The environment around the weather station used to measure the official temperature changed dramatically in the past few years.

There’s this headline circulation in the news, thanks to the Associated Press:

Death Valley sets tentative world record for hottest month 

The natural furnace of California’s Death Valley was on full broil in July, tentatively setting a world record for hottest month ever.

The month’s average temperature was 108.1 degrees (42.28 Celsius), said Todd Lericos, a meteorologist in the Las Vegas office of the National Weather Service.

That roasted the previous record, set in Death Valley in July 2017 when the average was 107.4 degrees (41.89 Celsius).

“It eclipsed the record by quite a bit,” Lericos said, adding that the data is considered preliminary and needs to be reviewed before it goes into official record books.

The temperatures are measured at Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park, a vast, austere and rugged landscape in the desert of southeastern California that includes Badwater Basin, which at 282 feet (85.9 meters) below sea level is the lowest point in North America.

Among the extreme conditions were four consecutive days reaching a high of 127 degrees (52.7 Celsius) and overnight lows that remained over the century mark.

Full story here

Note the second to last paragraph above: “…in Death Valley National Park” (DVNP). The site is operated by the National Park Service (NPS). Note also in the last paragraph: “…overnight lows that remained over the century mark.” These are two key points.

First, yes there was a weather pattern in July that made much of the southwest hotter than usual. Key word: weather pattern.

But, what really caused the increased average high temperature to be a record setter? The answer is simple; the environment around the weather station used to measure the official temperature changed dramatically in the past few years.

Some background:

DVNP has become a tourist attraction in it’s own right. People seem fascinated by the extreme temperatures here. Fanning the flames of heat, the NPS indulges them, making an outdoor photo-op sign that allows them to be photographed with near record-setting temperatures. I don’t know where the temperature sensor for the sign is, but it is like any time/temperature sign like we’ve seen on banks and stores, it’s liable to be highly inaccurate.


Tourists make a big deal out of the thermometer sign at the Death Valley National Park Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Image: davestravelcorner.com

But, the sign and the site is operated by NPS, not NOAA, so accuracy in temperature measurment isn’t their goal, it’s the visitor experience. Hold that thought.

Visitors have been on the rise at DVNP, likely due to all the fanfare for the 100 year anniversary of the 134°F world record high temperature in 2013.

There was also a big visitor peak around 1997-1999, fueled by news reports of spectacular wildflower blooms then, thanks to moisture brought in by the 1997-1998 super El Niño. Another wildflower driven peak was seen in 2016, due to significant El Niño driven rains.

Graph of DVNP annual visitor traffic. Data source: National Park Service

With a trend of increasing visitors, NPS collects more money from fees, and with that extra money, they have to do something with it to improve the park experience. Remember, their mission is about visitors, even though the extreme temperature is a major attraction, they aren’t tasked with measuring it. While NPS hosts NOAA equipment for that purpose, NOAA has no say about what happens in the DVNP around the thermometer, and that’s the issue here.

The environment where the temperature was measure has changed, dramatically. Not only that, the location of the equipment has changed, and the equipment itself has changed.

I visited DVNP Furnace Creek Visitor Center back in 2007 as part of my surface stations project. Here is the view of the official NOAA thermometer, an MMTS which was poorly-sited (in violation of NOAA’s own rules) near the asphalt driveway.

NOAA MMTS official temperature sensor at the Death Valley National Park Visitor Center in 2007. Photo by A. Watts.

There was also an NPS operated weather station attached to the roof. A big no-no for accurately measuring temperature. Note the palm trees and the parking lot off in the distance to the right. My site survey then included this aerial view:

Google Earth aerial view of DVNP Visitor Center complex from 2007. Locations of weather stations and RV parks added.

The “Location of CRS” points to the Cotton Region Shelter, where the official temperature measurements used to be made before NOAA installed the electronic MMTS thermometer. Note the RV park to the left, which at the time was just gravel, and looks much like the natural earth in the area with a similar albedo.

Fast forward to 2018, and compare the two photos above to ones taken this year.

Thanks to this Google Earth Street View, I can recreate the view of the MMTS photo I took in 2008. The GE imagery says it was captured in May 2012. Labels mine.

DVNP Visitor Center. Former location of NOAA MMTS official temperature sensor.

The MMTS temperature sensor is gone, replaced by what appears to be a cosmetic shield wall for garbage dumpsters.

Note the new solar panels, which weren’t there in 2008 when I visited. NOAA recorded the removal and change of the MMTS as the official thermometer in their HOMR database:

A few months later, they switched the equipment again:

And after testing, they switched again:

There’s lots of changes to the equipment, and the location. This is what it looks like now (annotations mine):

NOAA’s Death Valley Official Weather Station. Image from stormbruiser.com

Note the air conditioning plant to the south. Visitor Center is to the right.

NOAA did have some concern about nearby vegetation that was lower than 10 degrees in the viewshed of the weather station (due to it blocking wind) so they had it removed.

There’s not much they can do though about the new infrastructure, such as solar panels, parking lots, and air conditioning heat exchanger plants. NOAA doesn’t manage the site, NPS does, and thus is powerless to prevent nearby infrastructure changes.

Now let’s look at the aerial views today:

Aerial view of DVNP Official NOAA weather station, just 74 feet from solar panels installed circa 2010. Note also the newly paved RV park to the west with electrical hookups and the air conditioning heat exchanger from the south.

Wider aerial view of the DVNP official NOAA weather station. Note the irrigated golf course to the south and the second solar panel farm added circa 2009.


Now let’s look at 2005, same view.

Wider aerial view of the DVNP official NOAA weather station from December 2005. Note the irrigated golf course to the south has no solar panel farm, and there are no solar panels at the visitor center. Note also the RV park to the west is gravel, not asphalt paved.

The character of the environment around the DVNP offical NOAA weather station has changed quite a bit. Here are the differences from 2005 to present:

  • Station changed from MMTS to CRS then automated, moved closer to visitor center parking lot in September 2012
  • Official NOAA weather station is now just 74 feet west from the parking lot and solar panels above it.
  • RV park to the west has been paved, with new electrical hookups installed, circa 2013, 263 feet away.
  • Official NOAA weather station is just 100 feet from the air conditioning heat exchanger unit to the south.

Here’s what NPS said about the improvements to the RV park:

Improvements in the Furnace Creek Campground include the installation of full hook-up capacity at nineteen campsites, replacement of the entire water and sewer system, a new bathroom in the group site areas, rehabilitation of the current bathrooms, repair of flood damaged areas in the tent walk-in loop, development of three new group sites, and a new check-in kiosk. The proposed fee increase for the full hook-up sites is an attempt to recover the cost of electricity.The nineteen rehabilitated sites now include water, sewer, and electrical hook-ups.

Death Valley National Park started the rehabilitation of Furnace Creek Campground in February 2012 and will near completion at the end of this summer.

Source: https://www.nps.gov/deva/learn/news/furnace-creek-campground-fee-change.htm

So what does this mean for temperature? In addition to the albedo change from gravel to asphalt paving, which will raise nightime temperatures due to the asphalt acting as a heat sink for daytime solar radiation, dumping it back into the atmosphere at night, RVs can now park overnight, and run their air conditioners thanks to the electrical hookups. Who wouldn’t run their AC in a place like that? This means even more waste heat dumped into the environment.

Recently we learned that an “all time record high” in a Scotland recreational area was negated because of a similar situation; an ice cream truck with A/C and generator units was dumping waste heat into the area where the official thermometer was located. Now imagine an RV park with 19 RV’s all running their AC units….that’s a lot of extra heat dumped into the vicinity of the official weather station.

Then there’s the solar panels, ones just 74 feet away, and then the large solar farm to the south. Ironically, these may raise the temperature the most as this scientific study finds:

Large-scale solar power plants raise local temperatures, creating a solar heat island effect that, though much smaller, is similar to that created by urban or industrial areas, according to a new study.

The multidisciplinary team examined the “heat island” effect of solar energy installations using experiments that spanned three different desert ecosystems in Arizona:

  1. a natural desert ecosystem,
  2. the traditional built environment of a parking lot surrounded by buildings and
  3. a photovoltaic (PV) power plant. Prior studies on the “heat island” effect of solar power installations have been confined to just one biome or ecosystem.

For this study, the team defined the heat island effect as the difference in ambient air temperature around the solar power plant compared to that of the surrounding wild desert landscape. Findings demonstrated that temperatures around a  were 5.4-7.2 °F (3-4 °C) warmer than nearby wildlands.

Source: https://phys.org/news/2016-11-solar-island-effect-large-scale-power.html#jCp

Study:  “The Photovoltaic Heat Island Effect: Larger solar power plants increase local temperatures.”

So, there you have it. In the hottest place on Earth, the effect of recently installed solar panels designed to reduce greenhouse gas emission, is making it even hotter! Could anything be more absurd?

Finally, there’s one other land-use change effect. The irrigated golf course to the south. As a previous study in California has shown, irrigation increases local temperature due to extra humidity in the air, enhancing the moist-enthalpy effect. This extra moisture in the air retains more heat, and raises the night-time low temperatures, which raise the average temperature. In deserts, night-time temperatures can be very cold, due to the super-dry air. But add a big patch of irrigation nearby and voila’, we get an instant increase in night-time temperatures.

Add to the fact that a golf course, to maintain its viability, must irrigate even more when we have naturally occurring heat waves, like we did in July 2018, and the effect is increased even more.

The point of all these land-use changes I’ve illustrated above?

None of these things were there when the original weather station was placed at Furnace Creek. Here’s a photo from 1922 of the station that recorded the worlds hottest ever temperature in 1913:

In this time period, circa 1913-1922 there were

  • No visitor center
  • No nearby solar panels
  • No parking lots
  • No paved RV parks
  • No AC heat exchanger units
  • No golf courses
  • No irrigation

Arguably, these land-use changes all have a cumulative effect on temperature measured in Death Valley. because the environment has changed so much, its folly to think of it as a metric for any climate change, because the forces from the land-use changes are far greater than any posited “climate change”.

But don’t let your lying eyes convince you, let’s look at the data.

According to the AP news article. here was the average temperature for Death Valley, as measured at the DVNP visitor’s center:

The month’s average temperature was 108.1 degrees (42.28 Celsius), said Todd Lericos, a meteorologist in the Las Vegas office of the National Weather Service.

We can check that against a state of the art, US Climate Reference Network station just up the road in Stovepipe Wells, installed in May, 2004. In a press release, NOAA says they have installed a number of these USCRN stations in National Parks:

These preserved and pristine locations provided the perfect opportunity for collaboration with the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) program, which aims to monitor climate in stable, open landscapes.

In the USCRN “site selection” criteria, NOAA says this:

The placement of the Stovepipe wells station was done by NOAA to be able to compare to the original station now at the DVNP Visitor Center, away from the influences that hubub of visitors has on temperature. For anyone who wants to claim that using this station to compare with isn’t valid, you can complain to NOAA. Clearly they chose NOT to put it in the Furnace Creek area, because of this criteria:

Furnace Creek has gone through many changes in the last two decades, so clearly it isn’t a good place to measure climate by NOAA’s own published criteria.

So, let’s look at the data from that USCRN station in Death Valley at Stovepipe Wells.

First, a look at the Stovepipe Wells USCRN location via Google Earth aerial view.

Google Earth Aerial View of USCRN climate monitoring station in Death Valley at 1 mile SW of Stovepipe Wells. One small solar panel is about 625 feet to the WSW, otherwise the area around the station is mostly natural desert.


  • No visitor center
  • No nearby solar panels (there is one small one, about 625 feet away)
  • No parking lots
  • No paved RV parks
  • No AC heat exchanger units
  • No golf courses
  • No irrigation

And, here’s the data from the official well-sited climate monitoring station. I’ve highlighted the mean monthly value, which is the result of averaging all daily high and low temperatures, just like it is done for the DVNP station at the visitor center.

Source: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/crn/month-summary?station_id=1105&date=2018-07

To summarize:

The monthly average temperature at DVNP Visitor center, surrounded by parking lots, solar panels, RV, AC units, and asphalt is: 108.1 degrees

The monthly average temperature at a state-of -the-art climate monitoring station, surrounded by mostly natural desert, sited purposely by NOAA 1 mile away from the town, to get accurate readings is: 106.6 degrees

That’s a 1.5 degree difference in the monthly average, and not a record-breaker. The old record for the monthly average was 107.4 degrees according the NWS official quoted in the AP article.

But, the climate faithful will call it “climate change”, and ignore such inconvenient facts. Would the new claimed record exist without the man-made influences in the measurement environment at Furnace Creek? There’s doubt.

Of course, there’s no long-term climate record at Stovepipe Wells, data only goes back to 2004. But, what we can say is that Stovepipe Wells, by virtue of NOAA’s foresight and criteria, is much more representative of natural climate and weather effects, than the heavily human factor biased Furnace Creek visitor center.

Yet, even for a single month, neither NWS nor the media cites this state of the art USCRN data, preferring to use the highly biased data from Furnace Creek. Why? It supports the global warming narrative.

UPDATE: When you look at the actual data from the DVNP visitor center, something else disturbing emerges – missing data, a lot of it.

For example, this NASA GISS plot of Death Valley station data shows the gaps in yearly data:

Source: https://data.giss.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gistemp/stdata_show.cgi?id=425000423190&dt=1&ds=5

Those gaps represent years when there was not enough data to make a yearly average temperature.

And, when you look at this spreadsheet of the historical data (GHCN, courtesy of this download via NASA GISS) you find that there are 20 months of July where there wasn’t enough data to make a monthly average! The data starts in 1911, so that’s 20 months of July data missing out of 117.

Death Valley Station Data (CSV, Excel) Source: https://data.giss.nasa.gov/tmp/gistemp/STATIONS/tmp_425000423190_5_0_1/station.csv

This makes me wonder how valid a month of July comparison for “hottest ever” even is. How do we know there weren’t hotter months of July that weren’t captured?

Since for the vast majority of time the weather station was there, it had to be manually read by an observer (out in the heat at the shelter) it’s quite possible that many days were “just too hot” to make the effort in such scorching temperatures.


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