Last month was one for extreme heat around the world, but every locale pales in comparison to what’s going on at Death Valley in the US state of California. Already one of the hottest places on Earth, the heat has gone into overdrive this July. Death Valley is in line to set a record for the hottest month ever recorded on Earth.
For the month of July, the average temperature there was 42.3 degrees Celsius, earning it a place in the history books for the hottest month reliably recorded anywhere (pending official review of course). It will take the spot of... Death Valley, which set the record last year with a July average of 41.9 degrees Celsius.
Measurements are taken once daily when a volunteer moseys out to the weather station near the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to check two thermometers that record the day’s high and low temperatures. The weather station has been functioning since 1961, though records for the area extend back to 1911 (the previous weather station was just 1,000 feet to the south). Of the five hottest months recorded at the site, four have occurred since 2005.
Tourists have flocked to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America that’s also the epicentre of the extreme heat. Masochists have posed next to the visitor centre’s digital thermometer and even gone for a jog, which sounds torturous.
“We wanted to get to the hottest spot,” Oliver Anne, a French tourist, told the Law Vegas Review Journal. “The hotter, the better.”
Well, you got it, buddy. But in all seriousness, the extremes at Death Valley are no joke. At least one visitor has died this month from the heat, according to the Review Journal, underscoring that you need to take care of yourself and heed warning signs in hot weather.
July has been a month of wild heat waves that have engulfed the high Arctic, Japan, North Africa, and much of Europe. Scientists have already shown that climate change made the European heat wave more likely, and it wouldn’t be surprising in the least that the other heat waves are also linked to global warming. Rising background temperatures can amplify heat waves’ intensity and make them more common.
The atmospheric setup has also helped bake in July heat in some locations, including Death Valley. The jet stream has gone wild this month, resembling a series of waves. The troughs in the waves allow cooler air from the north to dip down, but the ridges allow hot air to build up. That’s what we’ve seen in Death Valley.
“It’s similar throughout the desert Southwest,” Stan Czyzyk, a forecaster at the US National Weather Service’s Las Vegas office, told Earther. “We’ve had a large ridge of high pressure over us for a good chunk of the month.”
He noted that while the ridge’s intensity isn’t a record setter, its persistence for a whole month is what sets it apart and has helped Death Valley reach a new record. Some research has shown that climate change is making the jet stream wavier, though there’s been no specific research looking at the pattern this summer yet.
As the calendar turns to August, it appears the waviness could finally break, over the Southwest at least. Czyzyk said this weekend could yield cooler temperatures that could even dip below average next week. So if you’re the masochistic type that would rather revel in the heat than beat it, you better get to Death Valley ASAP.