record,” Burt wrote by email.

But the observation will not count as an official world record. In 2013, the World Meteorological Organization officially decertified the official all-time hottest temperature in world history, a 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit reading from Al Azizia, Libya, in 1923. (Burt was a member of the WMO team that made the determination.) After the abandonment of the Libya record, the official world record was given to a 134 degrees Fahrenheit measurement taken at Death Valley on July 10, 1913.

However, this record has been strongly disputed by Burt and Herrera.

“The old Death Valley record from July 1913 is 100% bogus (not just 99.9% such), as are all other temperature readings of 130 degrees Fahrenheit or higher from Africa in the past,” Burt said.

Burt wrote a detailed 2016 blog post at Weather Underground challenging the 1913 record at Death Valley, explaining that official readings of 134, 130, and 131 degrees Fahrenheit taken on July 10, 12, and 13, 1913 were likely the result of an inexperienced observer. In order for the 1913 Death Valley record to be decertified, though, an official World Meteorological Organization investigation committee would have to be assembled to look into the matter, a years-long process for which there is currently no motivation.

The only other temperature of at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit officially recognized by the World Meteorological Organization is a 131-degree reading at Kebili, Tunisia, set July 7, 1931, which is considered to be Africa’s hottest temperature.

Burt disputed this record: “I mentioned to the WMO about the Kebili temperature of 131 degrees Fahrenheit back in 2012, when asked what I thought the next hottest temperature in Africa (after Al Azzia) might be, since that was the only temperature over 130 degrees Fahrenheit that had an actual date attached to it. However, the Kebili ‘record’ is even more bogus than even the Al Azzia record, and I said so. Kebili is a relatively cool spot in Tunisia (an oasis) and never since the 1930s ever again recorded a maximum temperature above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. The WMO wanted something for their ‘Africa’ section at that time, and somehow the 131 degrees Fahrenheit made it into the database with no consideration of its validity whatsoever. Nowhere in Africa has any reliably observed temperature been measured above 126 degrees Fahrenheit.”

A weird weather day in California

Another argument supporting Sunday’s 130 degrees Fahrenheit measurement at Death Valley was the unusual weather setup over California.

“I’m coming around to thinking that this 129.9° reading just might be for real,” Burt said. “For one thing, the weather today in California has been unique. All kinds of strange local weather occurred. In fact, the folks at most of the state’s National Weather Service offices are saying there has never been a day like today in recorded history in the state: all kinds of weird dynamics at work and the models just can’t handle the details.”

Yale Climate Connections contributor Bob Henson had these observations on Sunday’s weird weather in California: “Among the strange developments over the weekend in California were a highly unusual round of pre-dawn thunderstorms in the Bay Area on Sunday, with only scant rain but profuse lightning that started multiple new wildfires. More than 4,800 lightning strikes were recorded in California on Saturday alone. Also on Saturday, a fire-based thunderstorm (pyrocumulonimbus) in Lassen County spawned what appear to be multiple fire whirls and ‘fire tornados’, as indicated by radar and documented in photos and videos. The storm prompted what is apparently the first-ever NWS tornado warning related to pyrocumulonimbus. It will take further study to establish how many vortexes developed and how many might have been fire whirls (smaller-scale, shorter-lived spin-ups akin to dust devils) versus more unusual fire tornadoes, which extend up into a pyrocumulonimbus and which can generate surface winds of more than 100 mph.

“These events are related to an infusion of moisture from the tropical northeast Pacific, some of it from ex-Hurricane Elida, coupled with one of the strongest, hottest upper-level domes of high pressure ever recorded across the western United States in August. When such air is forced to descend, it warms up even more, which can lead to record-setting temperatures at the surface.”

Also see: Heat waves and climate change: Is there a connection?

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Jeff Masters, Ph.D., worked as a hurricane scientist with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. After a near-fatal flight into category 5 Hurricane Hugo, he left the Hurricane Hunters to pursue a...

36 replies on “Death Valley, California, may have recorded the hottest temperature in world history”

  1. Been a month to remember so far with a week to go yet.
    It’s just a matter of what the CS215 temp probe will measure against a NIST Traceable reference at 45-55 deg C
    Calibration Accuracy tends to fade as the range of sensor increases hard to be within + – 0.1-0.3 deg
    at 10C and at 55 C
    Even the the maximum bulb housed in CRS can and will show up to 0.3 deg F difference between
    50 deg F and 130 deg F
    We know on 8/16/20 the max bulb recorded 129 deg not sure if this was 129 deg flat or whatever.
    The previous all time high on 6/30/2013 was also officially recorded in the CRS photos show 129.2
    but this was before it was turned vertical which is the standard NWS procedure for measurement for
    daily high before swinging I have had several maximum bulbs with about 3 or 4 different manufacturers
    started with Weksler ordered from Novalynx in Grass Valley after that they all drop about 0.3 deg F
    when turned vertical (at least appear to from viewing angle)

    But have not seen any issses with these bulbs been reports myself but reports of problems have been
    reported the Alcohol minimum Bulb in the set is a completely different story but were not concerned
    with that for this record.

    Will be strange to have the all time record high recorded in August fro this station or any Cal/NV/AZ
    desert station but it actually occurred.

    But on the other hand the all-time reliable record high for any California non-desert station also
    recorded in August.
    It was on 8/7/81 at Red BluffI believe this is date did not double check when I checked the hourlies
    fro this date also had weird wind shift to light SSW between 3-5pm when the 121 was recorded at
    the airport where mean was recorded.

    I actually talked to guy a week later that was camping in the Burney area to the NE of site
    in hills he said there was major lightning occurring in the area the morning before
    Red Bluff recorded the high same day.
    Also on Sunday morning 8/16/20 has some of the unusual weather ever in Northern San Francisco
    Bay Area officially Travis Air Force(SUU) BASE jumped to 100 deg at 6am which may have been a heat burst rom decaying TS winds increased to 40+ and dew points dropped

    The Vacavile airport on Hwy 80 was blown off the air at 5AM but checked several PWS in the area
    with Davis and Ambient Weather the hottest spot seemed to be from Vacavile over to Winters
    near hwy 505 several reported 101.3 to 101.7 Cordelia to the South and Davis to the north were
    only upper’s 90.
    So all of these strange events happening earlier in day I’m not surprised what happened at
    DV last Sunday

  2. Thank you Dr. Masters & Dr. Henson. It is SO GOOD to see you here after all those years at WU (and UMich weather!). I hope the sometimes-funky, always-interesting WU comment crowd end up over here too 🙂

  3. Hot in Southern Alberta Canada the last few days, phew!
    Under a heat warning right now. Forecast for tomorrow: 33C (91.4F). Dry.

  4. I wonder if Furnace Creek and Phoenix AZ will set record high monthly average temps for August. Or for Phoenix a hottest all-time month. In July Pheoniz AZ averaged 98.9°F, setting a new record for the hottest month ever, and during August 1-16 averaged 100.2°F So far August 17th has been 90/115. Storms passing to the east of the airport now but looks like the storms will miss Sky Harbor today

  5. Hello,
    It’s possible the Gill Radiation Shield may only be naturally aspirated it’s has a probe going thru center
    unless it’s different type fan aspiration.
    The temperature measured yesterday was legit it’s just the exposure of the station is getting worse
    over the years DV is so much warmer than the other desert reporting stations now.
    I believe Stovepipe Wells which conditions remain the same since 2004 when station erected was
    124.6 yesterday DV was 129.9 -5.3 deg on the other 129 deg days 2005/2007/6/30/2013 since 2004
    it 126 (rounded) so maybe only 3-3.5 deg less than DV.
    This should be really easy to verify the NPS has an aspirated Davis Vantage Pro Plus in the corral
    plus the Min/Max bulbs in the CRS just compare with those other accurate instruments.
    No matter what happens the record will stand and be posted as legit by WMO Extreme Climate Group..

    1. No matter what happens the record will stand and be posted as legit by WMO Extreme Climate Group…. No matter what happens? And “Extreme” Climate Group? I’d love some clarity on those thoughts and what you mean please.

      Extreme weather related crop loss this year, record highs dropping left and right, Asia devastating floods, and now a hurricane season to come few want to see. Rain seasonal averages feet above average across parts of the Southeast and further north.

      No matter what happens the record will stand and be posted as legit by WMO Extreme Climate Group…..Quoting you. Minimizing this one recording of temperatures? Seems minimal in the sum total of where our world stands climate wise. Likely coming record billion dollar events is upcoming for 2020, and sadly, great human suffering. What we are all witnissing is very measurable.

      1. The Gill Multi-Plate Radiation Shield is designed to protect temperature accurary and relative humidity sensors from error-producing solar radiation and precipitation; are you suggesting Dennis H. the DV site has not been correctly maintained to measure accuracy?

    2.  it’s just the exposure of the station is getting worse
      over the years DV is so much warmer than the other desert reporting stations now……From Dennis H. This should be measurable. Is the area getting hotter than surrounding areas historically? Should be an easy comparrison. Or is the station, as you said, the exposure of the station is getting worse? That would imply exposure has comprosided the station itself.

    3. The reading was recorded at 3:41 pm at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center in the Death Valley national park by an automated observation system, which is an electronic thermometer inside a box. This was taken in the shade too. I’m sure it’ll be checked over closely and then some. “The suspicion about yesterday is that normally… all the stations are also reporting record high temperatures at the same time, and yesterday that wasn’t the case,” he told AFP. That’s from Chris Burt, so the good news is people want to know the truth. “There was also a lot of convection in the mountains just west of Death Valley so there could have been some kind of effect downslope into Death Valley that really pushed up the temperatures,” Chris Burt also said. Cool to see what comes of it if nothing else.

  6. Really? Well in the very short time humans have been keeping records 🤣 the planet has been here for billions of years. Of course someone wants to attract attention by saying they’ve recorded the hottest temperature ever in history? 😮🤣🤣
    So we’ve been recording temperatures in death valley for a couple hundred years at most? Maybe 100 years? So what, it’s probably been a lot hotter than that through “history”.

    1. history of climatology, it’s obvious, you clown ! do we need to repeat that every time ? you are pathetic ! you sound like a broken record….

    2. “…it’s probably been a lot hotter than that”

      Well, who are we to argue such sound scientific reasoning?

  7. Hey, everyone…. .could the unusual wx pattern in the area have contributed to a dust storm in Phoenix yesterday?

      1. It’s happening again now. Between 7:30 p.m. and 7:35 p.m. the temperature fell from 111°F to 106°F and the visibility fell from 10 miles to 3 miles with blowing dust.

      2. Wowzers. Phoenix Sky Harbor airport 7:44 p.m. winds east 36 mph gusting to 59 mph, 102°F, 2.5 mile visibility, blowing dust.

  8. Japan Meteorological Agency
    Tropical Cyclone Advisory #3 – 3:00 AM JST August 18 2020
    Bashi Channel

    At 18:00 PM UTC, Tropical Depression (1002 hPa) located at 19.8N 118.4E has 10 minute sustained winds of 30 knots. The depression is repoted as moving west at 9 knots.

    Dvorak Intensity: T2.0-

    Forecast and Intensity
    24 HRS: 20.4N 112.9E – 35 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm) South China Sea

  9. Today

    Mostly sunny and hot, with a high near 132. Calm wind becoming south 5 to 7 mph in the afternoon. Forecast update for Death Valley from the NWS.

  10. Today Mostly sunny and hot, with a high near 131. Northwest wind 8 to 10 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. Death Valley Forecast today from NWS. Will this record be broken again today?

    1. Thanks Dr. Masters for the post, and all who worked so tirelessly to get this record correct.

  11. I worked in a limited way with Chris Burt on overturning the Al Azizia ‘record’, and was both amazed and delighted at just how meticulous and careful were the many people involved in doing so. There were an enormous amount of research along the way, and what had to be many hundreds of emails exchanged between the parties. By the time we were done, I was–and remain–absolutely convinced that overturning that ‘record’ was the right thing to do. And I am nearly completely convinced that both the Kebili ‘record as well as the 134 degree reading at Death Valley are also spurious, and should be discarded as well.

      1. They couldn’t have done Al Azizia without you, Sr. Herrera, as they won’t be able to do any others without your tireless expertise.

      2. Desagree about rivadavia, that one is pretty on point with the climatic history of the site, that station remains to this day and its readings are 100% supported by the data provided by the hardcore modelization of the current era. Maybe you meant villa de maria, wich is the one really bogus from this part of the world.

  12. I always find the meticulous research that goes into the verification of these measurements amazing. Thanks for the quick update on this historic event, Dr. Masters.

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