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Temps at Southwestern Parks Are Approaching Record Highs—With Deadly Consequences

With Death Valley and the Grand Canyon expecting a sweltering heat wave, hikers will need to take precautions.

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The official start of summer may still be nearly two weeks away, but national parks around the southwestern U.S. are already preparing for potentially record-breaking heat, with weather officials warning of dangerous conditions in many popular destinations.

In a forecast, the National Weather Service predicted that temperatures in Death Valley’s Furnace Creek could reach 121°F on June 10, high enough to surpass a 28-year-old record for that date. On June 11, the NWS forecasts a high of 120°F, just one degree shy of breaking a record high set on that day in 1921.

Death Valley officially holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth for a 134°F day recorded in 1913. (Some observers have suggested that mark is inaccurate, however, and that the actual record high was a 130°F measurement taken in 2020.) Exacerbated by drought and climate change, records have fallen at an increasing pace in recent years: Last June was the park’s hottest on record, with an average temperature of 102.8°F. In total, seven daily temperature records fell that month, including a 128°F day on June 17 which broke the previous record by 6 degrees. 

In Arizona, the Phoenix NWS office declared its first excessive heat warning of the season, with a high to very high heat risk. The agency predicted that the lower reaches of Grand Canyon National Park would see some of the worst heat, with forecast highs topping out at 111°F on Saturday at Phantom Ranch. The heat wave comes on the heels of the park’s first death of the season. On June 2, Melanie Goodine, a 41-year-old hiker from Ottawa, Canada, fell unconscious and died on the Grand Canyon’s popular Bright Angel Trail as she was hiking out after a rim-to-river hike. While Goodine’s death is still under investigation and the park service has not specified a cause of death, Joelle Baird, a spokesperson for the park, told CNN that highs on the trail that day were between 95 and 105°F.

Due to its high visitation and often harsh climate, Grand Canyon sees more deaths than any other national park in the United States. From 2010 to 2020, the park reported a total of 134 deaths, many of those from heat illness. Last July, hiker Michelle Meder passed away from suspected heat illness after temperatures in the canyon crested at 115°F.

The National Park Service recommends that hikers heading into the Grand Canyon in the heat rest in the shade during the day, consume fluids regularly, wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, and monitor hiking companions for signs of distress.


From 2022