How not to measure temperature, part 54: Los Angeles, the city

Los AngelesPlease click the picture then continue reading.

This is the city. Los Angeles, California. I study weather stations here. I carry a thermometer. My name’s Anthony. The story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The day was Monday, March 24th, four days after the vernal equinox. It started out like any other day, with a bad cup of coffee and a stack of reports on scumbags you normally wouldn’t give the time of day to. But then, just as I was about to down that last gulp of coffee, a tip came in on the email hotline. It was Goetz, and his side kick Foutch.  They said there has been a heist of a weather station on the southeast side. It had been moved, and then it was dumped mysteriously on the campus of USC.

9:15AM Goetz and Foutch told me they had picked up the trail of the weather station the night before. They knew it had been bagged, and that some g-men were hopping mad about it. The g-men had written a report on the crime. In it, they claimed that because of the heist, which had been orchestrated by some other g-men at NOAA, the great City of Los Angeles had been denied it’s due: A new rainfall record year of 2004-2005. Worse than that, the temperature of the city was going down.

I’d heard about this station. It was ugly, it was dirty, it was perched on a rooftop, and it was on the wrong side of town, out by the City Department of Water and Power, just south of the Santa Ana freeway. It hung out with utility trucks and those little red street racers the punks around here drive. There was only one single photo of it. It wasn’t the kind of pristine weather station you’d take home to introduce to your mother.

10:05 AM I knew this was going to be a tough case to crack without hard as nails proof, so I decided to setup surveillance. I called in a favor from a chopper pilot named Barney that I used to share a beat with. I asked him to get aerial photos, lots of them. He asked why. I told him it was because nobody would believe that a City of Los Angeles official weather station had been on a rooftop of a parking garage and now was a shell of it’s former self sitting over at the USC campus.

I told him that when they dumped it in a cool park at USC, they killed the heart and soul of the city’s temperature record with it. And worse, they not only moved the station, but they replaced the man who had sweated and toiled on the rooftop in the hot LA smog and sun to get that weather data with one of those sissy robot contraptions. They call it an ASOS, and it has a sleek look about it, but it could never do a man’s job.

12:01 PM So Barney sets me up with the aerial surveillance from this morning. He sends the photos. I took them down to the lunch counter of the corner drugstore to develop them on my laptop. I had a cup of coffee while I did that. It cost 25 cents, and included pie.

The first aerial photo was a little fuzzy, it was hard to make out the station:


Click for a live link

But I found it, and marked it with an arrow. It wasn’t a pretty sight, right in the middle of acres of blacktop and automobiles. I kept reminding myself I’d seen worse, like in Tucson, and down the street from that Ace hardware store parking lot in Lampasas, Texas. But still, it ate at me.

12:15 PM I finished the pie, and asked for refill on the coffee. The waitress looked at the first photo and just shook her head. Barney had made several passes from several angles, and he snapped one good photo of it that hit me between the eyes like the butt end of a .38 special. There it was, our beloved City of Angels Weather Station. It made me sick just to look at it. What kind of people would do something like this?


Click for larger image

But that wasn’t all, Barney got a picture from another angle out of the archives, and it showed the station even closer looking east. It was even uglier than the other photo. Just thinking about the albedo of the parking lot in the hot LA summer made my skin crawl.


1:05 PM Barney said he had other photos, but he couldn’t get them to me now. So he put them in a file, on something called a web server. And gave me something called a link. He said any citizen of our fair city who wanted to see the terrible place where they put the City of Angels weather station could click the link and look at the photos from all angles. Good man that Barney.

The photos were good, but not good enough. I knew that these photos would eventually be seen by Judge Rabett. Rabett has told us before that pictures don’t matter in his court, so I knew this wouldn’t be enough. I had to prove the connection to the single photo taken by the g-men for their report.

2:15 PM I had figured out a way to show that the single picture taken by the g-men in their report matched the aerial photos Barney took. To do that, I used the photo lab. The guy there is named Gimp, he walks with a limp from an old command line of fire injury. But he does good work. With Gimp’s help I was able to match the camera angle of the single land photo taken by the g-men with one of the aerial photos:


Click for a larger image

3:03 PM I’d finished up the aerial surveillance work of the original scene of the crime, but I still had to get photos of the place where the body of the weather station had been dumped in the park. All I had to go on was the single photo of the park taken by the g-men for their report. It sure looked like a nice cool park and final resting place. It had a little wrought iron fence around it and reminded me of a cemetery – a cemetery where the weather goes to die. It looked good, too good. I had a hunch it wasn’t as good as it looked.

3:05 PM I called up Barney, and asked about the aerial photos where they dumped the weather station; he said he had it covered. He said to check the file he left on the webserver for the street address where the park was.

3:15 PM I was running out of time, I had to get this wrapped up today. The webserver was slow, some punks were using it for a joyride. But I finally managed to open the file. and get the street address. It was out on South Vermont Avenue.

3:30 PM The aerial photos of the campus of USC where they had dumped the weather station proved my hunch was right. The picture the g-men took made it look like a perfect little park-like setting but in reality, it was just another cruddy location surrounded by acres of concrete and asphalt. The place where they dumped the station was only a few yards from the street:


Click for a live link


The little bit of grass and the fact that it was closer to the beach made it a little cooler. The tennis courts probably didn’t help either.

Barney also left links for the close up aerial surveillance photos he’d done. When I pulled up the one looking West, it hit me. I knew why they had dumped the weather station there. There was a parking garage just across the street. It must have felt like home.


click for a larger image

4:00 PM It was getting late, I had figured out where the original crime had occurred, and where they dumped the body of the weather station. Now all I had to do was find it’s data and I was ready to close this case.

4:15 PM I found the data in a webserver called GISTEMP. Somebody had already plotted it. Sure enough, there it was, the smoking gun. The temperature had dropped about 1.5°C when they pulled this caper in 1999. The continuity of the record had been ruined and there was now a big step function in the data that hadn’t been removed by the g-men at NCDC.

No wonder the g-men who wrote the original report were so hopping mad about it.

Since I couldn’t undo the plot, I called in Gimp again. With his help I was able to separate the time-line into red and blue segments to show where in the time-line the data had been taken from:


Click to see original graph.

5:00 PM Quitting time. I had wrapped up this investigation into the sordid story of crime against temperature in the City of Angels and gotten all the documentation together to present for the court of public opinion. I’m feeling good, I’ve served the public interest. Thats’ my job. I think I’m going to go blow another quarter on pie and coffee.

9:30 AM Tuesday Foutch reports that he’s located the entire history of the station, which can be viewed here:

The story you have just seen is true; the names were changed to protect the incompetent.


newest oldest most voted
Notify of

It just keeps getting better!



Badge 714

Anthony, great post
The JPL link is worth the read. A little humor in the morning is a good thing.

Lawrence Jenkins

Hey Anthony I didn’t realise Raymond Chandler was a meteoroligist or climatoligist. Mind you he went to Dulwich College London UK about three miles away from where I type now on a rather cold day.
Keep up the great work Marlowe.


That’s what I like in a good pot-boiler mystery, just the facts and plenty of them. Although, in my heart, I kept hoping a beautiful dame with great legs and a brain to match would show up before the caper was solved.


hehe !
I laughed so heartily reading this, that I decided this needs a PayPal tip…. where is your PayPal tip location ?
(Is it sad that I find articles like this to be hillarious !)
Hi GK. See this post on offering help. there is a PayPal link. Thanks!

Steve Keohane

Nice work in the concrete jungle Anthony. It takes some sick minds to determine tenths of a degree of change with a thermometer that has hash marks every several degrees, in effect. But wait, they also want to use food instead of oil for fuel that doesn’t reduce CO2. That should increase our respect in the rest of the world, especially where people are hungry.

steven mosher

hey AW check out what ATMOZ found in double checking some tobs adjustemnts


Just the temps, M’am.

Stan Needham

I love it!

Jeff Alberts

Great write-up, Anthony! I read it in Black and White…

Bruce Cobb

Good story, but where was the tall redhead in tight fitting clothing?
Keep up the good work, detective!


The homogenized data at GISS hasn’t been adjusted for the move. Curious, no?

George M

We need the location of this place where you get pie and coffee for a quarter. Certainly not Starbucks.

Brilliant work Tony.


Looks like a classic Class-5 felony to me. Now who were those innocent names you mentioned? I didn’t notice any (Hullo, John).

Good article. Here is a link to a site that is auditing the location and condition of surface temperature stations:
They are looking for volunteers to audit sites.


Love the Sam Spade like delivery, just like the radio shows!


Of course this means that they’re going to adjust the new data up to match the old since they moved to a cooler “park”.


Plagerizing a line from the two guys in the Guinness Beer comerical, “Brillinat, Brilliant”, here.


The homogenized data at GISS hasn’t been adjusted for the move. Curious, no?
Not even FILENET can silence the witness if SHAP drops the ball.

David S

It would be nice to see what the area looked like back in 1880 when they first started keeping temperature records. I’m guessing the station was not on a blacktopped roof of a parking garage surrounded by blacktop parking lots and cars with hot exhausts. I wonder if there are any photos from that era.


Jim Cole

Great work, Anthony!
Sorry folks, this ain’t Marlowe or Sam Spade. This is vintage Sgt. Joe Friday (aka Badge 714) from the Dragnet series of the 50s-60s.
Kim got it right, “Just the temps, ma’am”
I suspect the gang at RC doesn’t even know how to have this much fun
Always informative and entertaining!

Harold Vance

You’ve just convinced me that Anthropogenic Urban Warming is real.
The only thing missing here is a fleet of Toyota Priuses on top of the garage. Oh well. I guess you can’t have everything.
Keep up the great work, Anthony.


Apparently the winds weren’t coming from the direction needed to offset the non-existent UHI effect?

Bruce Foutch

re: David @ 07:49
Things may not be so very different in the 1880s as can be seen in the Los Angeles location history on this web site from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center:
Open the pdf file for “CA – Los Angeles” and take a look at the 1885 photo on page 9 and the graphic on page 10.
Anthony – check out photos on page 28 and 2nd inset paragraph on page 47.

Bruce Foutch

re: Harold Vance
“…fleet of Priuses on top of the garage.”
Or BMW 520d’s:
OK, the test was rigged in BMWs favor, but still brought a smile to my face 😉

Stan Needham

A good ol’ injection of tongue-in-cheek humor is just WATT this debate needs. Now if we could just get the Alarmists to lighten up and not take themselves so seriously, maybe we could move forward in a logical, SCIENTIFIC, rational and common sense manner.

[…] improbable title for a gripping read, but I personally guarantee that Anthony Watts’ “How not to measure temperature, part 54: Los Angeles, the city” will have you on the edge of your seat and chewing your finger nails as the tension just […]

Larry Sheldon

I wish I knew how to start on a similar search here.
Things I think I know.
1. There are weather observers of some qualification at Eppley Field, some miles north of downtown Omaha on the Missouri River (below the top of dike.
2. When I moved here there was a “Weather Bureau” on 72nd north of Immanuel Hospital (an ex Nike base?) surrounded by mostly rural.
That operation has now moved about 30 miles (as the crow walks, pushing a flat tire) into what is generally quite rural with some industry in the area.
What has been the history picture of record here?

jim edwards

Proximity to the coast I’ll buy as a reasonable hypothetical driver, but do those idiots at JPL really think a NINETY foot difference in altitude can account for a one degree dT and one inch precipitation change ? They must have pretty good drugs at CalTech.

Michael Ronayne

Per this quote in the “crime report”:
“At the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in San Antonio, Texas, climatologist Dr. Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., said the move has created a clear discontinuity in weather records.”
Would anyone like to place a friendly side bet that if the temperature change were in the other direction the theft would not have been a problem? Stations which show extreme warming must always be correct.


Sgt. Friday, er Watts. Good job. You deserve a promotion with your coffee and donuts.


Apparently the winds weren’t coming from the direction needed to offset the non-existent UHI effect?
Don’t be silly. I’ll have you know that the NOAA certainly does adjust for UHI.
By a Big Jumbo tenth of a degree Farenheit! (By their own admission.)
So glad we cleared THAT up, you denier, you! Hmph!


Good story, but where was the tall redhead in tight fitting clothing?
That would be the waitress.
That’s all we need–another warming bias.

Proximity to the coast I’ll buy as a reasonable hypothetical driver, but do those idiots at JPL really think a NINETY foot difference in altitude can account for a one degree dT and one inch precipitation change ? They must have pretty good drugs at CalTech.
Jim, SoCal is the cornucopia of microclimates. The joke “back east” is that if you don’t like the weather wait a few minutes. Here it is if you don’t like the weather walk a few blocks. While the rainfall bit is a little specious 250 vs. 160 MSL can mean an hour more cloud cover every day May-June.
My location is a few miles north and 40 miles west of these. The big storm that came through in Jan: La Conchita reported 2.4 inches of rain, with 1.37 inches at the Oxnard Civic Center. Ventura County valleys received heavier downpours, with Sespe Creek reporting 3.82 inches and Matilija Dam with 7.64 inches. Moorpark College reported 2.13 inches, while White Ledge Peak reported 9.17 inches. Ref:
Relocations and local effects are particularly important to SoCal stations.


Big temp difference between those two hoods. Especially when the fog is only partially intrusive. The fog line would be ~ the 110, and the 5 would be East of it.


Here’s where the fog line will reach, when it’s in that not quite hanging at the beach, not quite intruding all the way to the San Gabriel Valley mode:,-118.236119&spn=0.005111,0.011694&t=h&z=17

Yancey Ward

The really, really important discovery discussed here is the coffee and pie for two bits. Where is this place so that I may visit it the next time I am in LA.

Bill Illis

I can’t believe the JPL scientists recommended moving the official site back to the old location since the new USC location records a lower temperature and is not as extreme.

An interesting article appeared in the FNC’s Grapevine section:,2933,341189,00.html
Now some fresh pickings from the Political Grapevine:
Cooling Effect
A number of environmental experts now say that global temperatures have stopped rising — and that the earth is in fact cooling.
Jennifer Maro-Hasy, an Australian biologist and think-tank member says that even though carbon dioxide levels continue to rise that — “temperatures have actually been coming down over the last 10 years.”
In an interview on an Australian radio station last week — Maro-Hasy was then asked if her claim was controversial. She replied — “no. The head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has actually acknowledged it”
She also said that new data from a NASA satellite show that weather patterns are compensating for carbon dioxide emissions while limiting the greenhouse effect. She added — “the policy implications are enormous… I think people are still in shock at this point.”
The above is apparently in reference to the full article (whose link was provided by Marc Morano) which can be found at
Personally, I’d like to see an independent parallel weather station collection system established to show just how inaccurate (if not corrupt) the current system is.

Mike C

Okay, let me get this straight. They move the station that broke most of the siting guidelines to a location that doesn’t break any siting guidelines. Now they’re mad that the correct siting does not give alarmist data and now they want to move it back? As Steve M. says, “but hey, that’s climate science!”


Thanks “Sam”,
Just proves you can take the broadcaster out of show biz, but you can’t take the —–well, show biz, maybe—out of the broadcaster.

I’m certain that I’ve seen Sgt. Friday entering the very building shown in Figure 13 on Page 17 of the resource given by Bruce Foutch above:
Also seen here:

Bill in Vigo

What a great gift you have there Mr. Watts. I have a couple of comments
1 One comment was that they would adjust the temp up for the post move record. I disagree with this in that they will probably adjust the pre move data down so that the trend line will still be positive. And it would be more positive.
2 It seems that the JPL rep was more interested in keeping the status quo and maybe the grant money flowing. It is a wonder to me that a scientist would want to skew the data for any other reason.
3 The new site is a little better but I am not convinced that it is much better. Perhaps they should put the site just above the high water mark on the beach and measure the temp there. With the population growth In southern California it may well be impossible to locate a good site except in a state park or national forest. Possibly a military base.
I surely do like this kind of investigation. Very good reading Mr. Watts

Jeff Alberts

the 110, and the 5

Ugh! You Californians and your misuse of noun identifiers. 😉


Well done. Very funny. It is hard to make this stuff up.

Mike C

Bill in Vigo,
Don’t worry, NASA GISS doesn’t seem to think that a driveway is cooler than a park either given that they didn’t adjust the temperature change after the location change. This is proof that the Hansen adjustments are garbage.

Neil Gibson

Great work Anthony. A question – do we have enough data now to remove all stations with pronounced urban island effects and rework a temperature profile with the remainder? I realise there will be far fewer points but surely it would be more accurate than using stations where corrections are of the same order or greater than the anomalies we are trying to measure.