Did Death Valley Break a Heat Record?

by drlje

There has been a lot of press coverage about the heatwave in the Southwestern United States with a great deal of emphasis on Death Valley and whether or not it has broken a heat record. This all plays well into the general consensus that the globe is warming, but me thinks there is something more to the media bullshit hype.

The first thing that should impress anyone about the current “heat” is that it isn’t that unusual for Death Valley. It is, after all, the hottest place on the planet. Thanks to its unique geography and topography, Death Valley routinely breaks through the 120 F mark every July. Is there something special about this July?

The answer is Yes. This July 10th will mark the 100th anniversary since the world record temperature of 134 F (for Death Vally – this is still 2 F below the world record set in Libya) was set in Death Vally in 1913. Wouldn’t it be a great story to be able to say “thanks to global warming, heat records in Death Valley have been smashed” on the 100th anniversary that the records were set? What a great story that would be and it would go a long way to propping up the idea that global warming is real and severe. Too bad the whole story is bullshit.

First of all, how does one measure a heat wave? Is it just a single high temperature? What about low temperatures and stretches of high temperature? As it turns out, there is no pattern whatsoever when you start looking at these trends. Here are some examples:

1. Most days over 100 F: Summer 2001

2. Most consecutive days over 120 F: Summer 1917

3. Most consecutive days over 90 F: Summer 1992

4. Hottest April Temperature: 2012

5. Longest string of lows above 100 F: 1959

The list goes on, but the obvious conclusion one should draw from this is that extremes of weather in Death Valley have been recorded throughout the 20th century, including well before carbon levels were high enough to have an impact. But this still isn’t the whole story.

The weather station used in 1913 was located in Furnace Creek. The new instrument is located 20 miles south of that in Badwater (installed late 1990s, which is convenient for some of the records listed above). Why is this significant? Well, Badwater is hotter than Furnace Creek and the particular location of the new instrument almost guarantees that it will record higher temperatures in every instance because it is located in a depression (low elevation than Furnace Creek) and because it is protected from the winds that help to cool the Furnace Creek instrument. In fact, the new instrument may be the hottest part of the valley and thus the temperatures recorded there are not directly comparable to temperatures recorded at Furnace Creek. In other words, we aren’t comparing apples to apples here. A great map and more detailed explanation can be found at (http://www.john-daly.com/stations/badwater.htm).

The bottom line is that we still haven’t gotten close to the record of 134 F and even if we do break it, that doesn’t mean much. It is too bad the media looks to sensationalize information and can’t cover these topics accurately. Always be skeptical of extremes. Their ability to capture our attention makes them all too prone to manipulation, fudging, and good old yellow journalism.