Death Valley high temperature record of July 10, 1913

Guest post by Paul Dorian

Temperature recordings at the Greenland Ranch weather station in Death Valley, California during the intense heat wave of July 1913.  This excerpt about the record-breaking heat wave comes from an article posted during January 1922 in the meteorological journal Monthly Weather Review which is still in publication today. Source: NOAA

*On July 10, 1913, Death Valley, California reached an amazing 134 degrees…the hottest temperature ever reliably recorded in a year with many remarkable weather events*


The high temperature in Death Valley, California on Friday will come close to 120°F, but this is still well short of the all-time record there that occurred way back in 1913. On July 10th, 1913, the weather observer at Greenland Ranch in Death Valley recorded a high temperature of 134°F. One hundred and seven years later, this is still the highest air temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth. In addition to this all-time and worldwide high temperature record, the year of 1913 produced numerous other extreme weather events. 

Asphalt roadway near the salt flats of Death Valley National Park in California

Why so hot in Death Valley?

Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the continental US and is located in the Mojave Desert of southeast California. It contains a vast range of elevations and landscapes and is known for being a land of extremes including its climate. In fact, the depth and shape of Death Valley contribute greatly to its extreme heat. Specifically, the extreme heat is due to a combination of several factors including the elevation below sea level (282 feet), the lack of vegetation; especially, on the lowest part of the valley floor which allows sunlight to directly heat the desert surface, the narrow width of the valley and its north-south orientation which traps air in the valley allowing it to be recycled back down to the valley floor, radiation of heat from the rocky surfaces of the mountains that surround the valley, and the low humidity as dry air heats at a much quicker rate than moist air and greatly inhibits the formation of clouds. Temperatures in Death Valley normally reach or exceed 100°F from mid-May until early October.

Extreme weather of 1913

The intense heat of July 1913 in California was not the only extreme heat measured that year in the US.  There was a widespread heat wave in June of that same year across the eastern half of the nation which resulted in many readings above 100°F.  In fact, NOAA’s official temperature records still cite June 16, 1913 as the hottest ever on a nationwide basis for that particular date.  In addition to the excessive heat seen across the US that year, there are newspaper articles from that same time period suggesting high heat may have taken place in others part of the world.  One such article (excerpt shown above) written on March 30, 1913 reported that “recent observations seem to show that glaciers are gradually disappearing all over the world”. 

In addition to the extreme heat, 1913 featured other severe and deadly weather events across the US.  During March, one of the worst floods ever in this nation took place after major rivers in the central and eastern US flooded from runoff and several days of heavy rain.  This flood now referred to as the “Great Flood of 1913” remains one of the worst natural disasters ever for Ohio with places like Dayton in the southwestern part of the state submerged underwater for several days.  Later that same very eventful year, one of the worst storms ever for the Great Lakes region took place and it is now referred to in multiple ways including “White Hurricane”, “Freshwater Fury” or simply “The Great Lakes Storm of 1913”.  This powerful storm was a blizzard with hurricane-force winds that devastated the Great Lakes Basin and the province of Ontario in Canada from November 7 through November 10, 1913.

During July 1913, Death Valley, California endured an intense stretch of hot weather from the 5th through the 14th when the high temperature reached 125°F or higher each and every day. In fact, this 10-day stretch still ranks as the hottest stretch ever recorded in Death Valley. The hottest days in this time period occurred from the 9th through the 13th when the high temperature reached at least 129°F with the hottest being on July 10th when the record-breaking 134°F was measured.

Weather station reliability at Greenland Ranch

In terms of the reliability of the Greenland Ranch weather station at Death Valley, California, there should be little question in that regard.  The US Weather Bureau (now known as the US National Weather Service) actually established this weather station in 1911 in cooperation with the company that operated the ranch.  In their own words, the US Weather Bureau “carefully tested maximum and minimum thermometers” and stated that “the instrument shelter at this station is the same as those used at several thousand other weather stations maintained by the Weather Bureau throughout the United States”. The US Weather Bureau summarized by stating “the extreme maximum temperature of 134°F recorded on July 10, 1913, is the highest natural-air temperature ever recorded on the earth’s surface by means of a tested standard thermometer exposed in a standard ventilated instrument shelter”.

Interesting twist to the record

In this particular case, we are dealing with what appears to be a reliable high temperature record that was set long ago and still stands today as the all-time record on the planet, but there is an interesting twist to the record.  The Death Valley, California record of 134°F was less than a decade old when it fell to a new record. On September 13, 1922, a temperature of 136°F was recorded at El Azizia, Libya and this was indeed cited by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) for nine decades as the world’s highest temperature ever recorded. However, on September 12th, 2012, the WMO officially re-certified the 134 degree reading of July 10th, 1913 at Death Valley, California as the all-time highest air temperature ever recorded on Earth after evidence surfaced suggesting the Libya record of 136°F was based on a reading from a bad thermometer that was placed in the wrong place (near asphalt) and read by an untrained observer.

Cooperative observer form for July 1913 from Greenland Ranch in Death Valley, California. The high of 134°F recorded on July 10 is circled in red.

In fact, there are many risks when comparing high temperature records set in today’s world to those set decades ago. Many of today’s “official” reporting weather stations have had significant growth in development (housing, roads, etc.) in their immediate surrounding region with materials like asphalt and concrete that are known to have an overall warming effect on temperatures. This “urban heat island (UHI)” effect has become an increasingly important problem to deal with in the analysis of long-term temperature trends and the evaluation of modern day high temperature records. In the Southwest US, for example, where populations have doubled or tripled in the past 50 years near official reporting weather stations (e.g., Las Vegas, NV, Phoenix, AZ), the UHI effect has become important enough that record high temperature records of today are questioned in some locations.  Even the inhospitable region of Death Valley has had some development in the area surrounding today’s weather station at Furnace Creek with asphalt roads now leading to a nearby visitor’s center – all of which makes this long-surviving record of 134°F set in 1913 at Greenland Ranch very impressive indeed.

One final note of interest, the coldest temperature ever recorded at Death Valley occurred in, yes, the same year of 1913.  On January 8th, 1913, the temperature dropped to 15°F at Furnace Creek which is the lowest ever recorded in Death Valley.

Meteorologist Paul Dorian

Perspecta, Inc.

85 thoughts on “Death Valley high temperature record of July 10, 1913

    • Yes but people keep saying that Greenland is called that because when Icelander Erik the Red got their there were trees, grassland etc and they could grow grapes.

      So perhaps Greenland ranch was lush and green when it was a ranch?

      • So perhaps Greenland ranch was lush and green when it was a ranch?

        Looking at the picture of the Stevenson Screen above, there are some bushes, but not what I would call suitable for grape growing 🙂
        So maybe naming the ranch Greenland was just a joke.

      • They didn’t grow grapes in Greenland, Erik’s son Leif found them later, further south in Newfoundland or Canada

      • They didn’t just say it, there was data to support it.

        Of course the trees and grapes part was just you making it up. However the colonists were quite successful in growing crops at the time. Crops which failed as the Medieval Warm Period morphed into the Little Ice Age.

      • That is correct — alfalfa was grown on about 40 acres of land at the ranch beginning around the 1870s. The ranch was started and named by “Bellerin’ Tex Bennett.” The stark green look of the alfalfa fields against the barren and bleak desert was why the ranch was named “Greenland.”

  1. The 1910s were a pretty hot decade in general. Some discredited records from Australia from 1910 are being restored as new (you know what I mean) data comes to light.

    The Australian Bureau of Meteorology deleted what was long regarded as the hottest day ever recorded in Australia – Bourke’s 125°F (51.7°C) on the 3rd January 1909. This record* was deleted, falsely claiming that this was likely some sort of ‘observational error’, as no other official weather stations recorded high temperatures on that day.

    However, Craig Kelly MP has visited the Australian National Archive at Chester Hill in western Sydney to view very old meteorological observation books. It has taken Mr Kelly MP some months to track down this historical evidence. Through access to the archived book for the weather station at Brewarrina, which is the nearest official weather station to Bourke, it can now be confirmed that a temperature of 50.6°C (123°F) was recorded at Brewarrina for Sunday 3rd January 1909. This totally contradicts claims from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology that only Bourke recorded an extraordinarily hot temperature on that day.

    • hahaha. Thank you mate. It is a bit more difficult to read articles from a us sait when you ar from the rest of the world. ad to that the fact that im not a native speaker and studied english and you(USA) have so many different exprencions and argo-slung words.

  2. The NWS in Tucson, Arizona still reports its daily temperature from the airport. An airport that has steadily grown over 60 years and been surrounded by more and more buildings with A/C units and asphalt parking lots and concrete surfaces. And now many of the parking lots have large black solar PV arrays stretched over them.

    I used the CRN station data to send an email to the Tucson NWS office to show them I knew they were lying to the public. Never heard back from them about a recent claimed monthly record high that I showed 2010 was hotter. But that CRN data only goes back to 2002.

    • Back in 2010, for a statistics class presentation, I felt perverse.

      I pulled the records for Tombstone (which has, if anything, had urban dedevelopment since the station was first placed in the 1880s), ran the trend lines. Did the same for the official Tucson records (just about as old, but the airport wasn’t there of course – the station has moved several times since the first one on the new University of Arizona campus).

      Classic hockey stick for Tucson. Statistically flat trend for Tombstone (a very slight but insignificant decline, actually).

      Feeling even more perverse, I did the same thing, but just for the month of September. Oh, look! A six degree negative anomaly in 2001. Wonder what happened…

      (I tried updating those data sets last year. Interestingly, the Tombstone data has apparently fallen down a memory hole – the “official” site for that coordinate set is now Sierra Vista. Which has also explosively grown over the recent decades.)

    • That makes me wonder about where the measuring station at DFW Airport is sited. That area, the airport as well as the surrounding development, has grown tremendously since DFW Airport opened in 1974. Tons more asphalt and concrete, especially. Anthony, where is that measuring station sited now?

  3. Back then, it was just weather. Today, it would be “extreme weather” due to the “climate crisis”, and would be screamed and trumpeted world-wide as proof that we have to stop burning all “fossil fuels” immediately before the planet literally burns up, floods, gets flattened by whirlwinds, etc. etc.

  4. Celsius!

    For gawds sake… Celsius!

    Who the &^$£!! still uses Fahrenheit! No… the US has signed up to the Metric system so just use it – especially for anything scientific. SI Units! Good grief…

    See Metric Conversion Act 1975 – signed into law by that famously left-wing, anti-Murican Commie sympathiser Gerald Ford.

    Perhaps in the future we can have lengths in Cubits, distances in Poles and Furlongs, volume in Gur. Would just need someone to tell One-Term-Trump it’ll increase his popularity and Boom! Executive Order!

    • There’s something just RIGHT about a really hot temp. occurring after the number 100. A fabulous upper threshold of a number. What does it mean to me if someone says “don’t go outside today … because it’s 37.7 !!” Huh? 37? Hahaha ha ha ha … Thirty seven? What an absurd number. Has no meaning to me. I can’t fathom its meaning?

      • What an absurd number.
        Well, it’s prime. And the normal body temperature of humans. So, 100°F may be a plausible choice. But where do you place 0°F? 17 is prime, so -17°C is OK? Minus seventeen? How do you calibrate your thermometers if you don’t even know about 17? Ah, at 32°F of course. But 32 isn’t even prime. Thirty two? What an… How did they know about 5-hole punch tape back then?

    • A British acre is a furlong (220 yards) by a chain (22yards). Givin 4840 square yards. 10 chains in Furlong and eight furlongs in a mile. So much easier than a hectare, 10,000 square metres and kilometres.

      Remove tongue from cheek.

      Don’t even start on imperial weights and volumes.

    • But it’s a dry heat.
      Seriously though, a dry heat keeps the heat index at temperature or lower. Here on the central west coast of Florida yesterday it was 94F with a heat index of 104F. The problem with so much humidity is that even when you step out of the direct sunlight into some shade, you don’t cool off that much unless a steady breeze is available to evaporate your perspiration.

    • The Celsius scale just doesn’t have enough whole numbers between freezing and boiling which necessitates the use of decimal places, making it more awkward to use. In America we never have a day listed as 75.3 farenheit. About the only thing we have left over from the Metric Conversion Act is 2 liter soda bottles. Soda comes in 8 ounces, 12 ounces, 16.8 ounces, 20 ounces, but for some reason the family size is still 2 liters. Go figure.

      • Of course, the actual boiling point of water (at 1 bar pressure) is 99.97 degrees Celsius. (Worse, IUPAC – International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry – says that their members should use 99.61 degrees.)

        Don’t expect any further redefinitions to get the scale “correct,” though.

    • Adrian Mann – at 7:02 am
      Celsius! For gawds sake… Celsius!
      Who the &^$£!! still uses Fahrenheit!

      Celsius is no better than Fahrenheit. In fact it’s better in some respects. The degrees are smaller so it provides better precision without using decimal points. The zero point is much lower so dealing with annoying negative numbers is less frequent. The freezing point is a very important temperature for many applications in our world, and that’s exactly where Celsius changes sign. Remembering that freezing is 32 is no more difficult than remembering that it is zero.

      Having said all that, it would be great if all science were to be done in Kelvin all the time every time. People wouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking 30 degrees is twice as warm as 15 degrees.

      • Celsius is no better than Fahrenheit. In fact it’s better in some respects.

        Make up your mind, Steve. : > )

    • As an American, nothing tickles me more than someone getting hot under the collar over… different systems for representing the same concept. It’s hilarious with Brits in particular when they are visiting the US.

      • Yeah, the Brits abandoned their own system that started the industrial revolution. And the US developed nuclear energy & sent people to the moon and back using that system. What have the Brits done since converting to the metric? 🙂 🙂

    • Adrian,

      When the most used measurement in the world converts to base10, I will also jump on the SI bandwagon along with you. (how many ‘metric’ hours do you think there should be in a day … 10 or 100?)

      Until then I will tell you what I tell others; a meter is unwieldy, a degree Celsius is too big, and jokes with centimeters don’t get laughs … (“What’s the difference between medium and rare?” “16 cm is medium and 21 cm is rare” ) … see, just silence.

      Some things are better measured in English units.

      • The french revolutionists did try the decimal year and time, it didn’t work.
        Meter and Celsius, however, took over the world except for the USA, which forces now through IT their imperial inches upon the rest of the world.

        • Actually, the US is NOT on the Imperial system, has not been for many years. Ours is called the US Customary Units.
          When people first came to north america, they did bring the Imperial system with them. Then they changed it. Then Great Britain changed the Imperial system too. They they changed to metric. NO ONE, anywhere is on the Imperial system now.
          There are three countries not on the Metric system…Liberia, Myanmar (Burma) and, of course the US. Tracking the history of metric in the US, it is the politicians that said Americans are too stupid to understand the metric system. Of course if you work in any of the technical fields, medical fields, military, etc, you use metric. It is the POLITICIANS that are too stupid to understand metric, with is FAR easier to use then what we have. And less likely to crash satellites, too…

        • Intelligent, scientific types should not be put off by a simple conversion factor – in either direction.

    • I have kids so I’ve watched plenty of kids shows that teach measurement.

      You can measure anything in any unit, they say. How long is an umbrella measured in crayons? Easy, just lay them end to end and measure it out.

      I’m a scientist and went to volunteer at my local elementary school. They had rulers with inches on one side and centimeters on the other. The teacher asked the class to use the rulers to take measurements and fill out a worksheet without any units on it. I had a group of kids and they didn’t need any help and filled them out without trouble. When the teacher came around and saw that the kids all used inches she scolded them and scolded me for not correcting them, since it was a science lab.

      The whole situation seemed very absurd to me, and unnecessary for young kids who understood the material and did everything right except read the teacher’s mind. It seemed very unscientific, actually. Science isn’t the metric system.

  5. Aw common guy! The US is in good company re Fahrenheit. It is also used in The Bahamas , the Marshall Islands and The Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, The Cayman Islands, Liberia, and Palau. The wisdom of these nations is also reflected in the fact that all use US currency (or their own currency pegged to the US dollar). And the Fahrenheit scale was invented by a Dutchman years before some usurper Swede invented Celsius. Proost!!! Why not join the club?

    • Canada has adopted the metric system, but if you want to build anything, you will need 4X8 foot sheets of 5/8ths inch plywood, half inch drywall and framed with 2X4s. There is almost nothing in the construction industry that is metric. When there is, it’s just a problem.

  6. 134°F is a lot, even 128°F is a lot:

    I believe it was May 1983 I stayed a week in Arizona. During that week there was a heat wave where the temperature reached 128°F or 52°C.
    After my lunch at a hotel in the middle of nowhere, I went out to the car at the parking lot. With my tea shirt I grabbed the door handle, opened the door and realized that the seat was far too hot to sit in. I started the fossil fuel 300HP V8 engine, closed the door and waited 10 minutes in the hotel lobby for the air condition to cool the cabin.
    A week later it was announced in the radio, that the heat wave had moved north to some mid states, where some elderly people suffered heat stroke, contrary to Arizona, where people know what precautions to take.

    • In Arizona people wear gloves not in the winter but summer so they can touch and pick up objects.

    • I’m surprised that you could walk to the car in that type of heat, without burning your nasal linings and your lungs. I wonder what the highest temperature that people can tolerate is.

      • Have you ever been in Finnish sauna? 120°C (248°F) is my best so far. It’s not too bad if there’s not too much “löyly”.

        Your faithfull Finn, Timo.

      • I have not been in 120F temps closes I came to it here in the 25 years I been coming to Arizona and where I now live is 116, I missed a 119 day because I flew out that morning. Good thing too they closed the airport down that afternoon. Today it suppose to be 111 tomorrow 115 and Sunday 116. 116 is a common summer time temp, anything 110 and above you feel it in your eyes when the hot air first hits them, it is an odd sensation.

  7. We had a snowball fight at the lowest point of DV ca 20-25 years ago 🙂 Before Willis writes an article on how it never snowed there: no, it didn’t 😉 We brought it from the mountains in 2 large restaurant trash bags from that little skiing place on the way from Vegas. People thought we were throwing lumps of salt at each other.

  8. 1913 was a bad year all around. Congress passed the Income Tax and the Federal Reserve was established. After 1913, it was all downhill.

    • And the most destructive passage of all time, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified by the States in 1913.
      The 17th changed the appointment of Senators from the state legislatures to a popular vote. This eliminated the state’s check on the federal government with disastrous results ever since.

  9. I agree with Kenji. Fahrenheit is a better temperature scale. On the Celsius scale the numbers are too close together. Fahrenheit gives you double the numbers in the temperature range where you actually live. With Fahrenheit one hundred degrees and zero degrees actually mean something.

    I know this is open to argument, but in my humble opinion most of the traditional English measurement are better than metric measurements. An inch is about the size of the middle knuckle of your middle finger. Pretty useful when you don’t have a ruler handy. A foot is about the size of a man’s foot when wearing a normal shoe. Useful when you want a quick rough estimate for the distance. A yard is about the length you can stride. Great for estimating the size of a piece of land. A mile is about the size of a comfortable walk at normal speed. A cup is the amount of coffee that most people find convenient and comfortable to drink at one sitting. A gallon is just about right for how much milk you want to buy your family. A pound is a loaf of bread. If you are an engineer you would call the English system more human factors friendly. The only down-side is that calculations are more difficult with the English system.

    It’s a matter of personal preference of course. Since both systems are arbitrary anyway, and in the United States both systems are legal, my preference is the more human scale English units. (Except for science.)

    • I myself prefer the gesundheit scale. The louder and more frequent the sneeze is, the colder it is.

    • I have no idea, how many different lengths of cubits existed in the world beginnig earlier than the old Egyptians. Most countries had their own, with different length.

    • I’m 6 foot tall and weigh 90kilos – so what.

      BTW a lot of hunter gatherer tribes only use units such big, small or a lot.
      Sometimes, it just don’t matter

  10. The world is filled with different units. As a Chemist, I know metric and English units. But absurdities still abound. The EPA specifies emissions in Grams (Metric)/Gallon (US gal). Now that is a mess to use. Engineers in the US use English units (Lbs, Lb-Moles, and other different units. Lb-Moles being the most egregious one). Having used gram-moles most of my life, I had trouble with lb-moles, but still it is simple to convert.
    All I can say is that this is a simple exercise and you get familiar with most units once you use them frequently.
    The biggest error most people make is not stating what units they are using. This creates a mess when reading reports. The second biggest error is overstating a result by using inappropriate units. The biofuels people do this all the time by stating biofuels production in gallons/year when the energy world uses barrels/day. So the biofuels people overstate their fuel production by 15,330X to make things look impressive.
    The US produces 16 billion gal/yr of ethanol. But this is only 1 million bbl/day of actual fuel production, and adjusting for energy content it is only 700,000 bbl/day on an energy equivalent basis. The US consumes 17 Million bbl/day, so Ethanol is not a really major source of fuel, and the actual reduction in GHG emissions over fossil fuels is also small at around 20%. So producing ethanol from corn is nearly a pointless gesture in terms of reducing our use of fossil energy.

    • It’s limited by mandate. There aren’t so many E85 vehicles. E10 was the standard until it was upped to E15. So yes, it probably averages out at about 12% of gasoline in the US. Plus they export some too.

      Don’t give me any grief. I’m not supporting it, just telling you what it is and why.

      • Just yesterday someone asked me why I don’t use ethanol free gasoline in my classic car. I told them I would need to re-jet the carb, because with the carb now jetted to modern gasoline, ethanol free gas would foul the plugs, although it would get better gas mileage. He said then re-jet it and use ethanol free. But that isn’t available virtually anywhere.

        The same with using 100LL. It would require a different jetting yet. But 100LL makes it easier to read the plugs.

  11. Whaaaaa? The climate-number-manipulators haven’t come up w/a new record yet — despite the new, highest-temp-possible siting? Get on the job, apparatchiks — that’s what you’re frackin’ paid for.

  12. The record cold temp for earth is -89.2 C set at Vostok Station Antarctica on July 21, 1983, which broke the previous -88.3 in 1960. Temps as low as -98 C have been measured in Antarctica by remote sensing or at high elevations but are not approved for a record. So, the official hot temp was over a century ago and the cold one was 37 years ago….doesn’t support the planet is warming…..and all those days of temps above 95 F…..and above 100 F….that set records in the USA back in the 1930s also do not indicate the planet is warming.

  13. The BBC have an extreme bias for high temperatures, usually giving Heathrow Airport
    as the hot spot, which is usually 1 – 2 C above central London and 3 – 4 C higher than
    the areas around London. Before WW2 most airfields were grass and to compare Heathrow
    which has acres of tarmac and runways is ridiculous.
    I also wonder how much air pollution effects the Stevenson Screen, or how often they are cleaned. As I would imagine a layer of soot would give much higher temperatures,

  14. Is that big white fence around the screen at greenland Ranch sompletely free of effects on the recorded temperatures? I very much doubt if it is compliant.
    Stevenson screens were invented to overcome unwanted fluctuations in temperature, but few people seem to realise how delicate the little beasties are. They need really safe spaces. Geoff S.

    • Hi Geoff — it is very unlikely that the white fence would have any effect upon temperature measurements inside of the shelter. If the shelter itself were allowed to lose its white paint, then that would likely promote somewhat hotter air inside of the thermometer shelter.

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