Over the summer of 2020, numerous heat records were broken, as Death Valley National Park, CA experienced what may be some of the hottest days ever recorded on Earth.
This meteorological summer (June-August) had an average (day and night combined) temperature of 102.7º. This makes 2020 the 4th hottest summer on record, following 2018 (1st), 2017 (2nd), and 2016 (3rd) and marking a continued record of a changing climate.
2020 heat highlights to date:
- 35 days over 120 degrees (normal is 18.4)
- 8 days over 125 degrees (normal is 2.9)
- 6 nights over 100 degrees (normal is 0.5)
- May, August, and September all saw the hottest day or night ever recorded for that month.
- 130 degrees on 8/16 was the hottest temperature recorded in the park since 1913, and possibly the hottest temperature in the world since 1931. A final verification process will be overseen by a climate extremes committee.
- August’s average daily and nightly temperatures rank it as the second hottest August on record; however, August’s daily high temperatures averaged to be 118.8, which sets a record as the hottest average high temperature for the month.
- August 17th had a high of 127 and a low of 104 low degrees, for an average of 115.5, which is tied for the hottest average daily temperature ever recorded.
- Heat records were set for both daily high, and highest daily low temperatures across many of the hottest months of the year: 6 in May, 1 in June, 1 in July, 12 in August, and 3 to date in September.
Living in such an extreme environment requires certain precautions and adjustments for park staff and the local communities:
- The park has a strict heat-safety work policy, requiring cool-down and hydration periods after working in extreme heat conditions.
- As the coolest hours of the day are usually 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., local residents usually get up pre-dawn to walk their dogs and get exercise.
- Ground temperatures add heat to water pipes, resulting in extremely hot water coming from the tap. To adjust for this, residents turn off their hot water heaters and use them as a reservoir to cool water down to room temperature, so tepid water comes from turning on the hot water faucet, and hot water comes from the cold faucet settings.
- There are stretches of roadways where signs are posted recommending that air conditioning be shut off to avoid car engines overheating. As vehicles leave the extreme heat of the lower valleys and climb over mountain passes, overheated engines are a real risk. This summer saw two vehicle fires as a result of overheated engines, and numerous vehicle breakdowns. Turning off air conditioning might be uncomfortable but reduces the exertion of the engine.
“Death Valley National Park is known for its extreme temperatures, and this year certainly didn’t disappoint when it comes to heat! It is exciting to live and work in a place that is literally the hottest place on Earth. I’m proud to work with a resilient team of employees who have chosen to embrace the heat and carry out the mission of the National Park Service here.”
– Superintendent Mike Reynolds
Heat tourism brings visitors to the park to experience these extreme conditions. With this, there were multiple search and rescues, and tragically also visitor fatalities where heat was a likely factor. Limiting time outside of air conditioning to just a few minutes at a time can help lead to a safer summer visit.
As we move into the fall season and other areas of the nation start cooling down, we would like to remind visitors that Death Valley National Park is still seeing temperatures over 110 degrees, and the park usually continues to have temperatures in excess of 100 degrees well into October. Trip-planning resources can be found on the park’s website to help visitors plan and prepare for safe and memorable visits to the park.