How not to measure temperature, part 54: Los Angeles, the city

Los AngelesPlease click the picture then continue reading.

This is the city. Los Angeles, California. I study weather stations here. I carry a thermometer. My name’s Anthony. The story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The day was Monday, March 24th, four days after the vernal equinox. It started out like any other day, with a bad cup of coffee and a stack of reports on scumbags you normally wouldn’t give the time of day to. But then, just as I was about to down that last gulp of coffee, a tip came in on the email hotline. It was Goetz, and his side kick Foutch.  They said there has been a heist of a weather station on the southeast side. It had been moved, and then it was dumped mysteriously on the campus of USC.

9:15AM Goetz and Foutch told me they had picked up the trail of the weather station the night before. They knew it had been bagged, and that some g-men were hopping mad about it. The g-men had written a report on the crime. In it, they claimed that because of the heist, which had been orchestrated by some other g-men at NOAA, the great City of Los Angeles had been denied it’s due: A new rainfall record year of 2004-2005. Worse than that, the temperature of the city was going down.

I’d heard about this station. It was ugly, it was dirty, it was perched on a rooftop, and it was on the wrong side of town, out by the City Department of Water and Power, just south of the Santa Ana freeway. It hung out with utility trucks and those little red street racers the punks around here drive. There was only one single photo of it. It wasn’t the kind of pristine weather station you’d take home to introduce to your mother.

10:05 AM I knew this was going to be a tough case to crack without hard as nails proof, so I decided to setup surveillance. I called in a favor from a chopper pilot named Barney that I used to share a beat with. I asked him to get aerial photos, lots of them. He asked why. I told him it was because nobody would believe that a City of Los Angeles official weather station had been on a rooftop of a parking garage and now was a shell of it’s former self sitting over at the USC campus.

I told him that when they dumped it in a cool park at USC, they killed the heart and soul of the city’s temperature record with it. And worse, they not only moved the station, but they replaced the man who had sweated and toiled on the rooftop in the hot LA smog and sun to get that weather data with one of those sissy robot contraptions. They call it an ASOS, and it has a sleek look about it, but it could never do a man’s job.

12:01 PM So Barney sets me up with the aerial surveillance from this morning. He sends the photos. I took them down to the lunch counter of the corner drugstore to develop them on my laptop. I had a cup of coffee while I did that. It cost 25 cents, and included pie.

The first aerial photo was a little fuzzy, it was hard to make out the station:

ladwp_aerialview1.jpg
Click for a live link

But I found it, and marked it with an arrow. It wasn’t a pretty sight, right in the middle of acres of blacktop and automobiles. I kept reminding myself I’d seen worse, like in Tucson, and down the street from that Ace hardware store parking lot in Lampasas, Texas. But still, it ate at me.

12:15 PM I finished the pie, and asked for refill on the coffee. The waitress looked at the first photo and just shook her head. Barney had made several passes from several angles, and he snapped one good photo of it that hit me between the eyes like the butt end of a .38 special. There it was, our beloved City of Angels Weather Station. It made me sick just to look at it. What kind of people would do something like this?

ladwp_north_aerialview
Click for larger image

But that wasn’t all, Barney got a picture from another angle out of the archives, and it showed the station even closer looking east. It was even uglier than the other photo. Just thinking about the albedo of the parking lot in the hot LA summer made my skin crawl.

ladwp_east_aerialview-520.jpg

1:05 PM Barney said he had other photos, but he couldn’t get them to me now. So he put them in a file, on something called a web server. And gave me something called a link. He said any citizen of our fair city who wanted to see the terrible place where they put the City of Angels weather station could click the link and look at the photos from all angles. Good man that Barney.

The photos were good, but not good enough. I knew that these photos would eventually be seen by Judge Rabett. Rabett has told us before that pictures don’t matter in his court, so I knew this wouldn’t be enough. I had to prove the connection to the single photo taken by the g-men for their report.

2:15 PM I had figured out a way to show that the single picture taken by the g-men in their report matched the aerial photos Barney took. To do that, I used the photo lab. The guy there is named Gimp, he walks with a limp from an old command line of fire injury. But he does good work. With Gimp’s help I was able to match the camera angle of the single land photo taken by the g-men with one of the aerial photos:

ladwp_picture_coverage-520.jpg
Click for a larger image

3:03 PM I’d finished up the aerial surveillance work of the original scene of the crime, but I still had to get photos of the place where the body of the weather station had been dumped in the park. All I had to go on was the single photo of the park taken by the g-men for their report. It sure looked like a nice cool park and final resting place. It had a little wrought iron fence around it and reminded me of a cemetery – a cemetery where the weather goes to die. It looked good, too good. I had a hunch it wasn’t as good as it looked.

3:05 PM I called up Barney, and asked about the aerial photos where they dumped the weather station; he said he had it covered. He said to check the file he left on the webserver for the street address where the park was.

3:15 PM I was running out of time, I had to get this wrapped up today. The webserver was slow, some punks were using it for a joyride. But I finally managed to open the file. and get the street address. It was out on South Vermont Avenue.

3:30 PM The aerial photos of the campus of USC where they had dumped the weather station proved my hunch was right. The picture the g-men took made it look like a perfect little park-like setting but in reality, it was just another cruddy location surrounded by acres of concrete and asphalt. The place where they dumped the station was only a few yards from the street:

usc_aerial_asos-520.jpg
Click for a live link

The little bit of grass and the fact that it was closer to the beach made it a little cooler. The tennis courts probably didn’t help either.

Barney also left links for the close up aerial surveillance photos he’d done. When I pulled up the one looking West, it hit me. I knew why they had dumped the weather station there. There was a parking garage just across the street. It must have felt like home.

usc_aerial_north
click for a larger image

4:00 PM It was getting late, I had figured out where the original crime had occurred, and where they dumped the body of the weather station. Now all I had to do was find it’s data and I was ready to close this case.

4:15 PM I found the data in a webserver called GISTEMP. Somebody had already plotted it. Sure enough, there it was, the smoking gun. The temperature had dropped about 1.5°C when they pulled this caper in 1999. The continuity of the record had been ruined and there was now a big step function in the data that hadn’t been removed by the g-men at NCDC.

No wonder the g-men who wrote the original report were so hopping mad about it.

Since I couldn’t undo the plot, I called in Gimp again. With his help I was able to separate the time-line into red and blue segments to show where in the time-line the data had been taken from:

losangeles_giss_plot-520.png
Click to see original graph.

5:00 PM Quitting time. I had wrapped up this investigation into the sordid story of crime against temperature in the City of Angels and gotten all the documentation together to present for the court of public opinion. I’m feeling good, I’ve served the public interest. Thats’ my job. I think I’m going to go blow another quarter on pie and coffee.

9:30 AM Tuesday Foutch reports that he’s located the entire history of the station, which can be viewed here:

http://mrcc.sws.uiuc.edu/FORTS/histories/CA_Los_Angeles_Conner.pdf

The story you have just seen is true; the names were changed to protect the incompetent.

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76 thoughts on “How not to measure temperature, part 54: Los Angeles, the city

  1. Anthony, great post

    The JPL link is worth the read. A little humor in the morning is a good thing.

  2. Hey Anthony I didn’t realise Raymond Chandler was a meteoroligist or climatoligist. Mind you he went to Dulwich College London UK about three miles away from where I type now on a rather cold day.
    Keep up the great work Marlowe.

  3. That’s what I like in a good pot-boiler mystery, just the facts and plenty of them. Although, in my heart, I kept hoping a beautiful dame with great legs and a brain to match would show up before the caper was solved.

  4. Nice work in the concrete jungle Anthony. It takes some sick minds to determine tenths of a degree of change with a thermometer that has hash marks every several degrees, in effect. But wait, they also want to use food instead of oil for fuel that doesn’t reduce CO2. That should increase our respect in the rest of the world, especially where people are hungry.

  5. Good story, but where was the tall redhead in tight fitting clothing?
    Keep up the good work, detective!

  6. We need the location of this place where you get pie and coffee for a quarter. Certainly not Starbucks.

  7. Looks like a classic Class-5 felony to me. Now who were those innocent names you mentioned? I didn’t notice any (Hullo, John).

  8. Of course this means that they’re going to adjust the new data up to match the old since they moved to a cooler “park”.

  9. The homogenized data at GISS hasn’t been adjusted for the move. Curious, no?

    Not even FILENET can silence the witness if SHAP drops the ball.

  10. It would be nice to see what the area looked like back in 1880 when they first started keeping temperature records. I’m guessing the station was not on a blacktopped roof of a parking garage surrounded by blacktop parking lots and cars with hot exhausts. I wonder if there are any photos from that era.

  11. Great work, Anthony!

    Sorry folks, this ain’t Marlowe or Sam Spade. This is vintage Sgt. Joe Friday (aka Badge 714) from the Dragnet series of the 50s-60s.

    Kim got it right, “Just the temps, ma’am”

    I suspect the gang at RC doesn’t even know how to have this much fun

    Always informative and entertaining!

  12. You’ve just convinced me that Anthropogenic Urban Warming is real.

    The only thing missing here is a fleet of Toyota Priuses on top of the garage. Oh well. I guess you can’t have everything.

    Keep up the great work, Anthony.

  13. Apparently the winds weren’t coming from the direction needed to offset the non-existent UHI effect?

  14. re: David @ 07:49

    Things may not be so very different in the 1880s as can be seen in the Los Angeles location history on this web site from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center:

    http://mrcc.sws.uiuc.edu/FORTS/histories1.jsp

    Open the pdf file for “CA – Los Angeles” and take a look at the 1885 photo on page 9 and the graphic on page 10.

    Anthony – check out photos on page 28 and 2nd inset paragraph on page 47.

  15. A good ol’ injection of tongue-in-cheek humor is just WATT this debate needs. Now if we could just get the Alarmists to lighten up and not take themselves so seriously, maybe we could move forward in a logical, SCIENTIFIC, rational and common sense manner.

  16. Pingback: Detective Watts on the trail of the bad guys…

  17. I wish I knew how to start on a similar search here.

    Things I think I know.

    1. There are weather observers of some qualification at Eppley Field, some miles north of downtown Omaha on the Missouri River (below the top of dike.

    2. When I moved here there was a “Weather Bureau” on 72nd north of Immanuel Hospital (an ex Nike base?) surrounded by mostly rural.

    That operation has now moved about 30 miles (as the crow walks, pushing a flat tire) into what is generally quite rural with some industry in the area.

    What has been the history picture of record here?

  18. Proximity to the coast I’ll buy as a reasonable hypothetical driver, but do those idiots at JPL really think a NINETY foot difference in altitude can account for a one degree dT and one inch precipitation change ? They must have pretty good drugs at CalTech.

  19. Per this quote in the “crime report”:

    “At the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in San Antonio, Texas, climatologist Dr. Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., said the move has created a clear discontinuity in weather records.”

    Would anyone like to place a friendly side bet that if the temperature change were in the other direction the theft would not have been a problem? Stations which show extreme warming must always be correct.

    Mike

  20. Apparently the winds weren’t coming from the direction needed to offset the non-existent UHI effect?

    Don’t be silly. I’ll have you know that the NOAA certainly does adjust for UHI.

    By a Big Jumbo tenth of a degree Farenheit! (By their own admission.)

    So glad we cleared THAT up, you denier, you! Hmph!

  21. Good story, but where was the tall redhead in tight fitting clothing?

    That would be the waitress.

    That’s all we need–another warming bias.

  22. Proximity to the coast I’ll buy as a reasonable hypothetical driver, but do those idiots at JPL really think a NINETY foot difference in altitude can account for a one degree dT and one inch precipitation change ? They must have pretty good drugs at CalTech.

    Jim, SoCal is the cornucopia of microclimates. The joke “back east” is that if you don’t like the weather wait a few minutes. Here it is if you don’t like the weather walk a few blocks. While the rainfall bit is a little specious 250 vs. 160 MSL can mean an hour more cloud cover every day May-June.

    My location is a few miles north and 40 miles west of these. The big storm that came through in Jan: La Conchita reported 2.4 inches of rain, with 1.37 inches at the Oxnard Civic Center. Ventura County valleys received heavier downpours, with Sespe Creek reporting 3.82 inches and Matilija Dam with 7.64 inches. Moorpark College reported 2.13 inches, while White Ledge Peak reported 9.17 inches. Ref: http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2008/jan/07/local-rainfall-totals-from-1-to-9-inches/

    Relocations and local effects are particularly important to SoCal stations.

  23. Big temp difference between those two hoods. Especially when the fog is only partially intrusive. The fog line would be ~ the 110, and the 5 would be East of it.

  24. The really, really important discovery discussed here is the coffee and pie for two bits. Where is this place so that I may visit it the next time I am in LA.

  25. I can’t believe the JPL scientists recommended moving the official site back to the old location since the new USC location records a lower temperature and is not as extreme.

  26. An interesting article appeared in the FNC’s Grapevine section:

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,341189,00.html

    Now some fresh pickings from the Political Grapevine:

    Cooling Effect

    A number of environmental experts now say that global temperatures have stopped rising — and that the earth is in fact cooling.

    Jennifer Maro-Hasy, an Australian biologist and think-tank member says that even though carbon dioxide levels continue to rise that — “temperatures have actually been coming down over the last 10 years.”

    In an interview on an Australian radio station last week — Maro-Hasy was then asked if her claim was controversial. She replied — “no. The head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has actually acknowledged it”

    She also said that new data from a NASA satellite show that weather patterns are compensating for carbon dioxide emissions while limiting the greenhouse effect. She added — “the policy implications are enormous… I think people are still in shock at this point.”

    The above is apparently in reference to the full article (whose link was provided by Marc Morano) which can be found at http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/2352

    Personally, I’d like to see an independent parallel weather station collection system established to show just how inaccurate (if not corrupt) the current system is.

    McGrats

  27. Okay, let me get this straight. They move the station that broke most of the siting guidelines to a location that doesn’t break any siting guidelines. Now they’re mad that the correct siting does not give alarmist data and now they want to move it back? As Steve M. says, “but hey, that’s climate science!”

  28. Thanks “Sam”,
    Just proves you can take the broadcaster out of show biz, but you can’t take the —–well, show biz, maybe—out of the broadcaster.
    RWD

  29. What a great gift you have there Mr. Watts. I have a couple of comments

    1 One comment was that they would adjust the temp up for the post move record. I disagree with this in that they will probably adjust the pre move data down so that the trend line will still be positive. And it would be more positive.

    2 It seems that the JPL rep was more interested in keeping the status quo and maybe the grant money flowing. It is a wonder to me that a scientist would want to skew the data for any other reason.

    3 The new site is a little better but I am not convinced that it is much better. Perhaps they should put the site just above the high water mark on the beach and measure the temp there. With the population growth In southern California it may well be impossible to locate a good site except in a state park or national forest. Possibly a military base.

    I surely do like this kind of investigation. Very good reading Mr. Watts

    Bill

  30. Bill in Vigo,

    Don’t worry, NASA GISS doesn’t seem to think that a driveway is cooler than a park either given that they didn’t adjust the temperature change after the location change. This is proof that the Hansen adjustments are garbage.

  31. Great work Anthony. A question – do we have enough data now to remove all stations with pronounced urban island effects and rework a temperature profile with the remainder? I realise there will be far fewer points but surely it would be more accurate than using stations where corrections are of the same order or greater than the anomalies we are trying to measure.

  32. Bruce
    Well you’re right. The area was much more developed than I had imagined in that time frame. Good detective work on your part.

  33. The photo just above the 4PM entry indicates that the station picks up a lot of the shade cast by the trees adjacent to it. This further confuses the significance of the reading.

    BTW, here is the misleadingly bucolic shot of the corpse findsite from the JPL crime report (I hope):

  34. Here is what I dont get. When The reverend documents sites at water and power plants and complains about the warming bias, Eli rabbet and other micro climate experts ( cough cough) Say that these water treatment placements dont matter a whit. But when a station moves from one these places to another and the records cools, well JPL has a cow.

    “The study found that between August 1999 and June 2006, maximum temperatures averaged 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) higher at the Department of Water and Power site, while the average temperatures at the new site were about a half-degree Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer. Minimum temperatures were about the same at both sites. The greatest differences in maximum temperatures occurred in late summer and early fall, with the smallest differences seen in late winter and spring. The Department of Water and Power site was cooler than USC in the spring and summer and warmer in the fall and winter. The authors attribute these seasonal differences to two factors: distance from the ocean and land use. ”

    AND THEN these guys start making arguments like Pielke or Oke would!
    Are JPL denialists ( ok sarcasm off)

  35. The image I tried to link didn’t come through in this version of WordPress, but just click on the link to the JPL Crime Report (or should I have said Crime Coverup?) provided to see the deviously misleading photo of the corpse findsite.

    REPLY: Here is the direct link to the image – Anthony

  36. While the rainfall bit is a little specious 250 vs. 160 MSL can mean an hour more cloud cover every day May-June.

    Robert Cote,
    Yes, I know the microclimate varies tremendously in Southern Calif. – I lived there for six years before moving back north. I was in La Jolla, and temps a few miles inland were very different. The farther one got from the coast, the more temperature and other weather patterns seemed to diverge from coastal patterns. Clouds would often disappear as they moved inland.[Elevation also generally increases as you drive east.]

    I expect that the small variation in altitude is simply an imperfect proxy for distance from the coast. Whether differences in microclimate between the two measurement sites exists at all, or are attributable to distance from the coast [noted in the JPL article], proximity to mountain ranges, or UHI effects – I have no idea.

    Scientists at JPL should know better than to publicly attribute more than about 0.02 degree F change to a NINETY foot altitude difference, however. [The new, lower site should be hotter, BTW, if elevation is relevant] Clouds at the old site shouldn’t be cooled enough by a 90 ft elev increase alone to significantly increase rainfall.

  37. LOL great post Thanks

    McGrats,
    Here’s an report you may not know about.

    “Three elements are necessary for governments to make rational policies in response to climate change: Scientists must accurately predict (1) global temperature changes, (2) the effects of any temperature changes and (3) the effects of feasible alternative policy responses. To justify policy changes, governments need scientific forecasts for all three forecasting problems and they need those forecasts to show net benefits flowing from proposed policies. If governments implement policy changes without such justification, they are likely to cause harm.”

    http://www.ncpa.org/pub/st/st308

  38. “I had a cup of coffee while I did that. It cost 25 cents, and included pie.”

    Now, this just can’t be true.

    REPLY: In the 50’s when Dragnet first aired, it was. I just wanted to be true to historical form in a lighthearted way.

  39. To Old Construction Worker:

    Interesting article. Unfortunately, certain governmental bodies are inclined to consider it irrelevant and instead, grovel to their fringe constituency.

    Regardless, I firmly believe the tide is shifting in the favor of the skeptics and truth is the reason, not global warming !

  40. For your reading pleasure from the Journal of Applied Meteorology:

    Urban Influences on Surface Temperatures in the Southwestern United States during Recent Decades – Daniel R. Cayan, Scripts Institute of Oceanography, 1984″

    From the conclusion section:
    “This urban increase poses severe problems om using these stations as indicators of climate variability”
    …and my vote for best quote of the day goes to:
    “Use of these city stations for verifying temperature forecasts is simply invalid…”

  41. “I had a cup of coffee while I did that. It cost 25 cents, and included pie.”

    Now, this just can’t be true.

    REPLY: In the 50’s when Dragnet first aired, it was. I just wanted to be true to historical form in a lighthearted way.

    Ah, the Good Old Days. When coffee and cake cost a quarter. And no one had a quarter to spare!

    I remember well that glorious day back arouind 1964 when my allowance went up to a quarter a week. (Wealth unlimited!)

  42. BTW, that was a good tip to check out Atmoz. I urge all present to do so.

    Two interesting facts merge:

    1.) TOBS is the biggest adjustment made by the USHCN.

    2.) TOBS adjustments are being applied even when the there ain’t no change in time of observation!

  43. And an intoxicated TCO seems to be hijacking Atmoz’s blog (a shame). Now that is Total Cost of Ownership.

  44. Interesting. The integrity of the data is seriously questionable if used in a time series type of analysis. Anyway, like the creative element of this post.

  45. A very cleverly written article Anthony, but why didn’t you run it on a “Friday?”

    I can’t help myself!!

  46. Are both station classifications, LA (1999) class 5’s … doesn’t look like it?

    REPLY: The parking garage location would be a 5 while the USC location would be a 4.

  47. The parking garage location would be a 5 while the USC location would be a 4.

    And that more or less matches the change in temp and ithus conforms with the CRN rating system. (I can almost hear the screams from a certain other blog which shall remain nameless.)

  48. I mean, like, it’s bad enough that these stations are homogenized. But why do they usually turn out to be pasteurized?

  49. Re NPR: me angry sorry immediate reaction remove if inappropriate here or put somewhere appropriate
    Concerning you story about Antarctica ice today
    I find it amazing that you have not checked the facts
    from IPCC sites
    University of Illinois

    Antarctic ice ABOVE normal for past 6 Months and growing dramatically
    Sea Ice Index (type in search) SH ice 35% ABOVE 2008
    World mean global temperatures DECLINING since 2004 Hadcrut Hadley decline very marked recently

    http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/climon/data/themi/g17.htm

    To date declines again very marked Univ Alabama

    http://discover.itsc.uah.edu/amsutemps/

    pick your atmospheric height
    Also there is intense volcnic activity underwater in that area
    so increasing ice in SH + warm waters underneath = ice cracks off and melts?

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080120160720.htm

  50. Anthony,, Mike C reports that NCDC has removed the observer data again from the online system. have a look.

    spotted on ATMOZ

    REPLY: No, just moved to the location tab, part of an upgrade and just makes better sense there.

  51. Great tale, I could almost see Steve Martin feeling up Racheal Ward in ” Dead men Don’t Wear Plaid.
    Has a Nobel prize/ academy award ever been revoked? …………the shame

  52. It’s a setup I tell you, a dirty, lousy frame. You dirty rat, I’m gonna get you, for what you did, to my weather station!

  53. Great work, a little info for you on the USC site. My family and at least four other groups use that little area for tailgating during football season. The building across the street is a post office with roof parking The station is well fenced and appears to be well maintained with nice shade trees. The street next to the station is Vermont Blvd, a main bus route in that part of town.

  54. Pingback: How not to measure temperature, part 69 « Watts Up With That?

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