Note to NCDC climate report authors: try using the telephone next time

Yesterday I reposted one of Warren Meyers essays on the hilariously flawed GCCI report from NCDC suggesting that the electrical grid is at risk due to increased weather related events affecting electrical systems. The chart looked hinky, turns out it was. One wonders if these guys at NCDC know how to use a telephone, because one phone call is all it took to verify the suspicions Warren had about this graph below being mostly about a change in reporting (baseline) rather than a real trend. His BS detector is very good. Too bad the people at NCDC didn’t do some basic due diligence rather than accept the data at face value.

One private citizen and a phone call undid the entire premise of this graph portrayed by the National Climatic Data Center. We need more people like Warren willing to ask questions.

Related: see my report on why tornado trends in general follow this same pattern that duped NCDC and why. – Anthony


Update on GCCI Post #4: Grid Outage Chart

June 18, 2009, 9:26 am by Warren Meyers

Yesterday I called into question the interpretation of this chart from the GCCI report where the report used electrical grid outages as a proxy for severe weather frequency:

electrical-outage1

I hypothesized:

This chart screams one thing at me:  Basis change.  Somehow, the basis for the data is changing in the period.  Either reporting has been increased, or definitions have changed, or there is something about the grid that makes it more sensitive to weather, or whatever  (this is a problem in tornado charts, as improving detection technologies seem to create an upward incidence trend in smaller tornadoes where one probably does not exist).   But there is NO WAY the weather is changing this fast, and readers should treat this whole report as a pile of garbage if it is written by people who uncritically accept this chart.

I had contacted John Makins of the EIA who owns this data set yesterday, but I was too late to catch him in the office.  He was nice enough to call me today.

He said that there may be an underlying upward trend out there (particularly in thunderstorms) but that most of the increase in this chart is from improvements in data gathering.  In 1997, the EIA (and Makins himself) took over the compilation of this data, which had previously been haphazard, and made a big push to get all utilities to report as required.  They made a second change and push for reporting in 2001, and again in 2007/2008.  He told me that most of this slope is due to better reporting, and not necessarily any underlying trend.   In fact, he said there still is some under-reporting by smaller utilities he wants to improve so that the graph will likely go higher in the future.

Further, it is important to understand the nature of this data.  The vast majority of weather disturbances are not reported to the EIA.  If the disturbance or outage remains local with no impact on any of the national grids, then it does not need to be reported.  Because of this definitional issue, reported incidents can also change over time due to the nature of the national grid.  For example, as usage of the national grid changes or gets closer to capacity, local disturbances might cascade to national issues where they would not have done so 20 years ago.  Or vice versa – better grid management technologies might keep problems local that would have cascaded regionally or nationally before.  Either of these would drive trends in this data that have no relation to underlying weather patterns.

At the end of the day, this disturbance data is not a good proxy for severe weather.  And I am left wondering at this whole “peer-reviewed science” thing, where errors like this pass into publication of major reports — an error that an amateur like myself can identify with one phone call to the guy listed by this data set on the web site.  Forget peer review, this isn’t even good basic editorial control  (apparently no one who compiled the report called Makins, and he was surprised today at the number of calls he was suddenly getting).

Postscript: Makins was kind enough to suggest some other data bases that might show what he believes to be a real increase in thunderstorm disturbances of electrical distribution grids.  He suggested that a number of state PUC’s keep such data, including the California PUC under their reliability section.  I will check those out, though it is hard to infer global climate trends from one state.

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60 thoughts on “Note to NCDC climate report authors: try using the telephone next time

  1. Classic GIGO (garbage in garbage out)-type data sifting.Gives me real confidence.
    BTW Snow above 6000ft or so this weekend in the Wallowas and Elkhorn mountains
    of NE Oregon..

  2. OT: What have these guys been smoking ????
    Oceans Rising Faster Than UN Forecast, Scientists Say (Update2)
    Share | Email | Print | A A A
    By Alex Morales
    June 18 (Bloomberg) — Polar ice caps are melting faster and oceans are rising more than the United Nations projected just two years ago, 10 universities said in a report suggesting that climate change has been underestimated.
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601124&sid=a63vnEwzft94

  3. “At the end of the day, this disturbance data is not a good proxy for severe weather. And I am left wondering at this whole “peer-reviewed science” thing, where errors like this pass into publication of major reports — an error that an amateur like myself can identify with one phone call to the guy listed by this data set on the web site. “-Anthony Watts
    Amateur- From French amateur, from Latin amātōrem (“‘lover’”), from amāre (“‘to love’”).
    Sometimes the pressures of providing for one’s loved ones can cause a blind spot. Those who pursue studies based on their love for the subject are less likely to fall into this ethical dilemma. The publishers of this flawed document should immediately issue a retraction. This is embarrassing.
    The truth will out….

  4. Douglas DC (20:24:37) :
    Classic GIGO (garbage in garbage out)-
    Classic, yes, but isn’t it now Garbage in, Gospel out when used in this kind of ‘study’ or ‘paper’ or ‘report.’

  5. “Forget peer review, this isn’t even good basic editorial control …”
    Indeed. One cannot help but suspect that this NCDC report demonstrates how desperate the alarmists are at this stage. To not catch this glaring misinterpretation of data in a “peer reviewed” study, pretty much condemns all such peer reviews in this arena.

  6. Kudos to Warren Meyers for critically reviewing the claims of the report. That’s what you’d expect from a science blog run by a true scientist.

  7. Today was Phoenix’s 14th day (for June) in a row under 100 degrees making this the 4th longest sub 100 streak for June in history. The last time such a streak lasted this long? 1913.

  8. “June 18 (Bloomberg) — Polar ice caps are melting faster and oceans are rising more than the United Nations projected just two years ago, 10 universities said in a report suggesting that climate change has been underestimated.
    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601124&sid=a63vnEwzft94
    The constant drumbeat of these kind of non-stories really smacks of an organized media campaign, especially to those of us who have been involved in such before. There also appears to be an ongoing astroturfing campaign. I wonder who the likely sponsors would be. My first guess would be the media firm that runs “realclimate”, which also appears to be a front for a campaign.

  9. An excellent example of confirmation bias. The data they saw agreed with what they believe – end of story. Such is the sorry state of what passes for science these days.

  10. The title to yesterday’s post was:
    “Just where are those grid killing tornadoes anyway?”
    More and more recently I’ve been running thoughts just like this through my head:
    “Just where are those – – – x x x x x x – – – anyway?
    One can substitute any of the false-alarm-stories appearing daily for the Xs. I have yet to read about an alarm story where follow-up doesn’t reveal that there is not really a problem (as this one), or that the problem is caused by something else, or the fatal outcome is only in a computer or someone’s head, or some combination of these and other similar things.
    But what keeps me sane are things like this:
    “Yesterday I reposted one of Warren Meyers essays on the hilariously flawed GCCI report from NCDC . . . ” (A. Watts)
    “hilariously flawed” ??!! I would not have chosen this description of the report but admit it is a good one. There are others – we should have a contest.
    Nice work by Meyers though. Cheers all around.

  11. I fear I’m going to have to adjust the parameters on my gullibility model. I simply cannot imagine how anyone at the NCDC (secretaries and mail clerks included) who has looked at a graph of weather trends could possibly think this plot has complete data.
    If people who should know better can’t figure this out, what chance do journalists, politicians, and environmentalists who have internalized their AGW beliefs have to understand this?
    I’m expecting that this year the mass media begins to figure out that global warming is not just on hold but retreating. I fear it may take a bit more than cold weather to do that. Perhaps we need to talk up the bird breeding season in the Arctic and the late crop plantings elsewhere, in addition to early ski seasons, snow when and where it shouldn’t be, etc.

  12. Wow, I wonder who funded the study? If it was with tax payers money, I want my money back.

  13. In any case, this explains why there’s been an increased reporting of electrical failures, but NOT why there’s an increasing fraction of them which are due to tornadoes and storms.

  14. “PUC’s keep such data, including the California PUC under their reliability section.”
    Reliability? Couldn’t sensitivity of Electrical Grids also be affected by
    1 Growth of the Grid – more cables in more places
    2 Age of the Grid – Stressing of cables by other things such as cold leaving weaknesses which can then be affected by induction
    3 Re-routing of the grid – Here in Europe this is currently a major change due to changes in patterns of demand.
    4 Reduction in maintenance budgets – money is tight
    5 Reduced Quality control of materials – see above

  15. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that this might have been a deliberate ploy for publicity purposes, but cynicism says that the damage is done, the press got what they wanted, a sensational graph to splash all over the front pages, rather like those glaring errors of UNIPCC AR4 Table SPM0 (1) in 2007 (rate of sea-level rise).
    Slightly OT. Apparently the new Met Office computer will be able to give near perfect forecasts for localities – how convenient since they have recently received complaints for such forecast failings in Bournemouth UK on a Bank (public) Holiday. SOunds like a case of tell em anything they want to hear to deflect criticism of aour forecasting (sizzling summer not quite shaping up as planned). Latest report from “puter” says wagtd by 2100, yet again, only it’s worse than first thought, as always, which should be worrying in itself in any case. I would always be concerned about a “puter” programme that keeps telling me I got it wrong the last time, & the time before that, & the time before that, etc. Either the “purt” is crap, or the programmers are inept & incompetent. Why is it that these “puter” models keep telling them exactly what they want to hear? At least my comparatively simple even primitive analysis programme tells me I am wrong every now & then, which is very reassuring I must say! Surely we would be better served by dispensing with the incredibly expensive hardware & software & hire a bunch of yes men, & think of the hard-pressed taxpayer’s wallet! According to MO whichever way you look at it it is alarming. Never mind, it will serve its purpose for the next 6 months until Copenhagen in December! One point, I have noticed an element of doubt creeping into things, more mention of uncertainties have been made in a few announcements & not swept under the carpet. Hmmm.

  16. Postscript: . . . though it is hard to infer global climate trends from one state.
    Not hard for some entities. Think “teleconnection.”

  17. If we are talking about disturbances that impact the electrical grid there is another factor. That is the expansion of the grid into areas where it didn’t exist before. The installation of new high-voltage lines would naturally increase the number of reported incidents because there were no lines there before to create an incident that would be reported.
    My gut instinct is that the graph reflects more the expansion of the electrical distribution infrastructure than any increase in weather events.

  18. Flanagan (22:40:14) :
    In any case, this explains why there’s been an increased reporting of electrical failures, but NOT why there’s an increasing fraction of them which are due to tornadoes and storms.

    Um, because the ones that aren’t weather related aren’t the ones experiencing an increase due to reporting, i.e., they were already being reported correctly.
    Really, Flanagan, you could at least pretend to be objective.
    Mark

  19. I’m unclear about the role of Hollywood Producer Laurie David (or other PR spin firms) in this latest gibberish from NCDC. Is this more of the same?

  20. I have published in reputable peer reviewed journals and the hoops I had to jump through to get my work published was rigourous to say the least. I cannot believe that any climate paper that suports global warming can have any credibility in the scientific community!

  21. Ah, the collection, collation and presentation of data – a new art form in climate research. I note the BOM has some data on cyclones both in the Australasian Region and in the Southern Hemisphere some of which dates back to 1906.
    Don’t know if global warming alarmists ever look at it when they constantly declare that cyclones are increasing but I certainly couldn’t see any trend:
    Tropical Cyclones Australasia
    1997-2006

    http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/silo/cyclones.cgi?region=aus&syear=1997&eyear=2006&loc=0
    1987-1996
    http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/silo/cyclones.cgi?region=aus&syear=1987&eyear=1996&loc=0
    1977-1986
    http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/silo/cyclones.cgi?region=aus&syear=1977&eyear=1986&loc=0
    1967-1976
    http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/silo/cyclones.cgi?region=aus&syear=1967&eyear=1976&loc=0
    You can see a similar picture with the Southern Hemisphere data. However if you check Further Information on the BOM website they state:
    The cyclone track data was reviewed in 2007 and a large number of obvious errors, omissions and duplications have been repaired. The repaired database has been uploaded to the ftp archive as a spreadsheet as an interim measure. Improved data access tools are being developed and should be available at a later date. There are still remaining data quality issues that can only be addressed by a thorough reanalysis of the data using current knowledge. This is planned for the future.
    And if you read further:
    The second stage of the databse repair process will require a detailed reanalysis of the database using current technology and knowledge. This process will remove some biases that are suspected to remain in the database. The process will take significant resources, and will be performed in the coming years as funds become available.
    Wonder if the record of cyclones will soon show increase down under?

  22. And to think the warmists accuse realists of being defficient in the grey matter/honesty department.
    Shakes head.
    Keep taking them down, Mr. Watts. The house of cards they’ve built must surely fall.

  23. The very first rule of data analysis.
    Always make sre the data is suitable for the analysis you want to conduct, or the questions you are trying to answer.
    This, along with a lot of “weather reporting” type data, is extremely poor for time series analysis due to this basis effect.
    Nearly all these types of “studies” and analysis including much of the tropical storm literature sohul go straight to the garbage.

  24. The very first rule of data analysis.
    Always make sre the data is suitable for the analysis you want to conduct, or the questions you are trying to answer.
    This, along with a lot of “weather reporting” type data, is extremely poor for time series analysis due to this basis effect.
    Nearly all these types of “studies” and analysis including much of the tropical storm literature sohul go straight to the garbage.
    Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

  25. This is exactly how groups like NHTSA produce figures that seem to say “more people died on the roads in the US last year than ever before.” Well, guess what? More people are driving on more roads in the US than ever before. # deaths per 1million miles driven has decreased virtually every year since the automobile was invented. In fact, it has never been safer to drive on a road in the US.
    Figures don’t lie, but liars sure can figure….

  26. OT…it’s only weather and all, but…
    In Kabul today we had our high of 28°C at around noon. Then a big thunderstorm blew through (very unusual this time of year) and the temperature dropped to 17°C. We’ve had rain three out of the last four days (20 minutes to an hour or so each time). We had fresh snow on the mountains west of the city last week.
    One of my translators, a Pashtun aged 52 who’s lived his whole life in Kabul, claims he’s never seen weather like we are having this year. He was very excited about the June snow last week.

  27. I do not think I would use CA electric as a benchmark for power issues given the extreme strains on their system the last few years just due to under capacity.
    But good catch on the change in reporting. There was a small upward trend in the total amount of power interruptions based on weather from 2002 to 2006, but is was much smaller than the increases in reported incidents, and even that small increase may easily have been due to this change in reporting.

  28. In South Florida they’re discussing moving powerlines underground, as some of them are already in some communities here. This protects them from hurricane damage, and from the daily afternoon thunderstorms we get down here in the summer (so well-described in the ‘thermostat’ thread).
    If that was done nationally (it won’t, its expensive), and the chart went back down, the cynic in me suggests that the chart would then be dropped from this report.

  29. It’s getting quite clear that as long as the data, no matter how flawed, satifies the template, on the wire it goes. Now that’s how science is done.

  30. Ryan M. (21:32:31) :

    Today was Phoenix’s 14th day (for June) in a row under 100 degrees making this the 4th longest sub 100 streak for June in history. The last time such a streak lasted this long? 1913.

    Poor Leif, he works so hard to point out all the reasons the Sun doesn’t have the influence some people claim, but little cherries like this keep popping up. They probably feel more like small stones in his hiking boots to him, and I certainly won’t make much of this note, but thank you for this anecdotal observation. 🙂

  31. Also consider that the electrical grid is aging (due to a great extent to deregulation and the churning of electrical utilities whose new owners take a “replace on failure” approach over scheduled replacement). Here in Utah, we have seen a marked increase in power outages due to windstorms and snow because the wooden power poles began to fail en masse and transformers are tired out. Thank you Bonneville Power, Scottish Power, T. Boone Pickens and the Utah Public Service Commission.

  32. (apparently no one who compiled the report called Makins, and he was surprised today at the number of calls he was suddenly getting)

    I have sympathy for him, but I’m laughing. Yeah, probably some young clerk got the job to find data and it didn’t occur to him to check the characteristics of the data.
    Wait — didn’t this report claim that it contained no new research? Are they reporting on someone else’s flawed research, or do they consider attaching an apocalyptic interpretation to a graph as not being new research?

  33. It looks like they are trying to resurrect the hockey stick – it got them such good press for years. May be the trend was undone, but not to the knowledge of the recipients of the report. Does anyone write “minority” reports to counter this fraudulent science. In a post of about a month a go I said to watch for a crescendo of desperate hyperbole from the AGWers as the thermometers slipped down.

  34. Mike D. (00:20:18) :
    A little research and I answered my own question. The PR firm who spun this report was Resource Media of San Francisco.
    http://www.resource-media.org/
    Probably been mentioned elsewhere at WUWT. Sorry for the repetition.
    I posted this yesterday. also. This firm is connected with an EMS company and in the circle of related entities, they have been promoters of the apple alar scare
    http://www.environmentwriter.org/resources/articles/0803_west.htm
    the activist public relations firm behind numerous health scares including Alar in apples, silicone breast implants, and so-called ‘endocrine disrupters.'”
    In mental health we study manimulative psychotics. They create fear and promise they can give hope. Rape and then we will not kill you.
    Some drug companies do articles in regular magazines like readers digest and household mags and a year or two later introduce a drug solution for example for osteoporosis.

  35. Wouldn’t this report fall under the “Information Quality Guidelines”? Is a correction called for under “correction of information that does not comply with OMB or NOAA applicable guidelines”? There isn’t much on the NOAA (and nothing on NCDC) web site about the quality requirements. No corrections are on their web site (requirement for correction publication). The OMB report to Congress does mention on page 30 a National Assessment on Climate Change correction request which was denied due to the Information Guidelines not being applicable.

    NOAA denied the request as “it does not involve ‘information’ that is
    ‘disseminated’ pursuant to NOAA information Quality Guidelines.”

    Effectively identical requests were
    submitted to EPA and OSTP. OSTP acknowledged that it was the appropriate
    agency to consider the request, but denied it on the ground that the NACC, as
    a product of a FACA committee and not relied upon by OSTP, was not
    “information” under their guidelines.

  36. Mark, are you serious? Do you believe people didn’t notice a failure when it was induced by the weather before?

  37. “Dan Lee (04:32:46) :
    In South Florida they’re discussing moving powerlines underground, as some of them are already in some communities here. This protects them from hurricane damage, and from the daily afternoon thunderstorms we get down here in the summer (so well-described in the ‘thermostat’ thread).
    If that was done nationally (it won’t, its expensive), and the chart went back down, the cynic in me suggests that the chart would then be dropped from this report.”
    Underground helps a lot for wind and squirrel damage but not so much for flooding. Yes, a squirrel did us in one time by shorting the pole transformer. My new neighborhood has underground utilities but that didn’t help when someone knocked the pole down (with a car) for the lines that fed the neighborhood. We are literally within 300 feet of the substation and only two or three poles that could be hit to take us out and he or she found the right one.

  38. June 18 (Bloomberg) — Polar ice caps are melting faster and oceans are rising more than the United Nations projected just two years ago, 10 universities said in a report suggesting that climate change has been underestimated.
    “change has been underestimated”
    What does that mean?
    “Polar ice caps are melting faster and oceans are rising more than the United Nations projected ”
    Lies, pure and simple!

  39. Flanagan, what part of ‘most of the slope is due to better reporting’ do you not understand? Yes, the local utilities knew about and fixed weather related outages. No, the reporting of data to other agencies was not good. Very large steps were taken in this direction after the 2003 northeastern grid outage.

  40. Flanagan (08:08:41) :
    Mark, are you serious? Do you believe people didn’t notice a failure when it was induced by the weather before?

    No, but that’s not what I said, either (read up on various red herrings).
    Other causes could simply be those that are reported better for a variety of reasons. Maybe the non-weather causes are the ones that automatically get logged for safety reasons, i.e., human caused failures. I don’t know, but unlike you, I don’t automatically assume a specific outcome simply because it fits my pre-conceived beliefs.
    Of course, to expect any sort of objective and logic response from you would be… illogical.
    Mark

  41. The folks at these government agencies that keep advancing these hysteria laden reports are not real scientists. The real scientists I know are much more cautious, methodical and skeptical of their own work. Particularly with respect to data. The whole climate arena has become perverted by politics and subsidy.

  42. Ric, come now. You have no idea why Phoenix is cooler? Do you know nothing at all about weather pattern variations? Cold fronts? Warm fronts? Jet stream behavior? Pressure gradients? These are all easily studied, followed, and used to predict weather pattern variation. Yes, yes, the Sun provides a steady source of heat when it gets through, but not so much when it is mixed with Earth’s unending variations of its own atmosphere. There is no pebble in my shoe and I am just an amateur at weather pattern variation reasons.

  43. Just another case of grab someone else’s database and shove it into a PC and out comes another science paper.
    Boy oh boy, the kind of scientists we have today are so prolific and hasty to come up with significant conclusions for their analysis that I doubt they would have time for a phone call….
    Reminds me of the whole Hockey stick thing…data largely based on one person tree ring plugs taken about 30 years ago on a hill top in Denver…
    Reminds me of the computerized AGW conmclusions from long term ground based temperature measurements records….nobody ever bothered to take a look at the stations themselves….of course not – they were too busy extrapolating the end of the world in a CO2 induced inferno…
    Anyone see a trend here?

  44. I believe Warren misspelled the EIA guy’s last name. According to the EIA web site, it is Makens, not Makins. I left a note on Warren’s blog, too.

  45. Ric:
    “They probably feel more like small stones in his hiking boots to him . . .”
    A scientist who is cautous/self questioning/objective – one who has those virtues stands the test of science/time.

  46. Everyone is also missing another common issue with stats – things that are related are not necessarily causal.
    The grid failures are much more related to an aging grid and lack of maintenance due to cost cutting than to the weather.
    Also, increased population densities in vulnerable areas causes the outages to have bigger impacts on more people.

  47. Pamela Gray (08:53:42) :

    Ric, come now. You have no idea why Phoenix is cooler? Do you know nothing at all about weather pattern variations? Cold fronts? Warm fronts? Jet stream behavior? Pressure gradients? These are all easily studied, followed, and used to predict weather pattern variation. Yes, yes, the Sun provides a steady source of heat when it gets through, but not so much when it is mixed with Earth’s unending variations of its own atmosphere. There is no pebble in my shoe and I am just an amateur at weather pattern variation reasons.

    Of course I know all that, I’m a New England weather geek!
    I was just acknowledging an inside joke. Ryan mentioned “The last time such a streak lasted this long? 1913.” 1913 was the last time we had a month without sunspots until maybe last year.
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/08/31/sun-has-first-spotless-calendar-month-since-1913/
    So 1913 -> few sunspots -> cool Phoenix
    2009 -> few sunspots -> cool Phoenix
    While this isn’t proof that few sunspots -> cool climate, Leif would post that there’s still no plausible mechanism for that link that he’s seen, and he’s look at a lot of suggested links.

  48. Flanagan (22:40:14) :
    “In any case, this explains why there’s been an increased reporting of electrical failures, but NOT why there’s an increasing fraction of them which are due to tornadoes and storms.”
    I agree, the report only uses this increase to create the assumption that global warming is increasing tornados and storms.

  49. I’m left wondering such things as whether trees grow and power lines, wood and steel fatigue, and if they do whether failure would be more likely to happen during good weather or bad.

  50. There were weather extremes in many places in and around 1913. I would wager a bet that the jet stream was in its loopy Northern track and the PDO had a La Nina (and probably more than one) event interspersed with smaller El Nino’s.
    So I went on a short trek to find out. Sure enough. Between 1910 and 1920, there were several La Nina’s interspersed with overall smaller and fewer El Nino’s.
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/Pdoindex_1900_present.png

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