How not to measure temperature, part 12

One of the really odd discoveries that I’ve made while surveying climate monitoring stations around the USA is the fact that many of the official stations are located at sewage treatment plants. For example, the one in Colusa, CA is at their sewage treatment plant. I’ve visited it.

A couple of volunteers for have been going around Washington and Oregon locating stations there and have also reported a number of stations at waste-water treatment facilities. I’ll get to why locating a temperature monitoring station at these facilities is a really bad idea later, but first I want to tell you why many of them are located at these places.

It has to do with the fact that somebody must read the thermometer once a day, write down the max and min temperatures for the last 24 hours in a logbook, then send in the page of the logbook to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) once a month. When stations were assigned to cities, they needed to locate them at a place where there was somebody 7 days a week. Sewage is a 24/7 operation. Police and fire stations have some stations for the same reason, somebody is always there.

Ok this picture comes in today from from volunteer Steve Tiemeier, who visited the climate station of record located at the Urbana, Ohio Waste Water Treatment Plant:


The small item in the center of the picture labeled “MMTS” is the temperature sensor that is used to submit monthly climate reports to NCDC.

Now in case you don’t see some of the obvious problems with this location and why its a terrible place to measure temperature, I’ll list them one by one:

– Sensor is attached to the building, just mere inches away from brickwork

– Sensor is near windows, which radiate heat from heated interior rooms in winter

– Sensor is directly above effluent grates for waste-water, Waste-water is often warmer than the air many months of the year

– Sensor is between three buildings, restricting wind flow

– Sensor is between three buildings, acting as a corner reflector for infrared

– Several exhaust fans near sensor, even though one is disable, there are two more on the walls (silver domes)

– Air conditioner within 35 feet of sensor, enclosed area will tend to trap the exhaust air near sensor

– Sensor is directly over concrete slab

– Refrigeration unit nearby, exhausts air into the enclosed area

– Shadows of all buildings create a valley effect related to sunlight at certain times

– There are two nearby digester pools, which release heat and humidity in the sensor vicinity

– Heat and humidity plume over the site from digesters is often tens of degrees warmer than the air in the wintertime

Here is wider view that shows the temperature sensor in relation to the digester tank:


More picture on my image database here:

I don’t know if any readers of this blog have ever driven by a sewage treatment plant in the winter, in the midwest, as I have, but I can tell you from experience it looks like a hot springs with steam rising into the air.

Talk about your urban heat island effect…not only that, sewage treatment plants effluent volume is a direct indicator of population growth. So as more water is treated, more local effects from the heat/humidity plume occur, which can affect the temperature readings.

There are dozens, possibly hundreds of USHCN climate monitoring stations sited at sewage treatment plants around the USA. I’ll have more reports on this in the future.

Who knew? I’ve been working in meteorology 25 years and I didn’t until this week.

here are some other stations at a sewage treatment plants:

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June 24, 2007 1:35 am

Anthony, do you know how the instruments are sited? You would think that NOAA would be on top of these issues.

June 25, 2007 4:58 am

GISS gives the location of the Urbana, Ohio station as 40.1N, 83.8W which is off by several thousand feet.
As the temperature history for Urbana Ohio starts in 1880, there is a very good change that all data before 1880 have been removed from the public view by the GISS Ministry of Truth.
TopoZone identifies the location of the sewage disposal facility as 40.099N, 83.784W.
Here is an aerial view sewage disposal facility:
As a suggestion, whenever you reference a station always include the GISS identification, the GISS coordinates and the actual GPS coordinates. TopoZone is a good resource to accurately locate a station. A topographical map and aerial view of the station can provide interesting details about the location and should always be included.
Always check the GPS sampling location of data used in government reports. Many of the pollutions studies conducted by the USGS and EPA are conducted at the outlet pipe of sewage disposal facilities, a fact which is not always made clear in their reports.

June 25, 2007 6:02 pm

In the interests of accuracy the photo above is of a clarifier not a digester. The clarifier is in the process after the digester.

June 27, 2007 7:20 am

What does the actual temp data from this site look like historically? This is the kind of thing I want to know. how did the temp readings change as changes were made to the area?
Might take more research than is possible with the limited funds, though.

Julius Blank
July 2, 2007 2:52 pm

Anthony, I wonder if there is a requirement to calibrate these thermometers against a competent NBS
standard? Is there a standard method to take measurements so that we are comparing ‘apples with apples’? Otherwise the readings are meaningless.

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