My summer project – a national weather station audit


You may remember a couple of weeks ago I got sideswiped by Ms, Sherri Quammen, who in a letter to the editor called me a “weapon of mass destruction” because I’m actively involved in climate change issues locally. While funny, it did give me the impetus (aka kick in the pants) I needed to get very busy and serious about a project I had been contemplating for some time:

A national repository of weather station site surveys.

ZZZZ Snore, ho hum you say? I’d normally agree, as the subject matter is the stuff of sleep inducers. But there’s a hitch. It seems that the folks at the top of the food chain in climate research didn’t do their homework at the base level, and didn’t bother to do a quality control check on the many weather stations used in the climate records and the computer models used to predict our climate future.

I remember a talk in the spring where Jim Price of CSU had to interrupt (at the behest of a couple of folks that felt a comment about the sun’s role in climate change studies was being ignored was “biased”) the Chico observatory series, Cosmic Hike to give us all a tongue lashing on why Global Warming is “good science”. I asked him a question in front of everybody about how well biases in measurements at weather stations had been accounted for (Jim’s on the IPCC committee) and he said that they had been “carefully accounted for and considered”. I didn’t believe him then, even less now.

Ok back to my summer project. Thanks to Quammen’s inspiration, I got busy putting together a website called for the purpose of doing a nationwide, and hopefully a worldwide audit on the viability of the weather stations used in climate research.

To seed the effort, I’ve been driving around Northern California photographing and logging weather stations, and blogger Russ Steele from Grass Valley has been helping do surveys too. You’ve seen some of them in my blog posts titled: How not to measure temperature.

Some, like Marysville, are just unbelievably badly biased, and to be blunt, the data they produce is simply useless. Yet, they are part of our “official” climate temperature record, and the data is in fact used in the computer models.

So Monday, I go live with the website showcasing some of the US Historical Climate Record sites which is the major framework that global warming science is built upon.

The reaction was immediate and visceral in the science blogosphere. I’d hit a nerve. Some posters called for my “removal”, not knowing that I’m not funded by grants, nor employed by a government agency. I’m funding all this myself, out of my own pocket. I had to chuckle. Some called me an amateur, others said I would taint the outcome, some just ranted (I think maybe Tasker joined in). Many questioned why such an effort was needed at all. The reaction to taking photographs of weather stations to document their conditions raised a stink I never could have predicted. Why? How can something so simple raise so many hackles? Aren’t many climate scientists saying “case closed” and “no more debate”? How could a few pictures threaten this established science?

Well here’s why: Lets use the weather station in Willows at the Tehama Colusa Canal Authority as an example. Its a lights=0 station. A what? Lights=0 means it has no lights around it. Ok so what does that have to do with climate change and temperature measurement? Well, it turns out that Dr. James Hansen of NASA, in creating his USHCN database didn’t actually visit the weather stations to see if they were working well and bias free, but rather conducted an armchair survey where he used nighttime Department of Defense satellite photos to evaluate the potential heat bias from growth around the stations. He figured counting streetlights in a radius would be a good indicator. For stations like Willows, out at the end of Hwy162, yes it works. It also works for out of the way stations like Lake Spaulding, except that the armchair light counting survey didn’t catch the fact the temperature sensor is parked over an aluminum boat next to a building, on a steel tower over a rocky surface. How hot could that be? I presume the boat is there for a fast getaway in case of catastrophic sea level rise.

But this armchair survey didn’t catch things like air conditioners blowing hot exhaust air on sensors, or the Marysville Fire Department parking their vehicles within 6 feet of the sensor, or the fact that Tahoe City had a new tennis court put up 25 feet away and a trash burn barrel located next to the station. And when the really embarrassingly bad weather stations Russ and I documented started showing up, the pro warming folks had to do something because it challenged the very data itself.

The site has been up two days now, and I’m getting hundreds of registrations across the country from people wanting to get involved in the grass roots effort to photograph, measure, catalog and contribute to the database of weather stations. I’m getting inquires from Congress, Policy think tanks, and bloggers worldwide. I even had a mom who’s driving cross country with her daughter contact me to ask how she could participate.

BTW you can sign up to help, its free, easy, and fun too. Find the stations can be a bit of a puzzle, like GPS caching.

I’ve been invited to submit a research paper, and I’m having a lot of fun too. Now I know why I lost the school board election, it was to give me time to do this. Everything happens for a reason.

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June 6, 2007 6:36 am

Good luck on this effort. If you have a chance, please post or provide links to the negative comments you received. I have posted information about your new site on my blog in Japan. If you get informatioin about a measurement station in Japan, please included in your site!

Matt Schaefer
June 6, 2007 7:10 am

Hi Anthony,
Nice job on this..I think that you have raised a very valid point and should be commended for starting this project…I have enjoyed following the progression on Dr. Pielkes blog and Climate Audit..I look forward to learning more about these findings and hope to monitor some sites myself in the upcoming month…
BTW–isn’t the Hockey Stick attributed to Michael Mann at Penn State?

June 6, 2007 8:47 pm

It looks like I may be joining the Watts Up With That? Super Action Adventure Team soon.
Good job on the old school science. No scientist should fear basic questions of accuracy. Unless of course their operating budget is based on a database put in doubt by basic questions of accuracy.

John S
June 6, 2007 8:59 pm

I must say, you get some real credit for looking into the method of gathering temp readings. It doesn’t surprise me. These are the things we would never hear about because of the “don’t confuse me with the facts” issue. I know and respect Russ and I’m glad he is working with you a bit. You’re doing God’s work here, keep it up. I am very interested in the final results because somehow deep inside I think it is all a big hoax.
Thank you for your work

June 6, 2007 11:34 pm

Good work and I, too, will recommend your site on my blog.

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