Our Stories

One Hot Weather Station

One Hot Weather Station

By Chris Stachelski (christopher.stachelski@noaa.gov)

For the last 130 years, partnerships have been the foundation of the National Weather Service’s cooperative weather observing program. If it wasn’t for the commitment and dedication of countless individuals over the years, observation collection and equipment location would be much more difficult. While many cooperative observing stations are located on the properties of an individual or family residence, a large number are located at “institutions” -- government agencies, non-profit organizations, private companies, and so on. 

One federal agency with a nationwide presence that serves as an observer at many sites is the National Park Service. For obvious reasons, the agency has a vested interest in weather, especially as it concerns daily park activities, potential visitors, and research into local flora and fauna. As a result, a number of National Park Service sites have maintained cooperative weather observing stations for half of a century or more. Typically, collecting these observations once a day falls on the duties of the park rangers.

 

The Death Valley weather station in July
2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooperative weather observing stations can be found at National Park Service sites such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Arches, Zion, Lake Mead, Great Smoky Mountains, and more. Due to varying microclimates, some national parks have multiple cooperative weather stations in order to keep a record at various points in the park facility. Of all the cooperative weather observing sites located in National Parks, one attracts the highest international interest among the weather and climate community: the station at Death Valley National Park at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center. 

Weather observations in the modern record at Death Valley began at the Greenland Ranch in 1911. In addition to being the driest location in the United States, the site holds two impressive weather records. The first was set on July 10, 1913 when the high temperature reached 134 degrees, which is recognized by the World Meteorological Organization as the world’s hottest temperature ever. The second occurred in 1929, when the site went the entire year without any precipitation, tying for the nation’s driest location on record that year. These records form part of the park’s slogan of “Hottest. Driest. Lowest”, showing how big of a role weather plays in this park of extremes.

In 1958, the National Park Service took over as the observer, and the site moved to its current enclosure area at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.in 1961. In 2015, an automated weather station joined the legacy weather observing equipment at the site in an official capacity to allow for a continuous weather record to be kept as opposed to only a daily snapshot at observation time. Park rangers continue to check the manual legacy equipment.

During the warm season and especially the summer months, Death Valley is often the hottest location in the entire country. Many visitors travel to the park from around the globe to experience the extreme heat. Although it has not surpassed 129 degrees since 1913, many people can still claim to have experienced incredibly high temperatures.

The National Park Service has maintained an excellent working relationship with the National Weather Service over the years with this site, as it attracts significant attention from both the media and the science communities. In 2013, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 134-degree reading, a special one-day event was held at Death Valley by both agencies to recognize this event and give an in-depth look into the extreme climate of the park.

Having worked at the National Weather Service in Las Vegas from 2008 to 2016, part of my job was to maintain the records and climatological database for the site. My most memorable experience was in the late spring of 2013, when I came to the park to paint the instrument shelter with a fresh coat of white paint. I was used to working outside in the heat from living in Las Vegas, and the temperature at the time was only in the 90s; however, the soil in Death Valley gets very hot easily -- readings over 200 degrees have been recorded. I wore a pair of dress shoes instead of sneakers, and my feet felt like they were on fire after about an hour. Luckily, I had no serious issues, but it shows how hot it can get here.. Each site we maintain has things to learn, such as  maintenance issues that come with the job. Stories like this are often shared with the field offices of the National Weather Service during the cooperative observing network course at the National Weather Service Training Center in Kansas City. This twice-a-year event offers training and in-the-trenches stories and experiences to students learning the ropes of this program.