New Extreme Weather Record? Not So Fast


Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and a co-founder of Weather Underground, an online news service, says the reason more temperature records are not overturned is because the process is too time-consuming. A case in point, he said, is that an effort to reanalyze every named Atlantic storm since 1851, which began two decades ago, has so far reached only the year 1965.

“There are hundreds of temperature records in the U.S. alone that would not survive a re-analysis,” Dr. Masters said. “The most famous of these is the world-record hottest temperature in history of 134 degrees Fahrenheit in 1913 in Death Valley.”

Two extreme weather experts, William T. Reid and Christopher C. Burt, have argued on the Weather Underground site that the 1913 reading was “not possible from a meteorological perspective,” in part because it was not consistent with other observations made in that part of Death Valley over the same week. They say the man who recorded the temperature, at Greenland Ranch in California, appears in retrospect to have “knowingly or inadvertently” exaggerated the reading, and that he may not have even been present at the time.

But Randall Cerveny, who leads the World Meteorological Organization’s efforts to research and verify global weather records, said in an email that the 1913 reading was still recognized as the “hottest temperature recorded for the United States and for the world.”

Dr. Cerveny, who teaches geographical sciences at Arizona State University and worked with Mr. Burt to debunk the 1922 Libya record, described the research on the 1913 Death Valley record by Mr. Burt and Mr. Reid as “conjectural, not new evidence.” He added that the U.S. Climate Extremes Index, a NOAA project, has also opted not to investigate it.

“We do not dismiss records without substantial evidence proving their inaccuracy,” he said.

As for newer Death Valley records, Dr. Cerveny said the W.M.O. was still trying to verify a 129.9-degree reading from that area on Aug. 6, 2020.

If confirmed, it would be the third-highest temperature ever recorded on Earth and the second-highest in the United States. But Dr. Cerveny said the investigation is “taking a while” because his team has been testing the temperature sensor that made the reading.