NPR

How Weather Detectives Scrutinize Would-Be World Records

When a weather station in Death Valley recorded a high of 130 degrees Sunday, it triggered an inquiry to verify the reading. Here's a look into the exacting process of vetting extreme weather claims.
A 130 degree temperature was recorded Sunday in Death Valley National Park, Calif. Now a committee of scientists is working to verify this temperature, which might turn out to be one of the hottest ever recorded. Source: Mario Tama

When a weather station in Death Valley, Calif., registered an astonishing 130 degrees Fahrenheit this week, it got meteorologists' attention.

After all, there's a possibility that this is the highest such temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth — if it's for real.

One person who received the news with keen interest was Randy Cerveny, a geographer at Arizona State University. He plays a key role in verifying extreme weather measurements, under the auspices of the United Nations agency that standardizes weather measurements around the globe.

Since 2007, Cerveny has been in charge of organizing ad hoc committees to independently superlative weather measurements — such as the highest ocean wave

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