Where’s the hottest recorded place on Earth?

And that’s the “hottest” place recorded according to the ‘WMO World Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes’ … so let’s get the confusion out of the way to start with!

The hottest official recorded temperature is now credited to ‘Death Valley’ in the USA and not ‘Tripoli in Libya’. More specifically ‘Greenland Ranch, near Furnace Creek in Death Valley, California’ which hit 56.7°C (134°F) on July 13, 1913 and not the 58°C (136.4°F) that was recorded at ‘El Azizia (approximately 40 km south-southwest of Tripoli) Libya’ on 13 September 1922.

Check out the World Meteorological Organization for more “techie” information.

So when our tour guide Alex had mentioned where we were heading that day – the “hottest place in the world … Death Valley” I too recounted my GCSE geography lessons that taught me that it was actually somewhere in Libya that held that title! We were too remote for our bus’s Wi-Fi to connect to Wikipedia so it was only once we’d been handed copies of the local ‘Death Valley National Park Visitor Guide’ we could understand why the record had been changed.

Greenland Ranch weather station in about 1921

The oldest known picture of the Greenland Ranch weather station at in Death Valley taken at the latest in 1921. Image Credit: American Meteorological Society

So why the contention? Well in February 2011, a WMO Commission of Climatology (CCl) special international panel of meteorological experts began conducting an investigation into the Libyan record and identified five major concerns with it:

  1. Potential problems with the type of thermometer which had been used
  2. The record temperature was taken by a potentially inexperienced observer just two days into his new role
  3. Unlikely conditions for such high temperatures at the observation site (it was on a hill and near the coast)
  4. Poor correspondence to other weather stations nearby
  5. No subsequently high temperature values ever recorded at the site.

They therefore concluded in January 2012 that Death Valley now had the record and invalidated the 90-year-old Libyan record for the world’s highest temperature.

The old Greenland Ranch weather station is no more but the original location lies on the eastern side of the road opposite the Furnace Creek Resort if you ever wanted to try to find the exact location yourself! Although it too was repositioned 2 or 3 times over the years due to measuring improvements and highway building and nobody at the visitor centre knew its exact original location either!

Furnace Creek Resort sign

The sign at Furnace Creek Resort. Image Credit: http://oldboystoys.com

The current weather station is at the Furnace Creek Visitor Centre 700-800m up the road and moved there on April 1st 1961 but I’m guessing it would have been about 136.4°F degrees here too – and you never know – maybe even hotter! In fact on June 30th 2013 it reached 129°F degrees (54 °C) but that’s as close as it’s ever got to the 1913 record!

The Furnace Creek weather station today

The Furnace Creek weather station today

But why so warm there? Death Valley lies at 36°N so even at the height of summer it never has the sun directly overhead (23.5°N). However it’s the depth and shape that instead influences its high summer temperatures. The valley itself is 86m below sea level and is walled by steep mountain ranges. Sunlight is allowed to heat the sparsely covered desert surface and the radiated heat becomes trapped within the valley. Even the pockets of sinking, recycled air are only marginally cooler than the surrounding hot air. As they descend they are compressed and heated up even more by the low elevation air pressure.

So that’s the geography lesson over and one with, and either way when we were there it was a mere 40°C (104°F) according to the digital thermometer at the visitor centre but that was plenty warm enough for me! 🙂

Death Valley temperatures throughout the year

Death Valley temperatures throughout the year – with the June maximum entry now being 1°C higher

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