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BY GEORGE: The Heat of the Valley

It’s official, Death Valley is the hottest spot on the planet, reaching 134 degrees at Furnace Creek July 10th, 1913.  At one time there was a dispute to that, putting Al Aziziyah, Libya on the map as the hottest spot on September 13th, 1922.  However, after further detailed studies by the scientific community, that location was eliminated as not being verifiable.  At any rate, who knows how warm any one spot on earth has actually gotten, but as so far scientifically measured, Death Valley it is.  Why?

The hot temperature of Death Valley is the result of a number of factors.  First, let’s look at the fact that warm dry air descends into Death Valley because of its location along a desert belt that is a long narrow basin.  The basin descends to 282 feet below sea-level at its lowest (Badwater Basin).  The valley is also walled by rather steep mountains.

The air heats even more because it is being compressed as the air sinks into the valley.  Rising air cools and sinking air heats, and these actions are “realized” in the exchange of energy, i.e., temperature changes.

Additionally, the valley lies in something called a “rain shadow”, an area that gets very little rain because it sits on the edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The technical reasons of which are as follows: When air encounters the Sierras, on the windward side, it is force to rise, moisture is condensed out and when air descends on the back side or leeward side of the mountains, air is compressed which leads to warming of the air, and the moisture is evaporated, helping to make Death Valley a desert.

The very geographical spot of Death Valley as related to the semi-permanent Pacific high pressure system over the ocean also lends itself to the heating of the air in this region.  The dynamics of high pressure systems provide for descending air on its eastern flank, so this too aids in warming columns of air within the Valley’s atmosphere.

By: George Elliott

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