Libya Loses 89-Year-Old Hottest Temperature Record to Death Valley

Thursday, September 27, 2012
Greenland Ranch Instrument Shelter, 1926 (photo: Bancroft Library Collection, University of California, Berkeley)

Thanks to the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, scientists from Libya and the United States have been able to band together to debunk the longstanding myth that the hottest temperature ever recorded took place in Libya.


On September 13, 1922, a Libyan government official recorded the temperature at Al Azizia as 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit (58°C), the highest ever measured on Earth. In the ensuring decades, however, experts began to doubt the validity of the record temperature, based on other readings from the surrounding area.


So in 2010, while Libya was torn apart by civil war, a team of experts began investigating Al Azizia’s hottest day. A major player in the investigation was Khalid Ibrahim El Fadli, director of the climate department at the Libyan National Meteorological Center, who found the original logs and determined that a new person took over the reading and recording of the temperature at Al Azizia two days before the legendary hottest day reading.


Unfortunately, Gaddafi accused Libyans who shared climate information with foreigners to be traitors, and Western meteorologists lost contact with El Fadli in February 2011. After Gaddafi was killed eight months later, El Fadli was able to resurface and resume his collaboration with his overseas colleagues.


In January 2012 a 13-member committee of the World Meteorological Organization recommended that the Al Azizia record be decertified.


The hottest day ever on earth now belongs to Greenland Ranch in Death Valley, California, where it was 134 degrees (56.7°C) on July 10, 1913. But one of the experts who helped invalidate the Libya recording also has doubts about this recording. Christopher C. Burt gives the 1913 reading a “validity score” of 5 on a scale of 10. On the other hand, he gives a full validity score of 10 to four recordings of 129° (53.9°C). One was at the appropriately named Furnace Creek in Death Valley on July 18, 1998. The other three were at Greenland Ranch, on July 20, 1960; July 20, 2005; and July 7, 2007.

-David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

The Scientist Who Almost Died While Debunking “The Hottest Day on Earth” (by Ed Grabianowski,

World Heat Record Overturned—A Personal Account (by Christopher C. Burt, Weather Underground)

Dead Heat: Overturning the World's Hottest Temperature (Weather Underground) (video)

Hottest Air Temperatures Reported on Earth (by Christopher C. Burt, Weather Underground)


Leave a comment