Southern California is giving the Middle East a run for its money this week, in the arena of hottest sociopolitical scandal: In case you missed it, a group of L.A.-area filmmakers and apparent anti-Muslim zealots have singlehandedly thrown international relations into a state of upheaval.
And now, according to the World Meteorological Association, SoCal's own Death Valley has quite literally beaten out Libya, which formerly held the title for hottest temperature on record, as the new hottest place on Earth:
"A World Meteorological Organization panel has concluded that the all-time heat record held for exactly 90 years by El Azizia in Libya is invalid because of an error in recording the temperature," announced the WMO today. "Death Valley National Park in California, USA, now officially holds the title of the world's hottest place -- as symbolic for meteorologists as Mt. Everest is for geographers."
Libya's record, 136.4°F on September 13, 1922, is hereby debunked and replaced by a 134°F reading in Death Valley on July 10, 1913.
Chris Burt, a NorCal weather historian with Weather Underground who was heavily involved in the project, has posted a fascinating account of the year-and-a-half investigation that led to this Death Valley overthrow.
The process included a rigorous scientific review from 13 "experts in the field of extreme weather" all around the world, Burt tells L.A. Weekly over the phone, and suffered a major setback when the Muammar Gaddafi regime cut off all communication with the outside world in February.
Gaddafi, the county's former leader, even indicated on local TV that he was not pleased with Khalid Ibrahim El Fadli, director of the country's climate department, for participating in the probe.
Writes the weather historian:
In early March, Gaddafi began airing long nightly rambling tirades on his government TV network. During one of these, he made an ominous reference to how NATO forces were using Libyan climate data to plan their assault on the country. My heart sank when I heard this. I immediately thought that our colleague, El Fadli -- as director of the LNMC -- must have been implicated by Gaddafi as providing weather information to the "enemy".
I must say, at that point, I -- and the rest of the committee -- thought El Fadli was a dead man.
Fortunately, though, Burt tells us today that El Fadli "popped back up when Tripoli fell to the rebels," and the scientists were able to pick up where they left off.
But enough about Libya. This is a true day of triumph for SoCal's feared and storied Death Valley, which is nothing if not a place of extremes. Says Burt: "I do know the folks in Death Valley are really excited about it, because one of its [visitor] attractions is its extremeness."
Although the valley's new record technically only applies to a single day, Burt says that overall, the area regularly records the hottest temperatures on Earth.
And during that week of July 10, 1913, in particular, Burt's research has shown that the heat was positively insatiable.
"Birds were falling from the sky, it was so hot," he says.
Although he's still skeptical that the 134°F reading in Death Valley may have also been the result of a glitch -- seeing as it's a full five degrees higher than any other temperature ever documented there -- the historian says that even the next hottest day in Death Valley would set the all-time world record.
So there you have it. Desert kings, we are.
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Update: On the downside of Death Valley's record-setting highs is a brutal trend that validates its very foreboding moniker. According to the Sacramento Bee, "Over the past 15 years, at least a dozen people have died in Death Valley from heat-related illnesses." The most infamous of those incidents had to be the four German tourists, including two young boys, who disappeared into the land of mirages in 1996 after their rental van got stuck on a bumpy dirt road. They were never heard from again, and their remains weren't discovered until over two decades later, when two researchers reportedly stumbled upon "human bones, the woman's wallet and other items in an isolated corner of the park near Butte Valley."
Now that's heat.