ASK TOM: What makes Death Valley so hot?

Dear Tom,

What makes Death Valley so hot? It doesn’t seem logical with prevailing weather coming off a cold Pacific Ocean current that is not too far away.

— Fred, Evanston



Dear Fred,

More than 200 miles and five mountain ranges separate Death Valley from the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific air that arrives in Death Valley has not only lost its moisture as it passes over the intervening mountain ranges but it also compresses and warms as it descends into the valley, which at its lowest point lies 282 feet below sea level.


Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth, boasting the world’s record high temperature of 134 degrees, recorded at Greenland Ranch on July 10, 1913. The area’s rocky soil absorbs the heat, which remains trapped in the valley, allowing summer temperatures to routinely top 120 degrees.

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