Temperature Hall of Fame

A brief aside from INW climate to talk heat and history.

Libya has been having a rough time of it recently, and today was no exception. 90 years to the date after setting the record for World’s Hottest place, the World Meteorological Organization finally received enough information to dethrone the city of Al Azizia, Libya as the record-holder, which had set the record with a reported high temperature of 136.4F. Spurred by curiosity, Randy Cerveny, a professor of geography at Arizona State University, and others were able to document numerous problems with the measurement taken. Weather underground has a nice video detailing the story.

With Libya stripped of its gold medal for juicing, Death Valley California can now claim the record for the hottest place on Earth. A temperature of 134F was recorded in the ironically named Greenland Ranch on July 10, 1913. The worlds tallest thermometer in Baker, California, stands 134 ft tall as a monument to the event.

Given the popularity of the show ‘Mythbusters’ and a few conversations that I’ve had with NWS Las Vegas in the past, I find the record temperature of 134 in Death Valley to be rather suspicious and worthy of further scrutiny.

If you look at the top 5 warmest days on record for Death Valley, they ALL occurred from Jul 9-13 during a spell of 10 days in a row with temperatures at or above 125F.

Check out the cooperative observers log that month. Awesome job, right?

The average temperature in mid-July for Death Valley is 117F.  To have a temperature of 134F, one needs a temperature anomaly of 17F.

Looking at the climate archives from NCDC’s Historical Climate Network, let’s take a look back at  temperature anomalies on July 10, 1913 across the US.  When we look at the difference between daytime high temperature on July 10th and the average taken from 100-years and over a 7-day period centered around July 10th (units shown in degrees F), we see well above-average temperatures for much of the southwest and extending into the southern Plains.


However, it is tough to see directly how a 17F anomaly fits with regional anomalies.  The lack of observations in the Mojave is not surprising, and even today data are limited. However, for the broader region, an anomaly of perhaps 10F seems more appropriate. Unless there was some mesoscale phenomena like downslope flow or other subsidence that might have intensified local temperatures, it is a bit tough to see how temperatures could have been above the upper 120s.

For comparison, the warmest temperature recorded in the inland northwest was in Pendleton, Oregon, clocking in with 119F on August 10, 1898.  There have been some pokes at this record as well as it was not apparently recorded, but rather estimated.  Not sure how it was estimated.  Close on its heels, Orofino, Idaho recorded a 118F in July of 1934.