More than 300 people live year-round in Death Valley, one of the hottest places on Earth. Here’s how it is.

family playground in Death Valley

Children living in Death Valley, California play in a playground in the Cow Creek residential area.Courtesy of Crystal Taylor

  • With an average daytime temperature of nearly 120 degrees in August, Death Valley is one of the hottest regions in the world.

  • Over 300 people call the area home, most of them employees of the National Park Service and local hotels.

  • Two residents told Business Insider what it’s like to live in such extreme temperatures.

Death Valley reached a sweltering 130 degrees on one August afternoon in 2020. That’s 54 degrees Celsius, which is roughly the internal temperature of a steak. By September 2022, Death Valley broke the world record for the highest temperature recorded in September, reaching 126 degrees.

Record-breaking or not, most days in July and August feel like stepping into an oven, said Brandi Stewart, a year-round resident of Furnace Creek Station and Death Valley National Park Public Information Officer.

“It’s pretty overwhelming,” said Stewart. “You go outside and you feel it right away, you feel it on your skin. It’s dry; you can’t feel yourself sweating because it evaporates so quickly.”

Death Valley’s 300 to 400 year-round residents experience highs of 110 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit throughout August. At night, temperatures drop to the low 90s. However, despite the heat, residents manage to work, socialize and even exercise outdoors.

Stewart and Patrick Taylor, heads of translation and education at Death Valley National Park, told Business Insider what it’s like to live in one of the hottest places on Earth.

It takes time to get used to the heat

He said Taylor’s first summer in Death Valley was “pretty hard”.

When the body is not adapted to extreme temperatures, high temperatures can quickly overwhelm it, causing profuse sweating and exhaustion before worse effects such as heatstroke. However, most human bodies adapt after a few weeks, mainly by sweating more, lowering body temperature, and changing blood vessels to increase blood flow to the skin.

Taylor estimates it took him—and most others—about a year to fully adjust to the Furnace Creek highs. In total, he spent seven years there.

“I don’t know if anyone really enjoys having a 125, but it’s not that intimidating,” he said.

Also, as Stewart said, the heat in Death Valley is dry, which means sweat evaporates quickly and cools the body more effectively.

She knew she was used to the heat, she said, after she started packing into 80-degree days.

“Today and yesterday I was on the phone with people and they said, ‘It’s 80 degrees outside and I’m wearing shorts and a T-shirt,'” she said. But in that vein, Stewart added, “I’m probably wearing pants and a long-sleeved shirt.”

bake sale in death valley

The kids are having a bake sale at the Cow Creek Complex.Courtesy of Crystal Taylor

During the winter in Death Valley, the highest temperatures reach the 60s, and at night the temperature drops to the low 30s.

The Death Valley community stays close

Cow Creek, Timbisha Shoshone Village, and Stovepipe Wells, the three major year-round communities of Death Valley, are all remote: the nearest town is an hour’s drive away. Some local kids take an hour’s bus ride to school, even though Taylor and his wife are homeschooling their five daughters.

The Cow Creek complex has about 80 apartments, most of which are within walking distance of each other, Taylor said. There is a communal gym, playground and district library at guests’ disposal. Most homes have two types of air conditioning: regular air conditioners and “swamp” or evaporative coolers that take dry, hot air and filter it through wet cushions to cool it.

However, not all occupants use both systems – or any cooling system at all.

“Some employees never use air conditioning,” Taylor said. “If the house goes to 95, it goes to 95.”

He said they were ditching air conditioning mainly to save money on utilities.

Taylor added that most residents’ family members don’t like to visit in the summer, so year-round people spend a lot of time together.

This branch of the National Park Service “usually attracts really motivated employees who are willing to work hard and not run away when things get tough,” he said.

About 150 National Park Service employees in the area have set up community groups – “there’s a book club, a craft club, people who like to run,” Taylor said.

Yes, the people of Death Valley run. Outside. Even in July.

“We would never, ever tell a visitor to run around Death Valley in the summer,” Taylor said. “But if you run every day and your body is used to running at 119 degrees, then 120 doesn’t make much of a difference.”

Residents are taking extra precautions when going outside

CarCookies_BStewart

Brandi Stewart, a resident of Death Valley National Park, bakes cookies on her windshield.Brandy Stewart

In summer, the heat of Death Valley makes even simple activities dangerous.

Taylor and his family never leave home without a backup satellite phone in case they lose coverage.

Stewart doesn’t go to the grocery store without her boyfriend and a huge jug of water; she also constantly checks her car to avoid the possibility that it will break down, leaving her stranded.

“My biggest fear is getting a flat tire and my vehicle crashing,” she said.

Taylor and Stewart said they tell park visitors they must take similar precautions.

“The worry we have now [is] that the attention we give to our heat records will attract more people,” Stewart said.

Climate change is making life in Death Valley even more difficult

The coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult for a small group of Death Valley residents to gather, but they stay connected via technology like everyone else.

“We’re all going through the same thing together; we all experience these high temperatures. It fosters a sense of community that you’re all going through this difficult time together,” Stewart said.

They also face another huge threat: climate change.

In Death Valley, six of the 10 hottest months on record have occurred in the past 20 years. In July 2018, the area set the world record for the hottest month on record, with an average temperature of 108.1 degrees Fahrenheit – breaking the previous record of 107.4 degrees from the previous year.

Taylor said the temperature changes made it difficult to communicate with other residents.

“When we look at our trends over the past decade, [Sunday] otherwise, daily highs do not appear to be noticeably higher than in the past. The main trend is overnight lows,” he said.

Ten years ago, the average low temperature in Death Valley in August was 86 degrees, according to NOAA. Last year it was 90. Over the same time period, average low temperatures in September rose from 74 to 80.

“We used to go out and play at night, and now we can’t go out and socialize as much as we used to,” Taylor said. “Maybe we would have had a barbecue before, now it’s too hot to do it four months a year instead of one.”

Read the original article in Business Insider

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