Life in the ‘hottest place on Earth’

“I think we all lose our patience with how hot it is,” says Brandi Stewart, who works at Death Valley National Park in California. “When you walk outside it’s like being hit in the face with a bunch of hairdryers.”

On Sunday, what could be the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth, a toasty 130F (54.4C), was reported in the park – a vast, desert area filled with canyons and sand dunes that straddles the border with neighbouring Nevada. However, in Brandi’s picture, the sign showing the temperature appears to have overheated.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says it is still verifying the record. But Brandi doesn’t need experts to tell her just how hot it is.

She’s one of just a few hundred people for whom the location often referred to as “the hottest place in the world” is home.

Ms Stewart has lived in Death Valley on and off for five years, working in the park’s communication department.

“It feels so hot that one thing it took me a while to get used to is that you can’t actually feel the sweat on your skin because it evaporates so quickly,” she told the BBC. “You might feel it on your clothes, but you don’t actually feel sweat on your skin because it dries so quickly”.

Ms Stewart says a lot of time in the summer is spent inside, but some people choose to head to the mountains where temperatures are slightly cooler.

“Once people do get used to it [the heat], I think we begin to normalise it and then anything below 80F (26.6C) seems chilly.”

In terms of sleep, people in the town have air conditioning, which keeps their homes cool as long as the power doesn’t go out. This can be an issue when everyone is trying to keep their homes at a comfortable temperature as the mercury soars.

The majority of people who work and live in the national park are located in Furnace Creek, where the recent record temperature was recorded. The town is situated in a long and narrow basin around 280 feet below sea level. It is surrounded by high and steep mountain ranges.

Jason Heser, originally from Minnesota, lives in Furnace Creek and works on the golf course there. It’s the lowest golf course in the world at 214 feet (85 metres) below sea level.

“I’ve been to Iraq twice. If I can take Iraq, I can take Death Valley,” the former military service member said.

He starts work on the golf course just before 05:00 and works until 13:00. “They told us once it starts getting hotter, like right now, we’ll start working at 04:00. At 04:00, it’s still 100-105F (37.7-40.5C),” he said.

The water used to keep the course up to scratch comes from a natural spring underground. Mr Heser is part of a team that helps to keep the course in a good condition.

“We’re mowing every day, trimming, raking bunkers.

“We’re picking up trees that have fallen because it’s so dry. They’re so dry with the heat they’re getting heavy and breaking off. A lot of our day is spent picking those up.”

Mr Heser arrived in October 2019 and loves his job. He plans to stay there for a number of years. The winter makes up for the scorching summer temperatures, he says.

During time off, he likes to play golf on the course he works so hard to maintain. But that means a fairly early start of 07:00 to beat the heat – or at least the worst of it – and get through 18 holes.

“I just love to golf,” he said. “When I got here, the temperature was amazing – shorts, polo, a cold beer or a cold soda. Now, if you have a beverage it’s warm by the time you get to the green. You’ve got to drink it fast, which makes for interesting golf!”

Sunday’s temperature has been described as possibly the hottest ever recorded “reliably” on Earth. There are two higher temperatures in the record books – one in Furnace Creek in 1913 – 134F (56.6C) – and another in Tunisia in 1931 – 131F (55C). But these are contested by climate experts.

“Modern day scientists and meteorologists suggest that those two readings weren’t accurate,” says BBC Weather’s Simon King. “When you have a massive temperature like this [in Furnace Creek], the World Meteorological Organization investigates further and looks at a lot of different information to verify the record as you would expect.”

Christopher Burt, a weather historian. has suggested the 1913 temperature recorded in Death Valley was suspicious due to other readings in the area at that time. The reading in Furnace Creek was two or three degrees higher than other weather stations around, he says.

This is one reason why Sunday’s record, if verified, is being described by some US experts as the highest ever “reliably recorded”. The WMO says it is seeking to verify it but even if it does, it will classify the temperature as the third-highest temperature ever recorded because it stands by the 1913 record in Furnace Creek and the 1931 record in Tunisia despite scepticism.

It has also been argued that other places might have seen hotter temperatures than the Death Valley, but weather-watchers simply don’t know about them due to the lack of any weather station nearby.

So for now, Furnace Creek is the hottest place in the world.

“People ask me what it’s like,” says Mr Heser. “The best way I describe it is you know when you’re cooking something in your oven and you want to check on it, you open the door and you get that blast of hot air from the oven…. that’s what it feels like.”

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