Correcting and Calculating the Size of Adjustments in the USHCN
By Anthony Watts and Zeke Hausfather
A recent WUWT post included a figure which showed the difference between raw and fully adjusted data in the United States Historical Climatology Network (USHCN). The figure, used in that WUWT post was from from Steven Goddard’s website, and in addition to the delta from adjustments over the last century, included a large spike of over 1 degree F for the first three months of 2014. That spike struck some as unrealistic, but knowing that a lot of adjustment goes into producing the final temperature record, some weren’t surprised at all. This essay is about finding the true reason behind that spike.
One commenter on that WUWT thread, Chip Knappenberger, said he didn’t see anything amiss when plotting the same data in other ways, and wondered in an email to Anthony Watts if the spike was real or not.
Anthony replied to Knappenberger via email that he thought it was related to late data reporting, and later repeated the same comment in an email to Zeke Hausfather, while simultaneously posting it to Nick Stokes blog, who had also been looking into the spike.
This spike at the end may be related to the “late data” problem we see with GHCN/GISS and NCDC’s “state of the climate” reports. They publish the numbers ahead of dataset completeness, and they have warmer values, because I’m betting a lot of the rural stations come in later, by mail, rather than the weathercoder touch tone entries. Lot of older observers in USHCN, and I’ve met dozens. They don’t like the weathercoder touch-tone entry because they say it is easy to make mistakes.
And, having tried it myself a couple of times, and being a young agile whippersnapper, I screw it up too.
The USHCN data seems to show completed data where there is no corresponding raw monthly station data (since it isn’t in yet) which may be generated by infilling/processing….resulting in that spike. Or it could be a bug in Goddard’s coding of some sorts. I just don’t see it since I have the code. I’ve given it to Zeke to see what he makes of it.
Yes the USHCN 1 and USHCN 2.5 have different processes, resulting in different offsets. The one thing common to all of it though is that it cools the past, and many people don’t see that as a justifiable or even an honest adjustment.
It may shrink as monthly values come in.
Watts had asked Goddard for his code to reproduce that plot, and he kindly provided it. It consists of a C++ program to ingest the USHCN raw and finalized data and average it to create annual values, plus an Excel spreadsheet to compare the two resultant data sets. Upon first inspection, Watts couldn’t see anything obviously wrong with it, nor could Knappenberger. Watts also shared the code with Hausfather.
After Watts sent the email to him regarding the late reporting issue, Hausfather investigated that idea, and ran some different tests and created plots which demonstrate how the spike was created due to that late reporting problem. Stokes came to the same conclusion after Watts’ comment on his blog.
Hausfather, in the email exchange with Watts on the reporting issue wrote:
Goddard appears just to average all the stations readings for each year in each dataset, which will cause issues since you aren’t converting things into anomalies or doing any sort of gridding/spatial weighting. I suspect the remaining difference between his results and those of Nick/myself are due to that. Not using anomalies would also explain the spike, as some stations not reporting could significantly skew absolute temps because of baseline differences due to elevation, etc.”
From that discussion came the idea to do this joint essay.
To figure out the best way to estimate the effect of adjustments, we look at four difference methods:
1. The All Absolute Approach – Taking absolute temperatures from all USHCN stations, averaging them for each year for raw and adjusted series, and taking the difference for each year (the method Steven Goddard used).
2. The Common Absolute Approach – Same as the all absolute approach, but discarding any station-months where either raw and adjusted series are missing.
3. The All Gridded Anomaly Approach – Converting absolute temperatures into anomalies relative to a 1961-1990 baseline period, gridding the stations in 2.5×3.5 lat/lon grid cells, applying a land mask, averaging the anomalies for each grid cell for each month, calculating the average temperature for the whole continuous U.S. by a size-weighted average of all gridcells for each month, averaging monthly values by year, and taking the difference each year for resulting raw and adjusted series.
4. The Common Gridded Anomaly Approach – Same as the all-gridded anomaly approach but discarding any station-months where either raw and adjusted series are missing.
The results of each approach are shown in the figure below, note the spike has been reproduced using method #1 “All Absolutes”:
The latter three approaches all find fairly similar results; the third method (The All Gridded Anomaly Approach) probably best reflects the difference in “official” raw and adjusted records, as it replicates the method NCDC uses in generating the official U.S. temperatures (via anomalies and gridding) and includes the effect of infilling.
The All Absolute Approach used by Goddard gives a somewhat biased impression of what is actually happening, as using absolute temperatures when raw and adjusted series don’t have the same stations reporting each month will introduce errors due to differing station temperatures (caused by elevation and similar factors). Using anomalies avoids this issue by looking at the difference from the mean for each station, rather than the absolute temperature. This is the same reason why we use anomalies rather than absolutes in creating regional temperature records, as anomalies deal with changing station composition.
The figure shown above also incorrectly deals with data from 2014. Because it is treating the first four months of 2014 as complete data for the entire year, it gives them more weight than other months, and risks exaggerating the effect of incomplete reporting or any seasonal cycle in the adjustments. We can correct this problem by showing lagging 12-month averages rather than yearly values, as shown in the figure below. When we look at the data this way, the large spike in 2014 shown in the All Absolute Approach is much smaller.
There is still a small spike in the last few months, likely due to incomplete reporting in April 2014, but its much smaller than in the annual chart.
While Goddard’s code and plot produced a mathematically correct result, the procedure he chose (#1 The All Absolute Approach) comparing absolute raw USHCN data and absolute finalized USHCN data, was not, and it allowed non-climatic differences between the two datasets, likely caused by missing data (late reports) to create the spike artifact in the first four months of 2014 and somewhat overstated the difference between adjusted and raw temperatures by using absolute temperatures rather than anomalies.