Record Heat Claims Motorcyclist’s Life in Death Valley

A weekend escapade took a tragic turn for a group of six motorcyclists on July 6, as Death Valley’s temperatures soared to 128°F. One rider, unnamed, died of heat exposure and another member of the group was rushed to advanced medical care in Las Vegas for severe heat illness. The other four riders were treated onsite and released. 

According to officials, the group was riding near the Badwater Basin area amid the scorching heat. This area in Death Valley is the lowest point in North America, at an elevation of 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level. The weather there is particularly unforgiving right now. 

The death comes as an ongoing heatwave has raised the temperatures across the US, especially in regions like Death Valley, to record-breaking highs. According to Death Valley National Park’s official statement, July 6 recorded 128°F, surpassing the area’s previous daily record of 127°F set in 2007. At such temperatures, ambient air can no longer provide relief. 

Photo by Danee / Getty Images

Unfortunately for the six motorcyclists, this was the day they were exploring Death Valley. To make matters worse, emergency medical flight helicopters were unable to respond, as they cannot generally fly safely over 120°F due to the thin air.

The incident is a grim reminder of the dangers of motorcycling in such unforgiving conditions. Once the heat index rises over 99°F, ambient air does not provide any relief, and you may feel like you’re riding in an oven. The bulk of the necessary riding gear, does not help either, raising your core body temperature even more. 

You can take several precautions to keep yourself cool on your motorcycle — avoiding the hottest hours, investing in cooling base layers and mesh riding gear, or even soaking your gear to keep yourself cool. However, it may not be the right time to ride your motorcycle in regions like Death Valley, which is seeing some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in the US. 

Photo by Zixi Wu

Over 50 million people are under heat alerts during this time, as the heatwave shatters temperature records across the country. For example, in Northern California, the temperatures surpassed 110°F with Redding topping out at 119°F. Record high temperatures are forecasted across the Western US, including Nevada, Arizona and California.

As a result, Death Valley National Park’s official statement warns “high heat like this can pose real threats to your health.” Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds adds that “while this is a very exciting time to experience potential world record setting temperatures in Death Valley, we encourage visitors to choose their activities carefully, avoiding prolonged periods of time outside of an air-conditioned vehicle or building when temperatures are this high.” 

Spring and Fall are the best times to visit Death Valley when temperatures tend to be pleasant. But even during these times, temperatures can swing wildly and it can get chilly in the higher elevations at night, so be prepared.

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