The 130-Degree F Reading in Death Valley Is A World Record

Pro: The old record of 134 degrees F in 1913 is flawed should be discarded.

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.

In 2012 the WMO (World Meteorological Organization) disallowed what had long been considered the hottest air temperature ever measured on Earth: a 58.0°C (136.4°F) reading measured at El Azizia, Libya on September 13, 1922. As a result of this record being struck from the books, the temperature of 134°F (56.7°C) recorded at Greenland Ranch at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, California on July 10, 1913 became, by default, the new world’s hottest air temperature yet measured. In this guest blog we will investigate the credibility of that measurement. This blog is courtesy of William T. Reid, a geographer and climatologist who has been studying the desert climate of California and, in particular, the Death Valley temperature record for some 30 years. Mr. Reid and I worked together to come to a commensurate conclusion regarding the validity of this significant planetary weather record: It is possible to demonstrate that a temperature of 134°F in Death Valley on July 10, 1913, was essentially not possible from a meteorological perspective, using an officially sanctioned USWB shelter and thermometer and following proper procedures observationally.

Since the record hot observations at Greenland Ranch from July 7-14, 1913 cannot be explained meteorologically, it is the conclusion of this investigation that the observer, Oscar Denton, knowingly or inadvertently exaggerated the maximum temperatures during that time frame. This likely was the result of his lack of experience as an official USWB observer coupled with a strong notion that the temperature readings from the USWB instrument shelter, above the cooling influence of the irrigated alfalfa sod, were inadequate. Given the much higher temperatures indicated on other household thermometers at the ranch, Mr. Denton may have been of the opinion that the ‘official’ Stevenson screen observations were not accurately representing the extreme heat which he felt was self-evident. The heat wave in July 1913 was the first such he was ‘in charge of’ as an official COOP observer and perhaps he was not familiar with temperature measurement in a controlled environment i.e. an official USWB-supplied Stevenson Screen and the official equipment (thermometers) that accompany such. Thus he fell back on what he perceived to be his own experience of Death Valley heat and associated temperatures and he consequently exaggerated the temperatures indicated on the maximum thermometer to values he thought were more realistic.

The Greenland Ranch weather station was sited in a very conservative place, a relatively cool place in Death Valley. If the observations of 129°F to 134°F at Greenland Ranch from July 9 to 13 were authentic, then maximums at the closest surrounding stations during that 5-day period would have been substantially hotter than actually observed.

Finally, it is not possible to conclusively prove that Mr. Denton intentionally or inadvertently exaggerated his observations. However, it is possible to demonstrate that a temperature of 134°F in Death Valley on July 10, 1913 was essentially not possible from a meteorological perspective using an officially sanctioned USWB shelter and thermometer and following proper procedures observationally. Thus, the best explanation for the record high report(s) in July 1913 is observer error.

Con: 134 degrees in 1913 is still the official record and there is no reason to change it.

According to the National Weather Service, this dispute is a non-issue and 1913 holds the record. See the Tweet below from July 9, 2021.

Tune into social media and you will hear caterwauling to the effect of: “Many meteorologists believe the 1913 reading should be decertified as unreliable, just as the 2012 reading in Libya was. If it is decertified, which is likely, this would be the new record, eclipsing last year’s measurement of 129.2 degrees F in Kuwait.”

The “many meteorologists” boils down to the opinion of one Christopher Burt of the popular weather website Weather Underground, who is pushing decertification based on his pet theory that hot sand grains in a dust storm imparted additional heat to the thermometer bulb on July 10th, 1913. Or that there was “observer error”. But there’s no science or history backing this up; it is just an opinion.

The only way to prove the sand grain theory would be to setup an experiment in Death Valley on a day like that 130°F reading last weekend with a test rig to blow in sand grains to the weather shelter housing the thermometer. They’d need to use the actual sand there, because sand varies greatly is size and composition. Burt wants you to believe the weather station might be unreliable, but history says otherwise.

In terms of the reliability of the Greenland Ranch weather station at Death Valley, California, there should be little question in that regard.  The US Weather Bureau (now known as the US National Weather Service) actually established this weather station in 1911 in cooperation with the company that operated the ranch.  In their own words, the US Weather Bureau “carefully tested maximum and minimum thermometers” and stated that “the instrument shelter at this station is the same as those used at several thousand other weather stations maintained by the Weather Bureau throughout the United States”. The US Weather Bureau summarized by stating “the extreme maximum temperature of 134°F recorded on July 10, 1913, is the highest natural-air temperature ever recorded on the earth’s surface by means of a tested standard thermometer exposed in a standard ventilated instrument shelter”.

Click either of the images above to see the history of the station. The images are from the publication Monthly Weather Review.

But here’s something the media tends to ignore. July 1913 had several days at or above 128°F. This is simply “business as usual” for Death Valley. In fact, back in 1913, over 100 years of “global warming” ago, Death Valley’s official weather station at Greenland Ranch also hit 130°F or higher three times that July. This was an intense stretch of hot weather from the 5th through the 14th when the high temperature reached 125°F or higher each and every day. In fact, this 10-day stretch still ranks as the hottest stretch ever recorded in Death Valley. The hottest days in this time period occurred from the 9th through the 13th when the high temperature reached at least 129°F with the hottest being on July 10th when the record-breaking 134°F was measured.

Here is the table of high temperature records for Death Valley. Note the top three records occurred during July 1913. Six of the top 25 records were in July 1913. So much for Burt’s opinion of “meteorologically impossible” and “observer error”.

Until such time it is decertified by the World Meteorological Organization, this “unreliable” opinion about a well-known temperature record accepted for over 100 years remains flat out wrong. The 134°F maximum temperature as being the hottest-ever remains fact.

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