Climate: Death Valley sets heat record in June

Death Valley heat record
Ripples on Mesquite Flat sand dunes, Photo courtesy Death Valley National Park.

Average temperature for the month more than 6 degrees above the historic norm

Staff Report

The deadly heatwave that spread across the southwestern U.S. in June also brought a new record high average temperature to Death Valley, one of the hottest places on Earth. According to the National Park Service, last month was the warmest June on record in the national park, with the average temperature for the whole month registering at 101.9 degrees Fahrenheit — about 6 degrees above the long-term average.

Death Valley’s average daily high temperature this June was 115.5 degrees Fahrenheit and the average overnight low was 88.2 degrees. In spite of a record-setting average temperature, Death Valley only set a new daily record one day last month, with 126 degrees recorded on June 21, 2016. The highest temperature ever recorded in Death Valley in June was just a few years ago: 129 degrees on June 30, 2013.

“We’re not even in the hottest part of the summer yet. Who knows what July and August will bring,” Superintendent Mike Reynolds said. “The average temperature sounds hot enough, but when you break it down you can really understand the extreme summer conditions in Death Valley. People expect a desert to cool down at night, but the night of June 21 it only cooled down to 101 degrees,” Reynolds said.

The temperature was measured at Furnace Creek, where records go back to 1911. Death Valley holds the record for highest officially recorded temperature on the planet at 134 degrees Fahrenheit on July 10, 1913.

As a hot spot, Death Valley has its own weather almanac, the Death Valley Climate Book, hosted by NOAA. According to those records, the high temperature climbs above 120 degrees 18 times per year — this year, the mark was reached on eight days just during June, with the warmest months still ahead.

The heat doesn’t keep away tourists, many who come to experience what makes the park, in part, famous.

“Death Valley National Park receives more summer visitation than you might expect,” Reynolds said. “August is the park’s third busiest month, behind only March and April. Many of these visitors are from other countries and they come here to experience our world-famous extreme temperatures. I respect those visitors. Think about it . . . summer is the time to experience the thing that makes Death Valley different from any other place on Earth.”

Reynolds emphasized safe summer travel tips: “We advise park visitors to drive on paved roads and not to walk very far in the summer. Cell phones don’t work in most of the park, and being stranded in high temperatures can quickly turn life-threatening. A few weeks ago a German motorcycle rider died on the unpaved Harry Wade Road. If he had been on a well-travelled road, other park visitors would have seen him and taken him into their car to cool off. That probably would have saved his life.”

Other tips are to wear a hat, light-colored loose fitting clothing, and to drink plenty of water. Humidity in Death Valley is usually very low, often below 10 percent. “People don’t realize how much they’re sweating,” Reynolds said. “Bring at least one gallon of water per person per day –and drink it!”

While most visitors come to see famous low elevation sites like Badwater (282 feet below sea level), some of the best areas of the park to visit in summer are at high elevations. Hikes to Wildrose Peak (elevation 9,064 feet) and Telescope Peak (elevation 11,049 feet) are best done in warmer months when they are not covered in snow. High overnight temperatures make sleeping at Furnace Creek Campground unbearable for most people in summer, but temperatures at Wildrose Campground (elevation 4,100 feet) and Mahogany Flat Campground (elevation 8,200 feet) are quite comfortable.

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