One particular thermometer in Furnace Creek, Calif., hit 130 Fahrenheit (54.4 Celsius) on Sunday at 3:41 p.m., according to the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS). The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says it’s now working to confirm the reading, which could become a new — and more reliable — global heat record.
“This would be the hottest global temperature officially recorded since 1931,” the WMO tweeted on Monday.
It would also be the hottest temperature recorded at the site in 107 years, the NWS says.
Death Valley infamously set a record for the hottest global temperature on July 10, 1913, when one thermometer hit 134 F (56.7 C).
However, a 2016 investigation has since called that record into question. Weather expert Christopher Burt dug into readings from the surrounding weather stations at the time and concluded that it was “essentially not possible from a meteorological perspective” for that 134 F reading to be correct. Burt has also questioned the credibility of a 131-F reading recorded in Tunisia in 1931.
The most reliable modern heat record has been 129.2 F, which was also recorded in Death Valley in 2013.
That means the number recorded on Sunday could become the most reliable high-temperature mark in history, if it can be properly verified.
“Everything I’ve seen so far indicates that is a legitimate observation,” Randy Cerveny, who leads the WMO’s weather and climate extremes team, told the Washington Post.
Death Valley’s name is well-earned. It lies in the northern part of the Mojave Desert, along the eastern border of California near Nevada and close to the Great Basin Desert. It’s also the hottest, driest and lowest U.S. national park, with elevations up to 86 metres below sea level.
The potentially record-setting reading comes amid rising global temperatures due to climate change, and in the middle of a major heatwave affecting the western United States.
California has born the brunt of the heat, with massive wildfires ripping across parts of the state. Officials have also imposed rolling blackouts for the first time since 2001 due to soaring electricity demand.
The NWS says temperatures in the Central Valley, where many of the state’s major cities are located, will remain high until Thursday.
—With files from The Associated Press