A temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius) recorded in California's Death Valley yesterday by the US National Weather Service could be the hottest ever measured with modern instruments, officials say.
The reading was registered at 3.41pm at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center in the Death Valley national park by an automated observation system, an electronic thermometer encased inside a box in the shade.
In 1913, a weather station half an hour's walk away recorded what officially remains the world record of 134F (56.7C).
But its validity has been disputed because a superheated sandstorm at the time may have skewed the reading.
The next highest temperature was set in July 1931 in Kebili, Tunisia, at 131F (55.0C), but again, the accuracy of older instruments has been questioned by some weather historians.
In 2016 and 2017, weather stations in Mitribah, Kuwait and Turbat, Pakistan recorded temperatures of 129.2F (54C).
After evaluation by the World Meteorological Organization both were downgraded by a few fractions of a degree.
The Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization said today it would start the process to verify the new US reading.
"This observed high temperature is considered preliminary and not yet official," said the US National Weather Service.
Per the climate data in xmACIS2, this is the first time since 1913 that Death Valley has reached 130F. In July 2013, it last reached 129F. If valid, it would be the hottest August temperature at the site by 3F. @NWSVegas pic.twitter.com/gZNBW4NXI4— NWS WPC (@NWSWPC) August 16, 2020
Dan Berc, an official at the Las Vegas NWS office responsible for the site, told AFP that the sensor would be brought in for evaluation.
The investigation would take "at least a couple of months," he said, adding: "Growing up as a kid, I thought 130 degrees Fahrenheit was a really cool record."
Validation is not a formality, and long-held records have been thrown out after modern evaluation.
For decades, the heat record was officially the 136.4F (58C) recorded in 1922 in El Azizia, now modern Libya.
But a WMO panel that investigated it in detail between 2010 and 2012 an stripped it of the title after finding multiple troubling aspects including a potential problem with the thermometers and an inexperienced observer.
Extreme heat will continue to plague the western third of the country through the middle of this week. ~56 million people are under heat advisories or warnings, and many daily record high temperatures are forecast. pic.twitter.com/xHUYGiFURr— NWS WPC (@NWSWPC) August 17, 2020
The southwestern US is currently enduring an intense heat wave, which scientists say are becoming more frequent and dangerous because of human-driven climate change.
Worldwide, the five hottest years in history have occurred in the last five years.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations committed to limit temperature rises to "well below" 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels, mainly through sweeping emissions cuts.
These goals are seen as crucial to prevent triggering a series of tipping points that would cause irreversible planetary heating by the end of the century, making vast swaths of the planet inhospitable for human and animal life.