How not to measure temperature, part 77: Surveying a weather station by watching JEOPARDY!

jeopardy_logo

Yes, you read the title correctly.

Sometimes I feel like a strange attractor for weather station chaos. Here I am at home tonight minding my own business, in my home office and I have the TV on. JEOPARDY comes on. Alex Trebek announces the categories…and I pay little attention until the last one is announced and he says “National Weather Service”. I practically got whiplash turning to look at the TV.  In 25 years of watching this TV program, that is a category I never expected to see.

Then to explain the category, up pops one of the “clue crew” people standing in front of the NWS office in Upton, New York, in the parking lot.

I didn’t hear a single word she said, because my eyes were transfixed on what was right behind her: a Stevenson Screen and MMTS just a couple of feet from the parking lot with the brick walls of the NWS office right behind it.

WTH!? Then it was gone.

I waited out the first round of JEOPARDY hoping to see more, but the contestants avoided the NWS category. Finally with nothing left they started into it. Then there it was again, the NWS station with visitor parking privileges.

After acing the category (the final answer was supercell) I decided to see if I could find this NWS office in Upton and maybe get a picture. I found that and more.

My first simple Google Image search found it right away, a photo taken during an open house on a Skywarn page:

MMTS and Stevenson Screen, NWS Office Upton NY

MMTS and Stevenson Screen, NWS Office Upton NY - Photo: Bergen Skywarn

It did show the proximity to the brick building, but it really didn’t tell the whole story of what I saw in the TV shot. What was funny was that in the JEOPARDY segment, the NWS employees had apparently done some “sprucing up” and had painted the legs of the shelter and the MMTS mount pole a blue color to match the logo color of the NWS emblem over the office door:

upton-nws-office1

Upton NY NWS office looking North - Photo: NWS

I found the above picture and the one below at the NWS Upton web page where they have a “virtual tour” of the facility. Here is another angle from the web page that shows the overall NWS complex, including the NEXRAD Doppler radar tower:

NWS

Upton NY NWS office looking Northeast - Photo: NWS

Looking at the style of the automobiles, I’m guessing these photos were taken sometime in the early 90’s when this office was opened. What is interesting about these photos, besides the siting issues with proximity to parking and the building, is the fact that the Stevenson Screen door is facing SOUTH rather than the requisite north. The idea is to keep direct sunlight from hitting the thermometers when readings are taken.

I thought perhaps this station is purely a “figurehead” used for school tours, etc, but then I thought: “Why would they want to show it being done incorrectly?”. I checked the NCDC MMS meta-database to see if the station was active. Oddly I couldn’t find the right station in Upton in the database. Poking around again at the NWS Upton website I found out why: This used to be New York City’s station. It was once on top of the RCA building as I discovered from their virtual tour:

Dec. 28, 1960 to Oct. 24, 1993 RCA/GE Building
30 Rockefeller Center NY, NY
Mezzanine Level
Your National Weather Service office was located in midtown Manhattan on the mezzanine level of this building until October 25, 1993, when we relocated to our current site. The picture depicts the top of the building where our old radar was located (ball-shaped object). NOAA Weather Radio transmitters are also pictured and still reside atop 30 Rock.

Your National Weather Service office was located in midtown Manhattan on the mezzanine level of this building until October 25, 1993, when we relocated to our current site. The picture depicts the top of the building where our old radar was located (ball-shaped object). NOAA Weather Radio transmitters are also pictured and still reside atop 30 Rock.

Once knowing it was the NYC station and not “Upton”, I was able to find it in the NCDC MMS metadatabase and determine that indeed it is an active station. Fortunately it is listed as NOT being part of the climate network, and neither USHCN or GISS uses this station.

From the lat/lon posted there (40.86667 -72.86667 ) I was able to locate the station on Google Earth:

upton-ny-aerial-measurment-510

Using the ruler tool - less than 4 meters from parking - Click for larger image

It turns out that the NWS Forecasts Office happens to be on the grounds of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the address is at 175 Brookhaven Ave, Upton, NY.

It seems that there is ample room in the grassy area in the rear to place a weather station, rather than putting it up front in the parking lot. A Microsoft Live maps image also shows the proximity issues up front and with the building.

Upton NY NWS office looking west - Click for live interactive image

Upton NY NWS office looking west - Click for live interactive image

Of course looking at this photo, it would now seem that the rear of the building might not be the best choice either with that bank of 5 a/c units back there. But it could find a site further away to the rear or perhaps cleared more trees.

Even if this station isn’t in the climate network,  it really does beg the question: why does the NWS blatantly flaunt flout their own 100 foot rule? Further, since this NWS Office is located on the grounds of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, wouldn’t you think they’d want to put their absolute best scientific foot forward?

Even is this station is only used to show school kids what a weather station looks like and how it is operated, why not do it right and show proper placement away from biases, proper door alignment on the screen, and explain why these things are important for proper measurements?

Or, maybe, these things aren’t important to the NWS at all.

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56 thoughts on “How not to measure temperature, part 77: Surveying a weather station by watching JEOPARDY!

  1. Why should the teaching of weather be any more true to science than the curriculum for earth science or climate science in our schools?

    Most teacher of science have very little actual science training today. Even a minor is not a prerequisite in WA state where I live. All you need is a core of 12 credits (I think) in undergrad earth sci. This includes many that would be classified as enviro-earth “science” courses, where the emphasis is on political issues rather than science.

    The way science is taught is a recipe for failure in a world where science and engineering are the most imprtant ingredients for a vibrant economy.

  2. Obviously you’ve missed the point.

    It’s a show station for school groups, and from what we’ve seen of the USHCN, they aren’t demonstrating the RIGHT way to measure temp, they’re demonstrating the TYPICAL way.

  3. Anthony, you’ve made a huge mistake here….

    The final answer was not ‘supercell’ but ‘what is a supercell?’

    Lift your game ;)

  4. From their point of view, “the debate is over”, so there is no longer a need to be accurate. Think of it as a museum artifact for show only.

  5. Okay, you aced the NWS catagory, Anthony, but what about the Final Jeopardy question?

    REPLY: Never heard it, my nose was burried in my laptop searching Google at the time. – Anthony

  6. This BBC report about science education deserves a few comments from the audience. Let’s be hearing from you all. For what its worth, I found the GCSE Chemistry papers from 4 years ago so simple that I was shocked.

    Regards,

    Perry

  7. Excellent, Andy. It’s ‘flout’ not ‘flaunt’, but this is a common error coming into the language. You’ll be correct in another century.
    ============================================

  8. Omigod, your error pales in comparison to mine, Anthony. It’s early, I haven’t had my coffee, and maybe I thought I was on DotEarth.
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  9. There’s an excellent reason for ‘flaunt’ coming to replace ‘flout’. It is usual to flout flauntily.
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  10. They are flouting the regulation and flaunting their insouciance. Woof! Woof!
    ===============================================

  11. You did want to play Dictionary on this blessed day of games and feasts, didn’t you?
    ===============================================

  12. Re #76 Oberlin

    The siting of the pole was done by the “government guys” The curator implied, without directly stating, the site was determined by them. The pole was NOT sawed off. It broke. (I think he said the wind blew it over… but that may not be correct.) The curator propped it up and reported the break and prop to the “GG”, who said they would fix it.

    The Oberlin curator, and most of the others i interviewed, emphasized the “government guys” have a lot of trouble finding Volunteer curators and sited the stations where they found someone willing to do the work. Volunteer may not be the correct term as one curator said he got $10 a month.

    The Norton 9SSE (Kansas) curator had a station for 10 years at her farm. She bought a new farm and the “GG” moved it and sited it… where it has been for the last 15 years… a few feet south of a south facing wall at the new farm.

    The sites at Anthony and Coldwater were similarly moved and sited while under the care of their present curators. Both ended up within a few feet of the homes of the curators.

    Another site that I observed but did not photograph (at the request of the curator) had the MMTS pulled completely out of the ground and was held about 7 feet from the ground by two two-by-fours near the north wall of a garage. A check of the raw data record shows that site is still reporting data… perhaps waiting for the “GG” to come and re-site it.

  13. From what I have seen so far Anthony almost every weather station you have looked at in the US has some fault. Either too low or too close to some heat source or something else that interferes with the correct reading of ground temperatures. I was wondering are there any weather stations in the US that do pass the test?
    My second question is if the US has all these problems what is it like in other parts of the world. In particular in high population density countries like India, China and on the continent of Africa?

  14. Someday, we will have a list of weather stations where things are done right.

    Then we can take a look at what these correctly sited and managed stations have to say about climate change.

    As to the others, do you think there is a possibility, however remote, of including the rehabilitation of our national network of weather stations as part of the administration’s effort to rebuild our infrastructure? I know it wouldn’t result in a whole lot of work but the pay back would be enormous.

    Maybe people would learn to paint the boxes white instead of blue.

  15. Does Jim Hansen watch Jepardy too??
    Since this station is incorrectly sited, I’m sure he would want to add it his list to use !!!!

  16. Perhaps somone who lives nearby could photograph the disclaimer notice attached to the side of the equipment stating that this station is only a mock up for educational purposes and that real weathers stations are all sited in accordance with established protocol. I’m sure it has to be there somewhere.

    REPLY: Oh, just wait till you see my next station. – Anthony

  17. Deadwood: Most teacher of science have very little actual science training today. Even a minor is not a prerequisite in WA state where I live. All you need is a core of 12 credits (I think) in undergrad earth sci. This includes many that would be classified as enviro-earth “science” courses, where the emphasis is on political issues rather than science.

    In many states, you no longer need 12 credits in science. Instead, you first need a teaching certification in any subject area, then you need to take a “Praxis” exam in the subject area in which you want to become certified. I have no idea what the “raw score” cut-off is for “passing” this exam, as that information is not easy to access. Lets just say that most states don’t want to scare off any potential science teachers by making the requirements too rigorous. Lets also just say that districts lose money if they don’t have enough “certified” science teachers in their schools. The result of these pressures is most unfortunate. However bad you think the problem is, it is actually much worse.

  18. Alex Alex at least they measure some temperature here and do not just make it up by adjusting what it used to be at Rock center. The real show then would infill numbers from last month while adjusting using Siberia as a base line. As always a great look at how it is done, many thanks.

  19. I think most people appreciate the siting issue only when an influencer is “really” close. After all many people have outdoor thermometers very near their houses and when it is cold outside their thermometer usually agrees with what they feel, so they think that this siting issue is just a bunch of weather geeks making a big deal about nothing.

    Why do weather (climate?) geeks have to be so worried about a degree here or there?

    BTW, I think when you mention AC units near a thermometer, many think it makes it colder because a cognitive step has to be made from the cold phrase “A/C” to a warm impact. Perhaps “A/C” needs to be replaced with something more explicit with the word heat. How about Heat Exchange Units and the acronym HEUs?

  20. First Anthony and everyone have a wonderful Thanksgiving day, don’t over do on the eating as I probably will. It is my prayer that this has been a very good year for each and every one of you.

    It seems that it is not important to know what is really happening any more just to make folks think you know what is going on. Our national climate and weather services are in real trouble. The next few years will be crucial to our country and the world. I fear we shall pay a great price for this folly.

    Bill Derryberry

  21. Why doesn’t the National Weather Service create a rating of their stations if they are going to be lax on enforcing their own rules? Has a study ever been done to quantify the kinds of discrepencies that can arise from issues like station height, placement or orientation?

  22. Perry: I took the NYTCE teacher certification exams a few years back. I was shocked for the same reason.

  23. Has anyone quantified the error introduced by improper sensor siting? I.e., has anyone taken two sensors and put one in an optimum location and then moved the other around: next to the optimum site, beside the parking lot, near the A/C cooling coils, and downwind of the obligatory migrating BBQ. What are the actual 24 hour temperature differentials? How bad can it get?

  24. Around 4% are CRN1 rated. Around 9% are CRN2 rated. The rest are warmer by at least 1 degree C or more by NOAA/CRN standards, c. 70% warmer by over 2 degrees.

    I’ll be incapacitating myself tonight, what with the family festivities and the traditions of the infamous “fishhouse punch” and the Aunt Jane Memorial Poker game. I’ll likely be needing Friday to recover . . .

    Happy Thanksgiving to all (you, too, Pierre :-).

  25. Still waiting for the ultimate report – a Stevenson Screen sited indoors so the readings can be taken in comfort…

  26. Let’s see if we can play the game find all the errors in this building set up.
    First the sat. dish pads needs to be dead east west, then we have one more problem with this as we can see the dishes are pointed out over the Atlantic (Africa). if Google’s compass is correct the pad is wrong. this would mean then the sat dish is pointed
    south ( good ) what does this all mean? well the contractor that works on this stuff for the gov. does NOT care to do things correctly so why would a Stevenson Screen or mmts or flag pole or any thing else be done right?
    even Anthony has been confused on direction by the mess.
    If the dishes are pointed south this means the Stevenson Screen door is facing east
    Now o/t my feelings are getting more and more strong on to the fact that EVERYTHING
    is getting more screwed up as time progresses every body is degrading in the ability to process information and information is piling up with the internet and knowledge growth with time. for me it is a cocky arrogance that is putting every body in danger with the stopping building of power plants and bridges , imports
    of critical components, AGW is just one more symptom of the mess we are about
    to enter. the signs are every where. Gods speed. Tim

  27. The weather is absolutely beautiful today. Our families are healthy. We live in an age of prosperity and plenty, and we all know that a life filled with gratitude is a happy life indeed. However in this new age of politically correct progressive government, and on this day proclaimed by our government as a day celebrating gratitude,

    Who are we supposed to thank?

  28. Painting the Stevenson screen a pretty color shows the NWS priorities are not around the instrumentation. I’m going to take another look at my local NWS office.

    REPLY: They painted the legs, and the MMTS pole, not the screens themselves…but still it appeared they “spruced up” for the arrival of JEOPARDY! I suppose I can’t blame them, they wanted it to look good on national TV…but they probably didn’t expect a guy like me to be watching who doesn’t care how pretty it looks, only that it is compliant with siting standards. – Anthony

  29. There’s no hope. I once thought that the NWS would come out and start making things right at Co-op observers’ sites, but given the sight of their own site’s siting problem I fear that the NWS-issued Pandora’s box may truly be empty.

    On the holiday side and perhaps UHI related, back in my high school days my family decided to go to Niagra Falls on the Canadian side (the restaurants had a turkey special). Driving through a densely populated part of Buffalo my mother waws certain she could smell turkeys cooking. Where there’s cooking smells, there’s anthropogenic heating, where there’s AH, there ought to be UHI.

    Time to check out my Cranberry Nut Bread (Mom’s recipe).

  30. Re: Perry and evanjones,

    Mrs. Smokey, being a middle school Principal, mentioned several years ago that here in California, the teachers she hired had to pass what’s called the CBEST test in order to teach.

    Anyone can take the test, so on a whim I paid my $40 and took it.

    I was shocked at how easy it was! The math section [there was no science section] was entirely arithmetic; no algebra, no geometry, no trig, and certainly no calculus. And the answers were multiple choice, so anyone who needed to could work back from them.

    I thought, there is no way anyone with a college degree could possibly fail this test. But it turns out that lots of them fail it [the other two sections are reading comprehension and writing].

    Those who fail the test don’t have much to worry about, though. They can re-take it as many times as they want, and once they pass a section, it’s permanent — they never have to take that section again.

    When I was in fifth grade I could have passed the CBEST. But that was then, and this is now.

  31. Has anyone quantified the error introduced by improper sensor siting? I.e., has anyone taken two sensors and put one in an optimum location and then moved the other around: next to the optimum site, beside the parking lot, near the A/C cooling coils, and downwind of the obligatory migrating BBQ. What are the actual 24 hour temperature differentials? How bad can it get?

    On the issue of surfaces alone, pretty darn bad.

    Yilmaz et al (2008) Heat over grass vs. soil vs. concrete

    http://www.ejournal.unam.mx/atm/Vol21-2/ATM002100202.pdf

    Note that these stark differences occur under a (probably mild) UHI and at a height somewhat more than that of a surface station, which means at station height, the differences would be even greater.

    Also, the study was not a GGW study but rather a look as to how one might make urban conditions more comfortable, so it is free of the political edge.

    When I was in fifth grade I could have passed the CBEST. But that was then, and this is now.

    Sounds like the twaddle-dressed-like-a-“test” that I took. As well as I can remember, my 6th grade achievement tests were harder.

    I got around high 80s to low 90s percentiles on all the sections, with high 90s in nothing. My overall percentile was 99th (for reasons statisticians will understand). They posted the grades publicly. The class (not being statisticians) was outraged and insisted there had been an error and with considerable indignation presented me with my “true average”. And I admit it seemed a bit strange to me, too. My parents explained to me what was really going on: Yes, I was (and still am) only an inch deep, but the mile-wide part was in my statistical favor.

  32. Smokey says:

    Mrs. Smokey, being a middle school Principal, mentioned several years ago that here in California, the teachers she hired had to pass what’s called the CBEST test in order to teach.

    Anyone can take the test, so on a whim I paid my $40 and took it.

    I was shocked at how easy it was! The math section [there was no science section] was entirely arithmetic; no algebra, no geometry, no trig, and certainly no calculus. And the answers were multiple choice, so anyone who needed to could work back from them.

    Have you tried the CSET in math. It is required to teach at High School Level. The missus took all three sections in one go and passed. However, many require many attempts to pass all three sections, and usually try only one at a time, thus giving themselves three times as much time to complete each.

  33. Paul Shanahan,

    That will be interesting, since

    Emissions worldwide have increased 18.0%.
    Emissions from countries that signed Kyoto increased 21.1%.
    Emissions from non-signers increased 10.0%.
    Emissions from the U.S. increased 6.6%.

    [source]

    President Bush did a great job of kicking the Kyoto can down the road and not allowing reconsideration. The debate will change now, of course.

    But just maybe there will be more debate over the question of why the Senate voted 95 – 0 against Kyoto [with Al Gore as the Senate’s presiding officer], but is now supposed to ratify a similar agreement — after a decade of global cooling, and after watching every other country that signed Kyoto flout its terms. The U.S., as a non-signatory to Kyoto, has done a much better job than the countries that signed the protocol.

    The U.S., of course, would be expected to rigidly toe the new Kyoto line, and hobble ourselves to our great economic detriment — while the rest of the world cheats, and laughs at us.

  34. I’m going to make some comments that probably won’t be appreciated. but…

    1. I’m an ancient Air Force Weatherman. I didn’t do much observation work on the ground, but from what I saw:

    a. Fixed ground weather stations (at airbases) were carefully and properly sited. Observers were well trained and quality controls were strictly enforced. Standard procedures were detailed and observed.

    b. Sites and instrumentation were also well maintained — full time “weather” maintenance people were responsible and they took their job seriously.

    c. Base facilities were used for precision calibration of instruments as required.

    2. I am aware that temporary observation sites, were not as well sited or maintained — it just couldn’t be done.

    3. I suspect that some permanent but extremely remote sites were also not not up to normal standards.

    I have no idea how NWS sites are/were maintained except for what I have seen here via Anthony, but I would rate them as pathetic at best. Oversight seems non-existant while standard operating procedures are ignored.

    I was in SAC for a long while during the reign of General LeMay, and he once famously said: “I don’t have time to distinguish between the unfortunate and the incompetent.”

    Our tax money is being wasted, and someone is responsible. We need a modern day LeMay to clean house at the National Weather Service.

  35. Smokey (10:52:38) :

    That will be interesting, since

    Emissions worldwide have increased 18.0%.
    Emissions from countries that signed Kyoto increased 21.1%.
    Emissions from non-signers increased 10.0%.
    Emissions from the U.S. increased 6.6%.

    According to your source, that’s since “1997 (last year before the Kyoto treaty was signed).”

    The BBC article says “Everything is measured against 1990 levels and since then, UK emissions have fallen by about 16% while the US’s have risen by a similar percentage.)”

    I’d like to see where that UK decline happened. Oh, there’s a link to http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/statistics/globatmos/download/ghg_ns_20080327.pdf – it looks like some of it is from conversion from coal to natural gas, some due to reductions in other GHGs, etc.

    The BBC article also says

    “Firstly, that phrase “legally binding”: what does it mean, exactly?

    Well, one thing is for certain: no minister is going to be carted off to jail, turned out of their home or sent to the stocks for failing to meet the target, either now or in 2050.

    They will be called into the head teacher’s study – sorry, the House of Commons – and given a painful public verbal flogging; but that will be about all.

    Maybe the new Age won’t be so Dark.

  36. Rod Smith (11:46:52) :

    I’m going to make some comments that probably won’t be appreciated. but…

    1. I’m an ancient Air Force Weatherman. I didn’t do much observation work on the ground, but from what I saw:

    a. Fixed ground weather stations (at airbases) were carefully and properly sited. Observers were well trained and quality controls were strictly enforced. Standard procedures were detailed and observed.

    That’s good to hear. Certainly in your case the link between good weather data and safe flying was clear.

    If you didn’t see it in July, read (all of!) http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/07/17/fabricating-temperatures-on-the-dew-line/ which has various anecdotes from various people up there. I guess the main problem were sub-contractors collecting information for military weather forecasters.

  37. Ric Werme (13:36:12) : They will be called into the head teacher’s study – sorry, the House of Commons – and given a painful public verbal flogging; but that will be about all.

    LMAO! Brilliant! :D

  38. It would have been better to site the MMTS way out in the backyard, but we can’t remove trees here in the L.I. Pine Barrens without a lot of fuss from the county government tree huggers. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Island_Central_Pine_Barrens
    I don’t work at the lab, but I live near it.

    First, thanks Anthony! I am a long time reader. I work for a meteorological electronics manufacturer, so I have some industry feedback (the customer wants CARC green shield plates ?!?!). I am a ham radio enthusiast, so also I follow solar activity. Needless to say, I am an AGW skeptic. I feel better already!

    REPLY: 73’s – Anthony

  39. I found a great looking station Wednesday.

    But the the thick turf surrouding it gave me pause?

    Then I found the sprinkler irrigation system.

  40. re Perry Debell (01:25:28) from BBC article:

    “A spokeswoman for the DCSF said: “Standards in science have improved year on year thanks to ten years of sustained investment ….

    “Exam standards are rigorously maintained by independent regulators…”

    There are the those words again “sustain(ability) and “regulat(ion)”. That’s what the new world order is really all about. Who needs science when we have sustained regulation?

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