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Scorching heat wave creates deadly conditions in national parks

Almost all of the Western U.S., where most national parks are located, remained under excessive heat warnings or watches on Monday.
Death Valley National Park Heat Danger
Posted at 12:12 PM, Jul 08, 2024

A searing, triple-digit heat wave that has put millions of Americans under an excessive heat warning from the National Weather Service has been blamed for at least two recent deaths in national parks.

The most recent death occurred in Death Valley National Park, located on California’s border with Nevada in the Mojave Desert, which recorded a high temperature of 128 F over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Park officials told multiple outlets one motorcyclist died Saturday from heat exposure while visiting the park, and a second was hospitalized in Las Vegas. Neither have been identified.

The visitors were part of a group of six motorcyclists riding through the Badwater Basin area in the scorching heat. The other four members of the group were treated at the scene for heat-related illness, officials said.

The heavy safety gear worn by motorcyclists in combination with the insufferable heat made it almost impossible for them to cool down while riding through the park.

With temperatures that high, emergency medical helicopters could not respond. The aircraft generally can’t fly safely when it’s over 120 F due to the spread of air molecules that favors wider wings or blades.

Death Valley is known as a “land of extremes” — infamous for being the driest place in North America and having the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth at 134 F in July 1913. Some experts dispute the record, however, claiming the actual record was 130 F in 2021 – which forecasters said could be tied this week.

The park warned visitors in person and on its website about the extreme summer heat, advising them not to hike after 10 a.m., to dress accordingly, to stay hydrated and to find shade often.

Last week, park officials said a 69-year-old hiker died in Grand Canyon National Park after multiple attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. While his cause of death has not been confirmed, park rangers reminded visitors hiking the inner canyon, where exposed trails can reach over 120 F in the shade, during the daylight hours of the summer is not recommended.

Copernicus, a division of the European Union's space program, said Monday that global temperatures continued a 13-month streak of record heat.

Heat records were broken over the holiday weekend along the West Coast, with Salem, Oregon, recording a historic high of 103 F and Las Vegas setting a record high on Sunday with 120 F.

Almost all of the Western U.S., where most national parks are located, remained under excessive heat warnings or watches on Monday. Heat advisories extended from the West to the Southeast as the heat wave entered another week.

Even areas of higher elevations were issued rare heat advisories, like Lake Tahoe shared by California and Nevada on the northern border of the states.

The high temperatures pose a unique risk to national parks, where millions of annual visitors are often secluded and cellphone service to call for help is mostly nonexistent.

However, a recent analysis from a Los Angeles-based personal injury law firm found the most common cause of death in national parks is drowning, followed by vehicle crashes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said heat-related illnesses can vary based on symptoms. If you are outdoors in extreme heat, stay hydrated and call for help if you or someone you are with starts to experience dizziness, headaches, nausea, confusion or a fast pulse.

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