Tourists flock to Death Valley to experience possible world record hot temperature

A woman poses by a thermometer, Sunday, July 16, 2023, in Death Valley National Park, Calif. The thermometer is not official but is a popular photo spot. Death Valley's brutal temperatures come amid a blistering stretch of hot weather that has put roughly one-third of Americans under some type of heat advisory, watch or warning. (AP Photo/John Locher)
A woman poses by the iconic thermometer at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center while wearing a coat. Credit: AP

It's one of the hottest places on Earth, and temperatures there are on the brink of breaking modern records.

Death Valley is no stranger to scorching weather, but the US National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning, urging people to take "extreme levels of precautions" if venturing outside.

This might be taken as a sign to stay clear, but plenty of tourists have been flocking to the desert valley in eastern California - hoping to experience what could be a new world record high temperature.

A record high of 56.67C was measured in 1913 at the same place, however equipment was less precise back then, with some meteorologists disputing the measurement.

Visitors take pictures at the centre on Tuesday, July 11. Credit: AP

For this reason, 54.44C is considered a more contemporary record.

On Sunday the mercury reached 53.33C on Sunday at the aptly named Furnace Creek - an unincorporated community within Death Valley National Park.

“I just want to go to a place, sort of like Mount Everest, to say, you know, you did it,” said William Cadwallader, who was visiting from Las Vegas.

Some tourists wore fur coats as a joke as they gathered by the iconic thermometer at the visitor centre at Furnace Creek.

A demonstrator protests visitors to Death Valley National Park on Sunday. Credit: AP

“It’s very hot. I mean, especially when there’s a breeze, you would think that maybe that would give you some slight relief from the heat," said Alessia Dempster, who was visiting from Edinburgh last week.

"But it just really does feel like an air blow dryer just going back in your face.”

“It does feel like the sun has gone through your skin and is getting into your bones,” said park Ranger Nichole Andler.

A sign warns people of extreme heat in multiple languages. Credit: AP

Others were taken aback by people getting so excited about such high temperatures being reached, amid fears it is being driven by a climate crisis posing a threat to the entire planet.

As tourists posed for pictures by the thermometer, one protester stood by them waving a placard reading: "Happy Death Day."

Meanwhile Jeff Foodell, author of The Heat Will Kill You First, tweeted: "I spent four years writing a book about extreme heat, but one thing I never imagined is that brain-melting temperatures would become a tourist attraction."

A visitor stands on the salt flats at Death Valley's Badwater Basin on Sunday. Credit: AP

There are other places similar to Death Valley that may be as hot, such as Iran’s Lut Desert, but like Death Valley are uninhabited so no one measures there, said weather historian Christian Burt.

The difference was someone decided to put an official weather station in Death Valley in 1911, he said.

While record-high temperatures across the world this year are driven by a number of factors, including an El Niño weather pattern, scientists are in agreement that climate change - largely driven by the burning of fossil fuels - is making extreme weather of this sort more frequent.

“With global warming, such temperatures are becoming more and more likely to occur,” said Randy Ceverny, of the World Meteorological Organization.

“Long-term: Global warming is causing higher and more frequent temperature extremes. Short-term: This particular weekend is being driven by a very very strong upper-level ridge of high pressure over the Western US”

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