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January-February 2010

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Weatherscapes: Death Valley—In the Shadow of the Rain Shadow

The heat in Death Valley is so intense that it has been said that birds fall from the sky during the peak of summer heat, landing dead. In 1917, the temperature topped 120°F for 43 consecutive days. Like many other deserts classified as subtropical, Death Valley experiences distinct seasons, but it is noted mainly for its heat. Because much of the air at the surface of Death Valley lies below sea level (Badwater Basin, the lowest point in Death Valley and all of the western hemisphere, lies 282 feet below sea level), already hot summer air is heated further through altitude-related compression.

ED DARACK is an independent writer and photographer. His latest book is Victory Point, published by The Penguin Group; visit his Web site at

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