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Death Valley Celebrates A Hot Anniversary

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Randy Cerveny, meteorologist, Arizona State University

While Death Valley residents and heat-seeking pilgrims celebrate the 100th anniversary of the hottest ever recorded temperature – hopefully not by dressing up as Darth Vader and going for a run – it actually wasn’t so long ago that the world’s hottest temperature record was held by El Azizia, Libya. For 90 years, extreme weather fans believed that that city’s high of 136 degrees on September 13, 1922 was the hottest air temperature ever recorded.

Why the confusion? Randy Cerveny, a weather historian and meteorogist with Arizona State University explains:

"Surprisingly, and it was somewhat buried in history, at that particular time Libya was controlled by Italy and that was right before WW II. In this particular time, Libya had an Italian military post and was recording temperatures during the week before this particular extreme temperature that they measured, the normal observer wasn’t available -- we don’t know whether he was injured or shot or something. And the thermometer that they used for the post for the military broke, so they were using a standby, which we found out was not a very good instrument.

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When we look at the idea of having an inaccurate instrument, along with an untrained observer, and then compare the temperature with what the surrounding values were and what was measured before and after at that same particular post we realized the evidence was overwhelming that that particular measurement was probably bad."

(Photo: Darth Valley Challenge)

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