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Death Valley National Park is poised to notch one of the hottest temperatures ever recorded on Earth this weekend—and possibly even break Earth’s all-time record—thanks to a blistering heat wave descending on the deserts of the western United States.
As of Friday morning, the National Weather Service predicts that Death Valley’s Furnace Creek Visitor Center will hit a high of 130°F on Sunday, July 11 and Monday, July 12. Officially speaking, if the park reaches that mark, it still wouldn’t break the record for highest temperature on earth; that dubious honor belongs to a 134°F day logged at the same station in Furnace Creek in 1913.
However, some meteorologists believe that those historical records don’t stand up to scrutiny: In a 2016 analysis, Weather Underground meteorologist and author Christopher C. Burt and climatologist William T. Reid came to the conclusion that the park’s 1913 record was “essentially not possible from a meteorological perspective,” and that unreliable equipment and inconsistencies between colonial-era and modern temperature records mean that other 130- and 131-degree marks set in Tunisia and California in the early part of the 20th century are probably too high as well. In Burt’s opinion, the highest confirmed, reliably-measured temperatures ever recorded were a 129.2°F day logged at Furnace Creek in 2013 and another of the same temperature observed in Mitribah, Kuwait in 2016. If that’s the case, Sunday’s forecast temperature could match the presumed new real record, a 130-degree day in Furnace Creek measured last year which is still under investigation by weather authorities. If Furnace Creek hits 131°F, which the National Weather Service currently gives a 10% chance of happening on Sunday, it would break that record outright.
Death Valley has broiled this summer, as climate change and an anomalous heat wave have pushed the mercury ever higher. In a press release, the National Park Service said that last month was Death Valley’s hottest June on record, with an average overall temperature of 102.9°F; the average June temperature for the park since record-keeping began in 1912 has been 95°F. The extreme heat hasn’t spared the rest of the west either, with authorities reporting heat-related deaths among hikers in the Grand Canyon and on the Pacific Crest Trail.
In a Facebook post on July 2, Death Valley National Park officials urged visitors to recreate cautiously, noting that extreme heat can put rescuers in danger and can even keep helicopters grounded. It also suggested that hikers only venture out at higher elevations or during cooler parts of the day.
This weekend, however, even those precautions might not be enough: With forecast lows cresting at 103°F, it will be sweltering even at night.
Correction: An earlier version of this post said that some meteorologists the highest reliably-measured temperature ever recorded was 129.2 Fahrenheit, but failed to mention that climate authorities are working to confirm a 130-degree measurement from August 2020.