After reviewing over 1000 USHCN stations in the United States as part of my surfacestations.org project, I have often thought that I can’t find anymore surprises in the train wreck that is our surface observing network. Apparently I’m wrong.
Can you spot the problem between these two aerial photographs? Click for a larger image.
The answer is below.
This is another moment of serendipity, spawned by an interesting comment from physicist Dr. Robert Brown at Duke University, who was lamenting the differences in temperature in the Raleigh Durham area in this comment:
I continue to be struck by temperature differences in my very local sample space. For example, in Durham the NWS temperature is predicted to reach roughly 100F. Yesterday it was reported to have reached 101F. That’s warm for this time of year, although not unheard of, and last week it was cold, next week it will be cool to cold again. However, I subscribe to the Weather Underground service and keep a tab open on it all day, and it lists some 20-30 “local weather stations” belonging to citizens. In it I’ve noted a strange anomaly.
If you visit it right now:
At the instant I’m typing this, the Durham (RDU Airport) temperature is reported to be 88 F. Since the NWS prediction is 99F (same page) and it is just after 1 pm, the NWS prediction seems a bit unlikely. However, if you scroll down to the list of area weather stations, a strange anomaly is revealed. First, only one weather station on the entire list reads 99F — Westglen, which is actually very near to my house. Westglen and my own household outside thermometer agree if and only if my thermometer is directly in the sun — true for part of the morning (mine isn’t a “weather station” — it is a radio thermometer just hanging on a rail of my deck 2 meters or so from the house, and it spends some part of the day with direct sun on its top).
I responded here at 2012/05/03 at 11:42 am, and as I responded, I thought I’d get a look at the RDU ASOS station, and I got a surprise in doing so:
@RGB, you may find this post interesting – airport ASOS stations have all sorts of issues, not the least of which is that after they fail and set new records, the records remain.
RDU is part of the climate record:
Strange that they felt a need to paint the asphalt near the ASOS station white:
Drag that view to kick it into 45 degree mode
Here it is before the painting:
WUWT indeed. Painting the asphalt white around the temperature sensor? It seems too bizarre to contemplate. Yet the closeup photographs don’t lie:
Here’s the Bing maps image from 2010 in closeup, with all the location instruments labeled:
And a further closeup from 2010, notice the dark cracks in the asphalt near the station:
…and here’s the Google Maps image from 2012, note the cracks are still there but it appears the asphalt near the station has been painted white:
Wow, can you say “albedo change”?
Here’s the two side by side along with the identifiers from NCDC’s MMS database:
This is the source of those ID numbers: https://mi3.ncdc.noaa.gov/mi3qry/identityGrid.cfm?setCookie=1&fid=14333
And here’s the GISTEMP selector page, showing they use the same station for their climate work: http://data.giss.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gistemp/findstation.py?lat=35.87&lon=-78.78&datatype=gistemp&data_set=14
And here’s the graphs from GISS before (Raw) and after adjustments (Homogenized) overlaid. There’s that signature cooling of the past again:
Dr. Robert brown made a further reply of interest at 2012/05/03 at 1:12 pm
I’m not sure why they painted it, but if you zoom out on the location and note the following (from the RDU History site, section on “the 80s”):
Terminal A opens to great fanfare in 1981.
Trans World Airlines begins service in 1984 as the sixth carrier to serve RDU passengers.
American Airlines begins service in 1985 as RDU’s seventh carrier.
RDU opened the 10,000 foot runway 5L-23R in 1986.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Control Tower opens in May 1987.
American Airlines opens its north-south hub operation at RDU in the new Terminal C in June 1987, greatly increasing the size of RDU’s operations with a new terminal including a new apron and runway. American brought RDU its first international flights to Bermuda, Cancun and Paris Orly.
I started school at Duke in 1973. At the time the airport was a single terminal and serviced maybe two or three airlines with infrequent flights. Cary was still a sleepy little town outside of Raleigh, and so was Morrisville. Most of highway US-70 was still forested between Durham and Raleigh. There was just one runway, and it was a small one, so the planes that came and went from RDU were similarly small.
In the 1980s, as you can see, they opened two new terminals! Terminal A was four or five times the size of the original terminal (which became Terminal B and is still there and still functioning, although for some reason they’ve closed Terminal A and are ready to tear it down). If you back off on the overhead map you post you can easily see the relative sizes — Terminal B is at the east corner of Terminal Blvd, with A running southwest of it and C the BIG terminal — bigger than A and B combined — due west of the two on the other side of the Terminal Blvd U. The old runways are still there on the Southeast side. The “new” runway — built in the early 1980′s and completed in 1986 — is clearly visible west of Terminal C.
Note that it is huge. As they say, 10,000 feet long. It may have even been built that long partly so that RDU could land a B-52 — in the late 70s a friend of mine was a B-52 pilot located in Goldsboro and he said that RDU wasn’t likely to be a nuclear target because its runway was too small to land a B-52, and somebody in SAC may have decided to nudge it somehow for strategic reasons. Then look at where they located the weather station — right there at the end of the big runway, with the entire airport complex to the south and a big expanse of hot asphalt runway a hundred meters or so away.
And there are so many better places! Probably the best place is the southeast corner of the complex, over next to the William B Umstead State Park, in that patch of ground past the National Guard. But even where they built it, they could have gone across the street and put it in the open patch in the woods a quarter mile or more away from the actual runway and it would have been better.
Now, look back at the GISTEMP record for the site. That peak in the early 90s was sure impressive (although check out 1890! WUWT too!) but it strangely enough happened just after they built a huge new runway and started landing a lot more, and bigger, planes at RDU. Did I mention that from 1987 to 1996, RDU was the US North-South hub for American Airlines, so basically every flight up or down the east coast ran through RDU? Or that they began international service with flights to e.g. London, Paris, Bermuda in that time frame? It was probably the single busiest stretch of air traffic in the entire record — flight numbers have gone down since (the cold war ended abruptly, no more need for big runways for B-52s and:-) they shut down the hub.
Even with a half a degree jump from the “are we starting the next ice age” hysteria of the early 60s — an event that they failed to “erase” from the RDU record, at least — what fraction of the jump was due to the steady blanket of CO_2 and water being dumped every five minutes all day long as jumbo jets were burning huge volumes of gasoline taking off literally over the top of the weather station? What fraction of it is due to the warming of air as it passes over the hot summer asphalt of at least one square mile of almost unbroken buildings and asphalt that lies due south of it, beginning a mere 100 or so meters away? What fraction of it is from the further CO_2 enhancement from the eight lanes of jammed rush hour traffic that uses the roads that bracket the airport on three out of four sides now? Only one of those roads was even there in the 60′s, and what is now I-40 was a lightly travelled four lane highway in the 70s (I once drove a friend from Duke to the airport in 10 minutes flat to catch a flight — try that now!)
And with all of that, we see less than 1.5 C warming from the coldest part of the record (your choice 1890s or 1960s). And for any linear trend fit, even given the warming in the very late 90s, is visibly going to be what, 0.01, across over 100 years.
If you look at personal weather centers located just a tiny bit further away from concrete in that general vicinity, they generally record temperatures around 1C cooler than RDU. It was almost cow pasture and forest back in the 1960s, after all. And there goes all of the land-use based warming, along with it.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. I put a call into the MIC at the RDU NOAA Weather Service Forecast Office to inquire about why the surface albedo around the ASOS turned GISS climate monitoring station has changed dramatically, and if he was aware of it. No reply yet, but I’ll add an update if I hear anything from him.