About those ‘record’ Death Valley temperatures everybody is waiting for…
UPDATE: 128°F today at Death Valley COOP station. See Record Event Report below.
It seems the media and the alarmists are cheering on the possibility of an all-time temperature record in Death Valley. There’s lots of hullabaloo over the supposedly tied all time temperature record of 117°F in Las Vegas yesterday, which turned out to be false, but was tied today. And there has been lots of news on the potential for a new all-time temperature record in Death Valley, which would negate the all time world record of 134°F on July 10th, 1913, since the previous world record in Libya of 136.4°F (58°C) was recently said to be unreliable due to it being measured over asphalt and having an untrained observer.
But it looks like this anticipated new record for Death Valley may not come to pass. As of this writing, it is 125°F in Death Valley according to the Climate Reference Network site, the last three days of hourly data show it to be well short of the all time record, and the forecasts are ramping down for the predicted high in Death Valley and are expected to fall well short of the 134°F all time record:
NWS Las Vegas posted this infographic about the COOP station there:
But that only tells half of the story. You see, about 100 meters away from the Cotton Region Shelter (CRS) aka Stevenson Screen is was a NOAA MMTS electronic thermometer, which I documented on Wednesday the 31st of October 2007:
Note the proximity to the asphalt and the building, a definite siting no-no. This station would be a CRN4 (unacceptable siting – heat sinks/sources within 10 meters) in this setup since the asphalt is less than 10 meters away.
Here’s the aerial view:
But, an interesting thing has occurred, and I’d like to think that my work had something to do with it. It seems NOAA has abandoned the MMTS electronic thermometer and has gone back to using the max-min mercury thermometer in the Stevenson Screen.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen, especially since the MMTS was supposed to be the “modernized” version of the COOP station equipment.
Metadata at NCDC confirms this, see below. the max-min thermometer was put back in service on September 19th, 2012:
The MMTS electronic thermometer went in service on May 20th, 1999:
What the NWS Las Vegas doesn’t mention in their infographic when they say “things have become much more modern today” is that the site was using modernized equipment for over 12 years, but now has “de-modernized” the station.
Here’s another infographic from the high yesterday, showing the thermometer reading. The photo taken by the National Park Service:
Why would this be?
I have two possible confounding factors.
1. As we learned from Menne et al. 2010, the MMTS shelter has a cool bias despite the overwhelming proximity of these sensors to buildings and other surfaces due to cable length/trenching issues putting them closer than the original stations they replaced. This has to do with the Gill shield (the stacked plates on the pole) offering better protection from solar radiation than the older stations. This better exposure and hence a cooler measurement environment is actually of greater magnitude than the warming introduced by proximity to buildings and surfaces.
2. As we learned from the SurfaceStations project, many CRS/Stevenson screen stations are is disrepair due to paint issues and blackening of wood due to exposure. They tend to read higher temperatures due to absorbing more solar radiation due to flaking paint and darkening wood.
Did NOAA decide to go back to the CRS/Stevenson Screen because they knew it had a better chance of setting a new all-time high temperature record? It’s a possibility. It is also possible that since the El-Azizia record was shot down, purists argued that it would be unfair to record this important temperature with equipment that has a different character. They’d be right.
No matter what the reason, NOAA has done something unprecedented as far as I know: they closed a modernized temperature reporting station in use over a decade in favor of the older technology.
I hope to hear more about this, and I’ll advise if I find an official reason.
One thing is for certain, in 1934, there wasn’t a big parking lot next to the station as we have today:
UPDATE: The RER on Death Valley for 6/30:
RECORD EVENT REPORT NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE LAS VEGAS, NV 609 PM PDT SUN JUN 30 2013 ...MORE RECORD HIGHS FALL ACROSS OUR AREA TODAY... THE JACKPOT OF LAS VEGAS RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURES WAS REACHED AT MCCARRAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT IN LAS VEGAS TODAY WHEN THE TEMPERATURE REACHED 117 DEGREES. THIS TIES THE ALL-TIME RECORD HIGH FOR LAS VEGAS FOR ANY MONTH FIRST SET ON JULY 24, 1942 AND TIED ON JULY 19, 2005. THIS ALSO SETS THE ALL-TIME JUNE RECORD HIGH FOR LAS VEGAS. THE PREVIOUS RECORD WAS 116 DEGREES ON JUNE 15, 1940. OFFICIAL WEATHER RECORDS FOR LAS VEGAS DATE BACK TO 1937. AT THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OFFICE IN SOUTHWEST LAS VEGAS ON DEAN MARTIN DRIVE NEAR BLUE DIAMOND ROAD THE HIGH TEMPERATURE TODAY REACHED 119 DEGREES. THIS BREAKS THE PREVIOUS ALL-TIME RECORD FOR OUR OFFICE FOR ANY MONTH OF 118 DEGREES SET JUST YESTERDAY - JUNE 29TH. A WEATHER STATION AT OUR OFFICE WAS FIRST ESTABLISHED IN 1996. AT THE MERCURY AIRPORT NEAR DESERT ROCK NEVADA THE HIGH TEMPERATURE REACHED 113 DEGREES SO FAR TODAY. THIS SMASHES THE PREVIOUS ALL-TIME JUNE RECORD HIGH OF 111 DEGREES SET ON JUNE 29TH AND 30TH OF 1994 AND TIED ON JUNE 29, 2013. RECORDS FOR DESERT ROCK DATE BACK TO 1978. AT BISHOP CALIFORNIA THE HIGH TEMPERATURE AT THE EASTERN SIERRA REGIONAL AIRPORT REACHED 109 DEGREES TODAY. THIS BREAKS THE OLD DAILY RECORD FOR TODAY OF 108 DEGREES SET IN 1972. THIS ALSO TIES THE ALL-TIME RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURE FOR THE MONTH OF JUNE OF 109 FIRST SET ON JUNE 22, 1954. THIS ALSO TIES FOR THE SECOND HIGHEST TEMPERATURE EVER ON RECORD AT BISHOP WHICH WAS LAST SET ON JULY 22, 2003. THE ALL-TIME RECORD HIGH FOR BISHOP REMAINS 110 DEGREES SET ON JULY 10, 2002. RECORDS FOR BISHOP DATE BACK TO 1943. AT DEATH VALLEY CALIFORNIA AT THE OFFICIAL WEATHER STATION IN FURNACE CREEK THE HIGH TEMPERATURE SO FAR FOR TODAY WAS 128 DEGREES. THIS BREAKS THE OLD DAILY RECORD OF 127 DEGREES SET IN 1994. THIS ALSO TIES THE ALL-TIME JUNE RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURE FOR DEATH VALLEY OF 128 DEGREES SET ON JUNE 29, 1994 AND TIED ON JUNE 29, 2013. RECORDS FOR DEATH VALLEY DATE BACK TO 1911.
Now there’s one more station in Death Valley you should know about, placed to obtain an “unofficial record”. The late great johnDaly explains:
by John L. Daly
(19th July 2002)
In climatology, record-breaking is of little significance climatically speaking. An all-time hot record in one place can be easily matched by an all-time cold record somewhere else. This year in the U.S. and in Australia, both hot and cold records have been broken at various times and places. They make interesting fare for the Guinness Book of Records, but little else.
However, record-breaking does have one purpose for the greenhouse industry, namely that of heightening public fears about global warming. For this reason, the industry likes to see hot records being broken as often as possible, present a lot of media hype about them, and then go into quick denial and spin-making when cold records are broken, sometimes even blaming the cold record on global warming!
The industry also dislikes a hot record being very old, such as the all-time hot daytime record for Australia of 53.1°C. set at Cloncurry, Queensland in 1889. Valuable research money and academic effort was spent in a futile effort to discredit that one record (Trewin, B., Aust. Met. Mag. 46 (1997) 251-256).
There is one all-time hot record that is the ultimate global prize: 58°C (136°F) set at Al Aziziya, Libya, in 1922. This was the hottest temperature ever recorded anywhere in the world and has stood for 80 years in spite of real or imagined `global warming”. It is even noted in the Guinness Book of Records. But 1922 is a long time ago and the longer it stands, the less convincing are the claims about global warming in the eyes of the public.
To topple this record, the industry has not bothered with the Cloncurry approach – that of seeking to discredit the record itself – as that appeared to be, and was, merely sour grapes and spin.
Fig.1 – Badwater
Instead, the NASA Ames Research Center (ARC), has set up their own temperature instrument in Death Valley, even though there is already a long-standing instrument at Furnace Creek right in the open central part of the valley.
The new instrument is located 20 miles south of Furnace Creek at Badwater (Fig.1).
The photo shows the Badwater area with a large salt pan stretching into the far distance, caused by evaporation of salty water welling up from a spring just metres this side of the sign shown in the photo.
Fig.2 – GISS Historical Data for Furnace Creek
It was at Furnace Creek that the all-time hottest record in the USA was broken, 57°C. ( 134°F.) in 1913, just 2°F short of the Libyan all-time record.
The GISS historical data for Death Valley (i.e. Furnace Creek) is presented left and shows no overall warming at Death Valley since the 1950s.
The new instrument at Badwater was installed in the late 1990s, but it must be stressed that the record left is for Furnace Creek, not Badwater. Yet the public plaque on the instrument at Badwater implies otherwise.
Fig.3 – Part of the Badwater Plaque
Here is how the public plaque at Badwater misrepresents Death Valley (Fig.3). It’s red graph line traces the same data as the one above, and it is immediately clear that the ARC graph differs from GISS in that the ARC graph shows a continuous warming whereas the GISS graph only shows warming pre-1950s with little long-term change since. They can’t both be right. The plaque also said -
“During the summer of 1998 – the warmest year on record – we recorded the hottest air temperature anywhere in the world of 53.06°C ±0.1°C (128°F) on 17 July 1998 at 3:15 pm local standard time.”
Having mentioned 1998, that year was conveniently left off the chart. And with good reason, as Fig.2 shows that 1998 was a particularly cool year.
(left) Fig.4 – The Badwater instrument.
What exactly do those skilfully crafted words on the plaque mean anyway? Note, it refers to 1998 as the `warmest year on record’, but omits to say they are referring to the world as whole, not to Death Valley itself. 1998 at Death Valley (Furnace Creek) was actually cooler than usual.
The plaque claims Death Valley recorded the hottest air temperature anywhere in the world on 17th July 1998 – implying it was an all-time world record. It was not. It was referring to 1998 only. Actually, the hottest temperature ever recorded at Death Valley was way back in 1913 on 10th July – a whopping 134°F (57°C).
The sharp dip in temperature near the end of the record (Fig.2) was – 1998 ! – the `warmest year on record’ according to the plaque. In fact, 1998 was the coolest year at Death Valley since 1945, belying the implied claims about 1998.
Note how the ARC plaque refers to `Death Valley’ generally and not Badwater or Furnace Creek specifically. This merging of two quite different locations 20 miles apart is itself misleading to the public who may be unaware that `Death Valley’ now has more than one weather station.
A photo of the weather instrument at Badwater is shown left, the small yellow plaque mounted low down on the structure. I visited there during my trip in April this year.
Unlike the Furnace Creek instrument which is located in the open centre of the big valley, the new instrument has been mounted next to the eastern side of the valley at Badwater. The local topography is such that the instrument sits in a curved hollow (topographical map – Fig.5) so that it is well sheltered from all but westerly winds, and fully exposed to the afternoon summer sun. In fact, the whole area around the instrument is a perfect afternoon sun trap.
On the east side of the instrument is a high west-facing cliff over 500 feet tall, a cliff which will heat up magnificently in the afternoon sun on a hot summer’s day. 280 feet up on that cliff is a large sign which says `mean sea level’ (Badwater is 285 feet below sea level).
Fig.5 – Topographical Map of the Badwater area
Rising steeply above the cliff is the aptly named Dantes Peak, 785 feet high, overlooking what must be the nearest thing to `Dante’s Hell’ on Earth – Badwater in Death Valley.
On the western side of the instrument is a vast white salt pan, caused by salt deposits from a spring bubbling up from underground (the `bad water’) (Fig.1&6). This salt pan has a high albedo to sunlight so that the afternoon sun will reflect light and heat off the white expanse directly onto the cliff and the instrument itself. On a bright afternoon, it will act almost like a mirror to sunlight.
Fig.6 – The vast salt pan and salty spring directly to the west of the instrument
In all of Death Valley, the ARC has chosen just about the hottest spot possible in the hottest valley in North America. They have in effect put it into a natural oven – and done so in the full knowledge of Badwater’s topography. Now all they have to do is wait – wait for the inevitable day when the conditions will be just right – clear skies, still air, a blazing sun, and that instrument will heat up from the combined heating of the air, the immense heating from the nearby cliff only metres behind the instrument, the intense reflected heat radiation from the salt pan, and the mercury will very likely fall over the Libyan line and record the `hottest temperature ever measured on earth’.
Then we will see the champagne corks fly as the greenhouse industry will cry with righteous indignation, announcing the `new hottest temperature ever recorded on earth’, how it’s all due to global warming etc. etc. and all the time, the whole thing will be about as fake as a three dollar bill.
Even the wording on the plaque on the instrument betrays the real intent – the exclusive emphasis on the significance of heat, of global warming, of record-breaking temperatures, of the `hottest year ever’ etc. The plaque speaks of little else. Even the opening words of the text are `Carbon dioxide released by human activities etc. ….’. Consequently, it is reasonable to conclude that record-breaking is the primary purpose of the instrument, not genuine climatic research.
Fig.7 – The full information contained on the public plaque
This is further suggested by The Ames Astrogram, February 7, 2000, Page 2, who reported on a field trip by some of its scientists to Death Valley, (among them Dr Chris McKay who is cited on the plaque), and made this reference to the Badwater weather station – “The next stop was Badwater — minus284 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America. McKay checked on a weather station he had installed at Badwater two years ago to precisely measure the temperature changes there and monitor global warming — which is much more noticeable in an extremely hot environment like Death Valley. In1999, McKay’s weather station recorded the continent’s highest temperature — a toasty 53.01 C.”
Even here, we have the focus squarely on global warming and breaking records just as on the plaque. ARC even reports the breaking of a continental record. If the Libyan world record of 1922 is broken, as seems inevitable at Badwater eventually, we can expect the full media scare treatment.
Death Valley is an interesting natural phenomenon because this valley is so unique, but the only instrument which will be credible in setting records or trends is the one at Furnace Creek, set properly in the open middle of the valley with a long respectable history of temperature data behind it.
If there is a media announcement of a record being broken at Death Valley, the skeptical observer should immediately demand to know if the record was broken at Furnace Creek, or at Badwater. If it is Furnace Creek, then the record will be quite genuine. But if it is Badwater, then the record will be a complete fake.
Mr. Daly didn’t have the advantage of Google Earth. It allows us to see that even in one of the most remote and desolate of places, there’s a road and parking lot nearby:
Google Earth street view:
Someday, in the future, this post may be referenced when a new world record temperature is recorded in Death Valley. If there is a new all time high at Badwater, making it the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth, I hope a future researcher will point out the siting/placement issue of the station at Badwater. – Anthony