Heatwave in US: Tourists Still Flock to Death Valley

DEATH VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — Hundreds of Europeans visiting the American West and adventurers from across the U.S. continue to be drawn to Death Valley National Park, even as the desolate region known as one of the hottest places on Earth is being punished by a dangerous heat wave. accused of the death of a motorcyclist during the weekend.

French, Spanish, English and Swiss tourists this week left their air-conditioned rental cars to snap photos of the barren landscape so different from the snow-capped mountains and rolling green hills they know at home. American adventurers welcomed the news, even as California park officials warned visitors to be careful.

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A long-exposure photo of the thermostat at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center, taken just after 10 p.m. in Death Valley National Park, California, Sunday, July 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Ty ONeil)

“I was excited that it was going to be so hot,” said Drew Belt, a resident of Tupelo, Mississippi, who wanted to stop in Death Valley as the lowest elevation in the U.S. on his way to climbing Mount Whitney in California. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s kind of like walking on Mars.”

The scorching heat wave that gripped much of the US also led to record daily temperatures. high temperatures in Oregon, where it is believed to have caused six deaths, the state coroner’s office said Tuesday. More than 161 million people A heat warning was in effect across the US, especially in the western states.

Dozens of locations in the western and northwestern Pacific Ocean tied or broke previous heat records last weekend and are expected to continue doing so this week.

In Death Valley National Park, tourists lined up for photos in front of a giant thermometer that the National Park Service keeps at the visitor center. It’s not accurate, registering temperatures anywhere from 1 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than more modern instruments that the National Weather Service keeps nearby, making for a more impressive photo.

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A person uses an umbrella to block the sun as he waits to take a photo at the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign on Monday, July 8, 2024, in Las Vegas. (Wade Vandervort/Las Vegas Sun via AP)

“There is no mention of it being an official temperature sensor,” said Dan Berc, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.

“This is an incredibly popular place to be, as you can see from the visitors behind me,” said park ranger Jeanette Jurado Tuesday, standing near the thermometer, which read 120 F (48.9 C). “But even in the winter, people might find 80 degrees in December unusual and worth photographing.”

An extreme heat warning was also in effect for much of Washington and Oregon on Tuesday, with the possibility of temperatures reaching 110 F (43.3 C) in areas posing a high risk for heat-related illness, the National Weather Service said. Temperatures in parts of Idaho, including Boise, were expected to reach over 100 F (37.7 C) on Tuesday.

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People use a mist tent outside Blanchet House in downtown Portland, Oregon, as the heat wave continues on Monday, July 8, 2024. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)

The early heat wave in the US came as global temperatures hit record highs in June for the 13th month in a row and marked the 12th consecutive month that the world was 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than in pre-industrial times, according to Europe’s climate service Copernicus. Most of this heat, trapped by human-caused climate change, comes from long-term warming from greenhouse gases released from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, scientists say.

In the sweltering desert of eastern California, a high of 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53.3 degrees Celsius) was recorded over the weekend at Death Valley National Park, where an unidentified visitor died Saturday from the heat. Another person was hospitalized.

They were among six motorcyclists who were riding through the Badwater Basin area in the scorching weather, the park said in a statement. The other four were treated at the scene. Emergency helicopters could not reach the scene because aircraft generally cannot fly safely above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.8 degrees Celsius), officials said.

Death Valley is considered one of the most extreme environments on Earth. The highest temperature ever officially recorded on Earth was 134°F (56.67°C) in July 1913 in Death Valley, although some experts dispute that measurement and say the real record was 130°F (54.4°C), recorded there in July 2021.

“It’s impressive,” said Thomas Mrzliek of Basel, Switzerland, of the triple-digit heat. “It’s like a wave hitting you when you get out of the car, but it’s a very dry heat. So it’s not like in Europe.”

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Thor Teigen poses in a fur coat next to a thermometer that reads 131 degrees Fahrenheit/55 degrees Celsius at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center, in Death Valley National Park, California, Sunday, July 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Ty ONeil)

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A stop sign warns tourists of extreme heat in Badwater Basin, Monday, July 8, 2024, in Death Valley National Park, California. (Daniel Jacobi II/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Across the Nevada desert, Las Vegas was already 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius) by 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, and was expected to reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.8 degrees Celsius) by the end of the day.

“The intense heat wave will continue to set records through the end of the week, after which the weather will taper off as increasing monsoon moisture returns to the area,” the National Weather Service in Las Vegas said.

In Arizona, average temperatures for the first eight days of July were the warmest ever recorded for Phoenix and Yuma, the National Weather Service in Phoenix said. The service said both cities will remain about 10 degrees above normal in the coming days, with highs mostly between 112 F (44.4 C) and 120 F (48.8 C).

Extreme heat and a prolonged drought in the west have also led to dried-out vegetation, fueling wildfires.

In California, firefighters were battling at least 18 wildfires Tuesday, including a 40-square-mile (106-square-kilometer) blaze in the mountains of Santa Barbara County. The Lake Fire was only 12% contained, and meteorologists warned of a “volatile combination” of high heat, low humidity and northwest winds developing late in the day.

North of Los Angeles, the 2-square-mile (5-square-kilometer) Vista Fire is eating through trees in the San Bernardino National Forest, sending a huge smoke plume visible across the region. A smaller but smoky blaze, dubbed the Royal Fire, burned more than 150 acres (60 hectares) of forest west of Lake Tahoe and rained ash down on the tourist town of Truckee, California. Neither fire was contained Tuesday.

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FILE – A person fills their water bottle during the Waterfront Blues Festival, July 5, 2024, in Portland, Oregon. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

The National Weather Service said Tuesday that extreme heat warnings for much of the Southwest U.S. have been extended through Saturday morning.

“Unusually high temperatures are now forecast to continue through Friday, and with increased cloud cover, Saturday morning’s lows could be the warmest of this entire episode,” the Reno service said. “Thursday could be the warmest day for most locations, so it’s not over yet.”

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Snow was reported from Phoenix. AP reporters Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska; Christopher Weber and John Antczak in Los Angeles; and Scott Sonner and Gabe Stern in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

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