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100 years ago, Death Valley set a scorching record -- 134 degrees

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 6:45 AM EDT, Thu July 11, 2013
This sign celebrates the anniversary of the hottest air temperature ever recorded in the world.
This sign celebrates the anniversary of the hottest air temperature ever recorded in the world.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • On July 10, 1913, Death Valley recorded the hottest known temperature -- 134 degrees
  • It was thought for years that Libya held the record, but experts decided that recording was flawed
  • At least 140 people gathered Wednesday in Death Valley to celebrate the record-setting day

(CNN) -- The next time you're sweating and complaining that this summer is just too hot, consider this fun fact in weather world history: Exactly 100 years ago this week, Death Valley National Park set the hottest temperature ever recorded in the world -- 134 degrees Fahrenheit.

At least 140 people showed up to celebrate the anniversary and listen to weather experts discuss the record at Furnace Creek Visitor Center and Museum in the expanse of eastern California desert.

"I was really happy looking out in that auditorium as we spoke. There were a lot of weather tourists who are very interested in this," said Randy Cerveny, professor of geographical sciences at Arizona State University. He's with the World Meteorological Organization that made the determination that 134 was the world record.

Temperatures in Death Valley normally reach or exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit from mid-May until early October, according to the National Weather Service. Yet tourists still visit the area during this time, and there's even one of the hardest foot races in the world staged there every summer called the Badwater Ultramarathon.

Kevin Martin of Corona, California, poses for a snapshot by an unofficial thermometer at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center in Death Valley National Park on Sunday, June 30. A record-setting and deadly heat wave has spread across the American West. Kevin Martin of Corona, California, poses for a snapshot by an unofficial thermometer at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center in Death Valley National Park on Sunday, June 30. A record-setting and deadly heat wave has spread across the American West.
Heat wave hits the West
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Heat beats down in Death Valley
"I remember thinking at the time that this was like something from a movie set of a fictional distant planet," says Harvey Harrison, who shot this photo in California's Death Valley National Park. "I remember thinking at the time that this was like something from a movie set of a fictional distant planet," says Harvey Harrison, who shot this photo in California's Death Valley National Park.
Death Valley, California
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Avoiding heat stroke

When CNN spoke with Cerveny Wednesday night around 10:40 p.m. ET, the National Weather Service said that the temps would hover between 94 and 97 at Furnace Creek.

While Death Valley's July 10, 1913, recorded temperature now is considered the hottest ever, on September 13, 1922, a temperature reading of 136 degrees was recorded in El Azizia, Libya.

Though the Libya recording had been certified by the World Meteorological Organization as the hottest air temperature ever recorded, evidence about Libya's record later suggested that it was invalid.

Cerveny said that a member of the WMO had managed to obtain handwritten records that indicated there might have been a wrong recording taken.

An investigating committee including experts from Libya, Italy, Spain, Egypt, France, Morocco, Argentina, the United States and the United Kingdom looked into the matter between 2010 and 2011 and decided that El Azizia's recording was flawed for possibly several reasons, including problematic instrumentation and probably an inexperienced observer, according to Cerveny and the World Meteorological Organization.

On September 12, 2012, the WMO officially recertified the 134 reading at Death Valley as the all-time highest air temperature taken on the planet.

Though 134 degrees may seem incomprehensible, the U.S. southwest has been grappling in recent days with scorching temperatures. Nevada, California and Arizona were choked by extreme heat through the July Fourth holiday.

The Southwest heat wave made June the hottest month on record for Las Vegas, Death Valley, and Needles, California, the National Weather Service said.

Could Death Valley break its own record, CNN asked Cerveny.

"Oh, yes, we've been seeing so many records broken lately," he said, "and if that one is broken ... I wouldn't be surprised at all."

CNN's Chandler Friedman contributed to this report.

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