How not to measure temperature, part 68

I don’t know what it is with weather 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 arrangement. It has a long and uninterrupted history, but what is it really measuring?

Click for a larger image

More pictures here

Thanks to surveyor Craig Limesand we get to see the official USHCN climate station of record at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can see that the Stevenson Screen is just a few feet from parked cars.

This aerial view shows it better:

Click for a larger live interactive image

Note that in addition to being surrounded by asphalt and parked cars, the station is also about 35 yards from the college power plant.

According to NCDC MMS database, the station has been in this location since at least 1948, unmoved and using mercury max-min thermometers even today.

But without doing a historic evaluation to look at what transpired around the station during that history, how would we know how much is this signal is “climate change”, “UHI from Milwaukee”, or “increased parking capacity” or all of the above?

From NASA GISS, click for original source plot

 As much as I like weather stations, it is becoming clearer to me that looking for a clean climate change signal in surface data is a complex excercise in uncertainty.

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Frederick Davies
July 28, 2008 11:44 pm

Do they have sprinklers for those flower beds?
REPLY: Probably. The site is a mishmash of influence, shade, parking lot, automobile traffic, sprinklers.

July 29, 2008 1:12 am

Looks to be a street light 15 – 20 feet away as well.

Leon Brozyna
July 29, 2008 1:27 am

What is it with the siting of these screens that they insist on having a sidewalk leading up to them?
I notice that there’s a large open field to the NE of the present location. Why not relocate it to the middle of that field without building a walkway? Of course going to the screen in the dead of winter might be a problem after significant snowfall. But at least in the warm months the person tasked with taking readings could walk out barefoot through the grass. Still, moving it probably wouldn’t do much about the UHI effect.
As for the temperature record, I’m not even going to go there…

Dodgy Geezer
July 29, 2008 1:43 am

Eyballing, there seems to be a step change around 1982. I wonder if that’s when a new car park was built?
It would make quite a point if a local environment alteration could be corelated with a step on a graph. In such a case it would be obvious that, without individually correcting each reading for the minutiae of local use, we are really in the dark when trying to compare man’s global vs local effect on the environment….

Tom in Florida
July 29, 2008 4:05 am

An easy way to find the building history of a property is to go the whatever government office issues building permits and get a copy of every permit on file for that location. It’s public record and in most cases would be available on line.

Bill Marsh
July 29, 2008 4:06 am

Is that parking lot asphalt? it would be interesting to know when it was laid down, I’d bet it that event caused a nice bump in the temp readings, especially at night. Looking at the graph I’d be willing to wager the parking lot was paved in the early 80s.

July 29, 2008 5:15 am

[…] Tags: temperature, temperatures Related Posts […]

Ed Reid
July 29, 2008 5:43 am

Dodgy Geezer,
Are you suggesting that Dr. Hansen is not already “individually correcting each reading for the minutiae of local use”? He and his “band of merry persons” are certainly making lots of changes for some reason.
Enquiring minds want to know.

Patrick Henry
July 29, 2008 5:46 am

Responsible NASA Official: James E. Hansen
Despite all of the localized warming effects, it appears from the GISS graph that the site has cooled significantly since Dr. Hansen made his 1988 speech to Congress forecasting imminent and catastrophic warming.

July 29, 2008 6:15 am

Given the seriousness of the measurements I should think that every year there was the same diversity in climate conditions – the same average of sunny days, windy days, precipitations (after warm/cold weather), the same number of cars, etc, etc. In other words both climate and human factors.
But what if there was a change in winds pattern or cloudness over the place from 40s? Or droughts which resulted in lawn sprinkling limits?
Wouldn’t it be advisable to select, let’s assume, 5 such locations and perform meticulous research taking into consideration all possible factors? I wonder how the Annual Mean Temperature would look like then? Perhaps such research would reveal a practical method how to deal with such placed stations which in turn would enable to correct more scientifically all the station results without resorting to population densities?

Retired Engineer
July 29, 2008 6:38 am

May not be all that bad. It does provide evidence of Parking Lot and Sidewalk Warming. Someone will pick up the (LED, rechargeable) torch to combat that.

David Segesta
July 29, 2008 7:20 am

What’s the total count… oops sorry… Watts the total count of stations rated 1 or 2 so far?
REPLY: It’s in the high 20’s I believe, I’m about ready to do another compiliation and I’ll report on it soon.

July 29, 2008 7:28 am

it is becoming clearer to me that looking for a clean climate change signal in surface data is a complex excercise in uncertainty.

You are rather generous here. I would have chosen the phrase “an exercise in futility.”

July 29, 2008 8:00 am

Note that in the text file, there hasn’t any data reported from this station since May of 2007.

July 29, 2008 8:03 am

I’m certainly not as expert (or expert at all) in this area. But I do follow and blog about how the news media does its’ job and it seems to me that virtually the entire coverage of the climate issue revolves around reporting press releases and “studies” without even the most basic effort to learn what those studies are based on or whether they are well done.
It’s almost impossible anymore to find broadcast news outlets, let alone newspapers, that employ serious science reporters. And even those who do, simply refuse to give those reporters enough time to actually delve deeply into a story.
So, when someone comes out and says monitoring stations clearly show rising temperatures, how could that be wrong. No one has the time or ability to ask if the stations are reporting accurate numbers.

July 29, 2008 9:04 am

What is it with the siting of these screens that they insist on having a sidewalk leading up to them?

It’s a “don’t walk on the grass” thing. You can see the path in the aerial view and of course the shrubbery is needed to make the site less unsightly. And don’t worry, the tree will correct for the asphalt eventually (grin).

July 29, 2008 10:14 am

Let me asked for a few new charts as I’d like to know what months contribute more to the g***l w****g trend on this pecular station. Why?
Winter months are nearly “the same”. But summer months are “more” warmer/hotter due to the station’s surroundings. The parking lot itself but I think far more the car-ovens (they warm up to 60-70 deg Celcius – 122-140 F) contribute to the warmness/hotness of the area and its vicinity. Let’s make 12 charts with annual mean temperature for the 12 months (for the years period). Draw the trend lines and compare them on joint chart. I am very curious were the “warming culprit” hid in the data.
I would also make another assesment. I’d select all July days with fully sunny days with 4 types of wind (null, gentle, light, small strong) and two directions (1) from the lot and 2) from a “cooling” direction against the lot). I’d be able to check how far the temperatures differ with or without “warming/cooling” winds. In other words I could find out how much the lot-pans contribute to the temp readouts.
The best method would be to put for a week in neutral place a similar station plus wind meter and match the results according to wind direction and strength. But assuming yearly percentage of wind directions for the given area would suffice.

July 29, 2008 10:30 am

Ooops… beg your pardon.
50 deg C = 122 F
60 deg C = 140 F
70 deg C = 158 F

Evan Jones
July 29, 2008 11:51 am

I am very curious were the “warming culprit” hid in the data.
That’s how heat sinks work. The more heat, the more heat sink effect.
The flip side is that if a serious cool phase sets in, the effect “undoes” itself an may produce an exaggerated cooling trend.
It would be ironic if they fix the problems just as a cool phase begins so there is a normal cooling trend, but they never account for the artificial warming that proceeded it.

July 29, 2008 1:32 pm

As a Milwaukee resident for many years, I can assure you that site was out in a field somewhere in 1948 and for many years thereafter.

July 29, 2008 2:43 pm

I think it would be relevant to find out who is leasing the properties to the government, and if, or not, there is a connection between the lessor’s and certain members of the government in charge of such inaccurate locating activities.

Mike C
July 29, 2008 2:49 pm

If you go to the meta data for this site at MMS, click on the “updates” tab you will see a remark about how there was a localized station move in 2002.

July 29, 2008 6:39 pm

Im with BarryW – why the sidewalks. Really?

Robert Bateman
July 30, 2008 3:21 am

If most weather stations are located in expanding, sprawling urbana, where most of us live, all we have proven is that our expanding, sprawling urbana is hotter than it used to be when it was wide open spaces.
Blame global warming on reinforced concrete & asphalt that our cars run on.
Want a cooler climate?
Rip up the asphalt, burn it in the local power generating station, cover all the concrete with sod, then go back to horse & buggy.
When the climate gets too cold, uncover the concrete.

bob gregg
July 30, 2008 9:41 pm

In response to Bateman’s comments, we are trying to prove that there is no global warming, just urban areas. Los Angeles a few years back moved their instruments from downtown to the USC campus. Average temps immediately fell to 1950 levels.

Evan Jones
July 31, 2008 10:16 am

I don’t see a problem. All you have to do is adjust it using the GISS urban cooling factor . . .

Evan Jones
July 31, 2008 10:18 am

why the sidewalks. Really?
To keep us from wearing down the earth.

August 11, 2008 6:39 am

I hope this is the right place for my comment. In addition to all of the errors of temperature measurement documented here and at, I’ve been thinking about potential measurement errors inherent in the concept of “Maximum/Minimum” as opposed to integrated measurements. To that end, I’ve purchased one of the Data Loggers and started doing some measurements in my yard. From July 12 through Aug 8, the difference between the Max/Min average and the five-minute average during each 24-hour period shows the Max/Min to be greater every day but one. The average difference is 1.5 deg F with a max difference of 4.9 and a min difference of -0.7. I intend to continue doing these and will make the data available.
Some questions occurred to me: Are the MMTS systems automatic recording, or do the maximum and minimum readings have to be manually recorded? If they are manually recorded and the attendant misses a day, there is no way to tell which day the maximum and minimum readings represent. The deployment of the MMTS system began in the mid-80’s. How far along is that deployment and what effect does that have on temperature records?
REPLY: The early MMTS display had no memory, while the newer display model, the “Nimbus” has a 5 day hi/lo memory I believe. So yes, it’s possible in the early models (and many are still in service) to miss a day. The deplayment of equipment cna be seen here:
– Anthony

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