This Month in Climate History: Earth’s Hottest Temperature

Image of the Greenland Ranch Weather Station from 1922

Greenland Ranch Weather Station 1922
Credit: NOAA

Ever since the Lost ‘49ers gave it its name back in 1849, Death Valley has been famous for being one of the hottest and driest places in North America. In fact, Death Valley holds the record for the world’s highest surface air temperature ever recorded—134°F recorded at Greenland Ranch July 10, 1913. While 134°F is definitely well-above Death Valley’s average summer temperatures, temperatures frequently reach or exceed 100°F from mid-May until early October.

On July 5–14, 1913, Death Valley endured an intense stretch of hot weather. The high temperature reached 125°F or more every day, and that 10-day period still ranks as the longest consecutive stretch of temperatures that high on record in the valley. The hottest days were from July 9 to the 13, when the high temperature reached as least 129°F each day, and on July 10 the temperature spiked to 134°F. Although Death Valley had been known for being an extremely hot place, this reading helped to solidify its reputation.

On September 13, 1922, a temperature of 136°F was recorded at El Azizia, Libya. This was eventually certified by the World Meteorological Organization as the hottest air temperature ever recorded on Earth. However, additional evidence recently came to light indicating that the 136°F reading was invalid. On September 12, 2012, the World Meteorological Organization officially recertified the 134°F reading at Death Valley as the all-time highest surface air temperature recorded on the planet.

So, why is Death Valley always so hot? Part of the reason is that the depth and shape of Death Valley influence its summer temperatures. The valley is a long, narrow basin 282 feet below sea level, yet is walled by high, steep mountain ranges. The clear, dry air and sparse plant cover allow sunlight to heat the desert surface. The heat radiates back from the rocks and soil, and then becomes trapped in the valley’s depths. Summer nights provide little relief as overnight lows during the summer may only dip into the 85°F to 95°F range.

Learn more about Death Valley’s World Record Temperature and the celebration of its 100th anniversary at www.wrh.noaa.gov/vef/deathvalley/.

Check out the Death Valley National Weather Service Local Forecast Office to see the current weather conditions in the valley.

See the National Park Service at Death Valley to learn more about this unique location and how to visit it.

Find out what the record highest temperature is for your state with NCDC’s State Climate Extremes Committee Records.

For more information on other world records, visit the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Weather and Climate Extremes page.