The summer of 2020 was a hot one for Death Valley, California. So hot, in fact, one weather station registered a temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s only 4 degrees less than the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth!
But was the reading accurate—or just a glitch? It’s Randy Cerveny’s job to find out. Cerveny is a geographer at Arizona State University. He also heads a project for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to verify weather records around the world. When extreme conditions occur, like very high temperatures or powerful hurricanes, it’s up to him to investigate.
First, Cerveny asks local weather scientists to collect detailed information about the event, which includes pictures and past weather records from the area. Then he assembles a team of international experts in that type of weather. The team studies the weather “clues” to determine whether the record is valid. These investigations can take more than six months to complete.
For the Death Valley case, a team tested the machine that recorded the record high in a lab to make sure it was working properly. It was! To Cerveny, climate change makes his work even more important. “In order to understand how our world is changing,” he says, “we need to be able to monitor it precisely.”