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« Political bias in the academy | Main | A voice from the ivory tower »

Record spinning

Anthony Watts has been taking a look at the recently proclaimed new temperature record for the USA that it is alleged has just been set. It seems that it may not be a record at all. If you take the brand spanking new USCRN network of temperature stations temperatures are a whole lot lower than with the old, problematic, but strangely still preferred COOP/USHCN network.

Using the old network, NOAA says the USA Average Temperature for July 2012 is: 77.6°F

Using the NOAA USCRN data, the USA Average Temperature for July 2012 is: 75.5°F

The difference between the old problematic network and new USCRN is 2.1°F cooler.

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Reader Comments (27)

Motivated reasoning pops up again...

Why should an arithmetical average of the new stations equal exactly the area weighted integral of the old stations? What is the average offset over the last five years between the two networks?

Chalk and cheese anyone?

But go ahead, keep on with the wishful thinking, I'm sure that any day now you'll find that the whole thing is some arithmetical mistake somewhere and you can go back to not having to worry about it. Oh yes.

Aug 9, 2012 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

A critical assumption is that the old problematic network while recording temperatures 2.1°F warmer now is likely to have been less problematic when previous record highs were being recorded back in the 1930s.

So AW is arguing that we can justifiably compare average temperatures from the cleaned up temperature network today with average temperatures from the old network of the 1930s. And if we do that, then we can no longer claim record temperatures.

Makes sense to me ...

Aug 9, 2012 at 10:32 AM | Registered Commentermatthu

Watts is not claiming that his number is the correct one. The NOAA has to come out with a figure from the new network. That is all the response needed to Watts' initiative. One wonders why they don't.

Aug 9, 2012 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda Klapp

It's strange that for most people the manipulation of the past in Orwell's 1984 was a warning. Climate scientists seemed to think it was an instruction manual.

Make the past colder and (hey presto!) the present is warming.

Eurasia has always been at war with Oceania.

Aug 9, 2012 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

NOAA spent millions in putting up this network. Then they remain totally silent about any figures from it and parrot loudly to the press about a record warm July in history based on old network. This, after the past has been cooled and present warmed with dubious " adjustments ".

So why put up a new pristine network spending multimillions and keep silent about it? Answer, seeing from NOAA and NCDC's past behaviour, is that the new network shows a cooler record with more accurate instrumentation and they dare not talk about it.

Aug 9, 2012 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenter

A man with a watch knows the time. A man with two watches can't be sure.

Aug 9, 2012 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Schofield

"Climate scientists seemed to think it was an instruction manual"


Aug 9, 2012 at 1:09 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

AW said the new network had been running for 4 years, why didnt AW work out 4 sets of July figures and compare them to the 4 old figures, that would have been more interesting.

Aug 9, 2012 at 1:12 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Matthu, Watts is answering you point above with his reply to a post
"Esko says:
August 9, 2012 at 12:11 am

How you do know that year 1936 temperature was measured in rural areas? How do you know that it is comparable to your rular area calculations?

REPLY: The US was far less urbanized in 1936, far less population, far less airports, and most airports were small affairs rather than the big concrete megaplexes of today. Read your history, ORD for example. – Anthony"

Sounds like a reasonable answer to me. In any event it is strange that NOAA have a new temperature network and keep it secret.

Aug 9, 2012 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Peter

Considering that most of us believe that the globe is not warming at the moment, it could be most useful if the NOAA published 4 years of figures (or if AW did it for them).

Aug 9, 2012 at 2:02 PM | Registered CommenterDung

The new network was designed to be geographically dispersed, so I doubt area weighting is going to change the average much. The one issue I think you might have is adjustments for altitude - as AW is using an absolute number, not an anomaly. Anomalies would be hard to produce for a 4 year history.

But still, it could be instructive to produce a 4 year anomaly history of the new network and compare the anomaly deltas to those of the old network.

Aug 9, 2012 at 2:08 PM | Unregistered Commenterjoshv

Seems like the 1936 record should be recalculated using the reliable, rural, stations of the time. Then compare the current temperature to that.

Aug 9, 2012 at 2:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

@BitBucket - I believe that's essentially what Anthony Watts is attempting to do.

Aug 9, 2012 at 2:27 PM | Unregistered Commenterjoshv

“it is strange that NOAA have a new temperature network and keep it secret”

I don’t suppose it would be so secret if the results were a few degrees warmer!

Aug 9, 2012 at 2:42 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

To those who talk about anomalies you are missing the point of the post. NOAA stated absolute termperatures based on the old network. They that at 77.4 degrees F average July was the hottest month ever recorded, 0.2 degrees F higher than 1934.. They reported temperature and not anomaly. Anthony showed using their new network that the average was 75.54 degrees, which means 2.1 degrees cooler.

That begs the question as to why NOAA kept mum about their new network.

Aug 9, 2012 at 3:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenter

More, and different, ways of 'measuring' something means more opportunity for records. All Baseball and Cricket fans know this.

In my recent experience, someone obsessed with new records is either someone with an agenda, or is a TV/Radio commentator watching the Olympic games.

Aug 9, 2012 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

God, I hope this one gets played right. This together with Hansens latest claims, could be the final nail in the political argument that the debate is over. It shows a clear bias in what data is presented to the public, and how. NOAA chose to use the old network instead of the new they built because the old was to inaccurate. If this gets worded right there will be no doubt that climate scientist in government positions are politically biased enough to disregard the scientific method. This could be huge. Climategate was damaging enough, but this is the one that none can escape, if one ask what other data they have chosen to represent, and in what context. This is not technical like climategate was, this is basic ethics that we all can fully understand.

If I'm to eager in killing this thing, once and for all, I don't doubt you'll understand why. :)

Aug 9, 2012 at 4:47 PM | Unregistered Commenteraquix

@Venter: The point about anomaly is that absolute temperatures are not going to be directly comparable because of differences in siting. In the extreme example one network could be entirely in florida, and other on mountain tops in the appalacians. You'd get very different absolute temperature readings.

But if you compare anomalies from a baseline, you could actually make comparative statements about two very different networks.

However, I think the new USCRN was designed to be spacially diverse and well distributed, so I doubt it suffers much from siting bias.

Aug 9, 2012 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterjoshv

Lots of talk of altitude anomalies here - is there a standard range of of altitudes that is adhered to when placing these stations?

Aug 9, 2012 at 5:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterMr Bliss

@Mr Bliss: Yes, I believe they are generally 4 feet off the ground :) But seriously, in the Watts Up with That thread, it has been pointed out that the average altitude of these sites is indeed much higher than the entire network used by NOAA - so you would expect the absolute temperature to be lower, just because of altitude differences.

Aug 9, 2012 at 6:48 PM | Unregistered Commenterjoshv

The altitude issue is probably quite real, you want to look at the distribution of altitudes by state, their mean elevation and the mean elevation of the state. Another potential urban (or anthropic) bias in the USHCN is toward lower elevations, since that is where most cities are. It is important to remember that the climatological network is operated by the Department of Commerce and the reason for its existence was never science per se. It was to provide reasonably useful weather forecasts that could be employed by the local residents, farmers, railroads and shippers. Later, as air transport became more important conditions at airfields became very important. A low barometer could mean insufficient runway for a safe take off or landing. Consequently, weather stations were often located or relocated at airports for the specific purpose of supporting flight operations.

The USCRN stations are reportedly located to collect data for climatological purposes, so the distribution of stations is probably quite different environmentally than USHCN stations. So, Anthony Watts might be the first investigator that actually is using data from stations sited for climatological purposes as opposed to data from re-tasked stations.

Aug 9, 2012 at 7:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterDuster

joshv, the point about absolute temperatures is that NOAA stated absolute temperature of July 2012 as a comparison against absolute temperature of July 1936 and declared July 2012 as record hottest in the press release. They did not calculate anomalies. They talked about absolute temperature for one month and went to town with it. That absolute temperature they claimed was from their old network and not the multimillion dollar new network that has been set up and running for 4 years now. And that network's temperature for July 2012 shows an average that is 2.1 degrees F cooler than their old network. And they did not open their mouth and discuss anything about their new network. That is lying by omission.

Aug 10, 2012 at 3:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterVenter

Venter: I agree, absolute temperatures are not good for historical comparison, period. The network in 1936 was most definitely different than the network is today. Using temperature anomaly is an attempt to correct for this.

If you know of a way that the new network could be used for comparison, chime it, but as it has only 4 years of history, there's not much that can be done with it yet on climatological time scales. Once it has enough history to establish statistically significant trends, those trends can be compared to the trends from other networks.

Aug 10, 2012 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterjoshv

@joshv, you are missing the point. It is not rocket science. It is simple english.

NOAA and Anthony are not taking about trends here. They are talking about absolute temperatures for one month, specifically the month of July 2012. There is accurate record of that in USCRN. Yet they used the other older record which showed 2.1 degrees warmer and ignored the more modern and more accurate USCRN temperatures.

Got it?

No trends were done, no anomalies were computed. Comparison was between absolute temperature of July 2012 versus absolute temperature of July 1936, This comparison and parroting in press was done by NOAA, not Anthony.

Got it?

So kindly stop discussing irrelevant issues like trends and anomalies. They are in no way connected to what NOAA did and what Anthony pointed out.

Aug 11, 2012 at 2:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterVenter

Venter: Do you understand that the temperature on a mountain top is much lower than the temperature at the base of the mountain? USCRN has a higher average altitude, this it's temperatures are not comparable the more extensive NOAA network, and really, absolute temperatures are not comparable at all other than at the same location with the same equipment (or equipment calibrated by the previous equipment).

I am agreeing with you, the comparison between 1936 and 2012 using absolute temperatures is stupid. So is comparing the absolute temperature produced by one network in July 2012 to the absolute temperature produced by another network.

Aug 11, 2012 at 3:07 AM | Unregistered Commenterjoshv

The whole point was to show the absurdity of what NOAA parroted. And what was the altitude of the 1936 stations? Did they have accuracy to measure to decimals then? Most were rounded off figures.

And do NOAA apply adiabatic lapse rate adjustments to the old network what they use in July 2012? They have not said how they measure absolute temperatures.

Is the lapse rate uniform? Depending upon station siting it will be a moist or dry adiabatic lapse rate. Have these been listed and calculated by NOAA on old and new networks?

There are no answers for any of these. So until NOAA come out with details of exactly how they calculate CONUS Tavg, such questions will be asked. And until they say why they keep quiet about the new USCRN network, questions will be asked. These questions have been e-mailed to them by Anthony as he stated in the thread and as on date there is no reply.

NOAA/NCDC with Karl, Peterson and Trenberth have shown themselves consistently to be activists with a propensity to twist facts, make deliberate wrong and misleading and outright false statements. So, with these organisations and gentlemen nothing they say can be believed on face value.

Aug 11, 2012 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenter

Surely, records can only be set at INDIVIDUAL long established stations that have not been resited or subjected to UHI effect (unless you correct for UHI by lowering the old readings, lol)? So perhaps someone could compare readings at individual stations over time and show that no station had an individual record in July 2012. (What would be really funny would be to find a station had had a record low. After the pre-Olympic rain in London, I wouldn't be surprised to see a record low there on a day this summer.)

Aug 13, 2012 at 1:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterClunking Fist

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