How not to measure temperature part 24

Warren Meyer, one of the first volunteers, delivered Tucson for us Saturday. It was discovered during an analysis of climate stations around the USA on the Climate Audit blog that Tucson had the greatest positive temperature trend for any USHCN station after the TOBS adjustment was applied. The TOBS adjustment corrects for differences in local times of observation of temperature by the observer. The picture says it all:


Yes folks, this is an official climate station of record, the temperatures it measures go into our National Climatic Database and are used in research such as the graph produced by NASA Goddard Institute for Spaceflight Studies here:


There’s a British word that has been bandied about to describe the reaction to pictures like this one: “gobsmacked”. The word applies even more so since this station is operated by science faculty members at the University of Arizona.

They are so proud of this station they even had a sign made for it to hang on the chain link fence enclosure:


The complete photo essay is available at the Tucson album at The satellite and aerial photo images there are telling of the environment being measured.


Besides the obvious questions like “why is it in the middle of a parking lot?” and “why would scientists who should know better allow such a bizarre siting for a USHCN climate station of record?” Then there is this burning question: “Why did they go to the trouble of installing a precision aspirated temperature sensor and then not even bother to place it at the standard observing height?”.


It appears that the Stevenson Screen serves no other purpose except as an equipment holder, as Warren Meyer reports the Stevenson Screen to be empty. Originally the inside standard mounting board for the mercury max/min thermometers were mounted about 1.5 foot higher than the air inlet of the precision aspirated temperature sensor. So the lower mounting height for the precision sensor adds a positive bias.

Is there no diligence left in basic measurement? Is this what they teach in college science departments these days?


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Jeff C.

Well, I tried to comment at CA but got eaten by the spam filter so I’ll put it here…
Nothing is surprising anymore. It is fascinating that the station is located in the middle of a parking lot when the aerial photos show a large grassy area less than 100 feet NW of the site. While far from perfect, it has to be better than the current location. It’s not as if this particular location has some special historical significance. According to NCDC records the station has moved seven times since 1956. Looks like it moved to the current location in 2001 having moved previously in 1998.
The GISS plot of this site is interesting in that the mean annual tempererature dropped fully 3 deg C from 1997 to 1998. The trend since 1998 seems to have settled into a fairly stable range about 1.8 degrees below the high range seen in the early to mid 1990s. Station records show that 1997 was the last year using max-min thermometers with 1998 using “other temperature equipment” (whatever that means). It’s clear that something changed significantly in 1998 and it probably wasn’t the weather.


What interests me about this is the logical order of procedure.
It says one thing if one finds a station out of compliance and then note an unnatural warming trend.
It is quite another thing to be able FIRST to point a high weather anomaly and PREDICT (correctly, in this cse) that it may well be a site out of compliance.
(BTW, I’m glad to note that doc P. is back online.)

David Walton

Yet another example of how photos have little or no scientific value.


Re: David,
Denial, it’s not just a river in Egypt.

Randall Semrau

Please don’t question the science here, measuring-device-placement deniers !. This is really beyond your ability to understand……
Besides, the science of measuring-device placement is settled. And there is overwhelming consensus !

Stu Miller

In one respect, the comment on the scientific value of photos is correct. The photos show the station as it now exists, and presumably as it has existed since 2001. It may therefore explain the recent temperatures in the record plot, but we are left wondering just exactly how temperatures were measured at this site before 1998. These photos cannot help with that analysis
That seems to me to be a problem with many of the other sites photographed as well. We see what the site looks like now, but we don’t know what it looked like last year or 20 years ago, so we really can’t say that the site explains what we think is an anomolous temperature record. I think a first step might be to get some kind of verbal history of each site from the operators along with any earlier pictures which the operator may have. Without this history, the pictures are merely appalling, not explanitory


A five-in-one comeback.
And not bad, actually.


Off topic but amusing. The Virginia police took out a weather station using their bomb disposal robot. The story is here Apparently no-one knew what it was, and it looked suspicious.

Chris Kaiser

I just slogged through the discussion, and worry my I.Q. has dropped several points.
Aside from the straw man arguments they have come up with, the rest of the blog can be summed up as:
1) Accurate real world data would be nice, but it isn’t really that important because…
2) Climate model inaccuracies are on the order of 5C, so quibbling about micro site contamination is meaningless, and besides…
3) Climate models aren’t initialized or tested against real world data anyway, and don’t forget…
4) Global Warming is indisputable. The consensus tells us so.

Jeff C.

The photos can be used to identify true, high-quality sites. If a station can be shown through photos to be high quality today, it is very likely to have been a high quality site as long as it was in the same location. It is doubtful that blacktop parking lots or air conditioning condensors were present in the 1970s but were later removed. Even if this were the case, photos would likely show remnants of the previously-present heat sources. By coupling the photos with station histories, good sites with long histories can be identified. A pretty good example is Tombstone, AZ. It’s been in the same location since 1969, virtually no adjacent urbanization, and the photos show a minimal microsite issues. Not surprisingly, the temperature trend is flat. Of course you can’t draw conclusions based on a single site. That is why the entire network needs to be documented so a large sample of true high quality sites can be selected.
Documenting the poor quality sites is also important. The public is constantly lectured regarding the “crisis” of climate change. We were told 2006 was the hottest year on record in the US (despite the fact the satellite data said nothing of the sort). Both the scientific community and the public need to know if the data source is compromised in order to put the alarmist pronouncements into perspective.

David Walton

Re: Mark W’s response to my remark “Yet another example of how photos have little or no scientific value.”
Mark’s response —
Re: David
Denial, it’s not just a river in Egypt.
Mark, I thought it was fairly obvious that my remark was a facetious sarcasm. Wake up! (And stop using tired, overworked cliches.)

Jeff C.

Oops, my previous comment said that we were told 2006 was the hottest year on record in the US. That should have been 2005 (Source: GISS).

David Walton

I am somewhat disappointed that a University (no less) did not think to place an air conditioning heat exchanger near the sensor too.

Al Bee

Jeez, that’s a Hairy Read

Now if we could just get photographs from a model, they would be much more help because they would all show pristine locations. ;^)

Chris Kaiser

Sorry for the OT comment, but seen today on the web:
Cool t-shirt sighting. “Al Gore didn’t invent the internet, but he DID make up global warming”.

John Goetz

Jeff C: The present photos can offer some clues to site evolution, particularly with respect to vegetation. Several sites I have seen have white pines growing nearby. These grow rapidly and should have some discernible effect on the temperature readings over time.
Some photos beg to have questions answered. For example, a station may be located near a recently-constructed building or road. Where was the station located during the construction? What did the site look like prior to construction? If you have ever gone back to see your childhood home I am sure you were amazed by how much things changed since you left there. The same can be true of these stations.
NOAA apparently had site curators photograph their stations a few years back and send them in to the agency. It would be interesting to compare those photos with the ones being collected today. That would certainly yield a valuable data point in understanding the effect of siting.

Interesting article on you here:
“Working with Penn State climatologist Dr. Michael Mann, Watts found most of the problems were in urban areas where temperatures are allegedly on the rise.”
Working with Michael Mann?

Anthony Watts

BCL – Thanks.
They (the Paradise Post) never even contacted me to ask a question, and that statement about Mann is obviously wrong. I think he meant to write Dr. Roger Pielke Sr.

Retired Spook

Anthony, I am curious about one thing. Have you set up any temperature monitoring devices near any of the badly compromised sites (but far enough away from the compromising factors) and compared daily temperature readings? Jeff C. notes above that there is a grassy area 100 feet from the site in this post.

Evan Jones

Wait a sec! He goes on to say that the rural sites don’t show a rise, thus implying that AW is right on the beam. (He’s just not expressing it very well.)
Read on and you will see that the article waxes in passionate defense of Anthony Watts.


Retired Spook
No I’m not in the business of temperature analysis on these sites, since that would take permissions and resources I don’t have access to. Remember this is a zero-budget project don entirely out of pocket and with the help of volunteers.
Right now we are concentrating on siting compliance.
Perhaps later we can do follow up studies.

Jeff C.

Retired spook – someone else pointed out over on CA that an irrigated, grassy environment was probably not representative of Tucson. That is a good point and something I hadn’t fully considered.


The author seems to have omitted the numerical analysis which shows the station’s data is actually faulty. Where is it?

Retired Spook

Anthony, I understand (the zero budget part), and you and your volunteers are to be commended.

Retired Spook

Jeff C., I suspect you’re right, but neither is a caged area on an asphalt parking lot. It’s been nearly 12 years since I was to Tucson, and all I remember was that it was HOT (and that was in November).

Jeff C.

I agree that the photos have a multitude of uses beyond documenting the site at a particular moment in time. I suspect most of those throwing stones are doing so because they can’t argue with the central point, i.e. NOAA says the USHCN is a collection of high-quality sites, NOAA has specific siting guidelines, large numbers of the sites don’t meet the guidelines. It really is that simple. As an added complication, virtually all of the documented deviations from the site guidelines would introduce a positive bias in the temperature record.

Retired Spook

Anthony, this article popped up on my home page this morning. I didn’t quite know whether to laugh or feel reeeeeaaally sorry for the good citizens of Nevada. Clearly this writer thinks we need to “do something” quickly or Nevada will soon become uninhabitalble, followed shortly after by the rest of the planet.
I checked your SurfaceStations site, and didn’t see any results from Nevada. I know a guy who writes for a political blog who lives in Las Vegas and is quite interested in the GW issue. I’ve linked to your site in posts on his blog in the past, but I’ll run it by him again, along with this article, in an email.
In the meantime, “we” clearly need to “DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING”, or we’re all doomed, heh, heh. Perhaps we should heed the advice in the last paragraph of the article:

“Nevadans are starting to understand that global warming is affecting us right now, and that our elected officials need to start making some tough choices to protect our quality of life,” said Kyle Davis, the Policy Director for the Nevada Conservation League and a member of the Governor’s Climate Change Task Force.

Our “elected officials” do such a great job of solving all our other problems, global warming should be a piece of cake.

I am just a rural guy up here in Canada (who does have an engineering degree, but that’s not relevent) and I have couple of comments …
To MarkW, I hope I was seeing sarcasm when it, to me sounded like you were chastising folks “don’t question the science here”. There is a very legitimate time and place for anyone to say … HUH? (with a big question mark).
Second, to all the apologists who are suggesting we need to know about where and when and how things were placed (like lets not jump to conclusions with the recent phtotos etc.), the fact remains.
If you are to be considered credible in claims of the magnitude we now see in the global warming argument, then you must insist on non-biased data … and if that is not possible because of “historical” or other reasons … then you must ignore completely such data.
I postulate that with the daily increasing panic of something we are not certain is happening, we ought to be daily monitoring truly accurate recordings.
And, although we get more crowded every day, with the technology we have there is no excuse to not have totally isolated sensors.
Sorry, long rant. But I promise I will only be here once in a while!

It appears that a pervasive flaw in the experimental design of these stations is the lack of replication. In order for one to be confident of sampling the temperature of the air somewhere, it seems one must have a number of measuring stations, perhaps two or three, placed close enough that one can be sure they are measuring “the same air” or “the same weather,” but far enough apart that one can be sure they’re not just measuring the same flaw in siting or installation. It seems good that three streams of measurements be continually compared and that a divergence be taken as indicative of an emergent problem in measurement.

[…] in a parking lot, it is a less than an ideal location. The pictures have been shown repeatedly on Watts Up and Climate Audit, as well as in presentations by Dr. Roger Pielke Sr. The temperature record was […]

[…] stations at some universities. Of course we have the station at University of Arizona Tucson in the parking lot, and this one isn’t too far from that. It has a long uninterrupted history, but what is it […]

[…] USHCN climate monitoring stations placed at sewage treatment plants, next to burn barrels, or in parking lots of University Atmospheric Science Departments, or next to air conditioning heat exchangers. These were all huge […]