How not to measure temperature, British facepalm edition

I had to share this “laugh out loud” moment from Bishop Hill and the photo of this weather station. Andrew Montford writes:


Settled science

Much amusement is to be had from a posting at a blog called Sudden Oak Life. The author has recorded images of the Radcliffe surface temperature station in Oxford, part of the Central England Temperature Record and one of the longest temperature records there is.

It’s fair to say the quality of the record has declined since the 18th century.


That red thing with the hose and the exhaust stack is a space heater for the tent. Note the Stevenson Screen to the right and the automated weather station to the left. Note also that the station is boxed in pretty well with trees and infrastructure, and now we have this heated tent.

Located at the college is Radcliffe Observatory, home of the Radcliffe meteorological station, which has provided weather data since 1767 and constitutes the “longest series of temperature and rainfall records for one site in Britain“. This station is part of the Central England Temperature record that purports to be “the longest instrumental record of temperature in the world“. Thus, with regards to surface observations on climate, this station is one of, if not, is the most important weather station in the world. I’ve been intrigued by this station ever since I saw it in the mid 90s, and have wondered what the area was like more than 200 years ago, and how the subsequent urbanization has affected those weather records.

133 thoughts on “How not to measure temperature, British facepalm edition

      • The Radcliffe data is not used in CET. Here is an extract to a question I asked of the Met office a few days ago on a relatd subject and was posted on the site linked to
        “I was in contact with the Met Office a couple of weeks ago concerning CET and this response directly relates to the use of Radcliffe;
        “I note your thoughts on possible inconsistencies/inhomogeneities/’incongruities’ also; of course with best scientific interests at heart, we do ensure as much as possible that any changes in the stations used (and currently we use Stonyhurst, Pershore College and Rothamsted) are allowed for by doing an overlap comparison, so that not just biases but changes in standard deviations of these stations are allowed for to get a series that is as closely homogeneous as possible.’
        My bigger concern would be the use of Ringway for years, which of course grew to be Manchester International airport which might partially explain the 1990’s CET ‘hump.’
        Having said that the Radcliffe is a useful historical record and more care should be taken with the things that can influence it, such as overhanging trees. How much effect a space heater would have on the reading is debatable.

      • @Climate reason Told us hours ago that the station is no longer used for CET
        So shouldn’t the post have an update ? saying “the most important weather station in the world. ” is a bit misleading if it’s temperature measurements are not really counted in the main system, and are just used sometimes by the local newspaper stories.
        Tony’s post below was probably buried after a commenter thru in some anti-Republican spam

    • AP FACT CHECK: On climate science, most GOP candidates fail
      Associated Press
      13 hours ago
      This from that S*B we all know about, has eight “Climate Scientists” including ‘Mikey’ who rated all of the Demo and Rep candidates for POTUS and that Hilarious Lady came out on top, and Ted Cruz came out on the bottom. With a kindergartner rating from Mikey for Ex Sen Ted.
      I live with a kinderteacher, and those kids are not even literate in their own language.
      So Mikey came up with the ultimate insult for Sen Cruz, who seemed to be the only one of the candidates who is even aware of the outcome of Lord M of B’s algorithmic prestidigitation, that shows nyet on GW for the last 18 yrs and 9 mths.
      I think Trump came in second (from the bottom). Hillary and Bernie Sanders are genius level in their knowledge of ” climate science “.
      But this close to the Paris love in, I suspect that Hillary’s view is ” What difference, at this point, does it make ?”
      For some reason, Jeb Bush scored a perfect ten on all of the questions, and I think he was the leading Rep candidate on that score. Maybe Republicans are only counted as half persons, because I think Hillary only scored a 96 or thereabouts. I thought you needed to make 97% to even be considered credible.
      I don’t expect world Temperatures to go down one degree C after the Paris festival.

  1. You have to be trying to fail this badly. Yes, it’s 20 feet away and that’s the inlet air, not outlet, but it increases airflow in the area, providing artificial wind, and the heater itself provides radiant heat. The total result is an unpredictable mess. It doesn’t matter for actual use, but we are talking measurements to the tenth of a degree. That’s not trivial.

    • It’s worse than that. You can add the fact that that tent will be significantly warmer than ambient (why else would you have a heater), the somewhat random leakage of air from the tent, and, since it looks like a tent for meetings or parties, the body heat of a large group of people.

      • If there is a net rate of flow of warmed air into the tent, then there will be an equivalent rate of flow of leakage of warmed air out of the tent (conservation of mass).
        I.e., ALL of the warming effect, including the heater exhaust, becomes part of the ambient environment, sooner rather than later.

      • Stephen R
        From the first picture it looks like 30 feet or so – nine or ten metres (ish) – between the Stevenson screen and even the lower temperature end of the red heater.
        By eye.
        Bit more. Bit less.
        PS tenths of a degree matter, r e a l l y matter – even if most of the globe [the oceans] is measured to perhaps a fifth of a degree – as best the seaman can.
        Use a bucket; sub-surface intake; Met. Office bucket; ER Cooling water temperatures [which may be 15 or 20 metres below the surface].

    • The tent is not insulated, so I’m pretty sure there is a non-trivial amount of radiant heat coming from it.
      There’s also the exhaust coming from the heater, if the station is down wind of it, there will be occasional spikes of heat coming from it as well.

      • MarkW says: November 23, 2015 at 2:41 pm
        . Beyond that there is radiative heat. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?
        radiant heat does not affect a Stevenson screen – removing the effect of direct radiation from the sun is what they are designed to do. They measure air temperature

    • 2 C = 3.6 F. The formula, F=9/5C+32 only works for absolute temperartures not deltas. Each degree C is 9/5* a degree F.

    • The Guardian article is fixed:

      • This article was amended on 23 November 2015to correct the conversion of temperature changes from celsius to fahrenheit

      Except for punctuation and other grammatical stuff….

  2. Could someone more knowledgeable explain the [plug], is that incoming or outgoing power?

    • Tom in no heaters required Florida
      November 23, 2015 at 12:11 pm

      Could someone more knowledgeable explain the [plug], is that incoming or outgoing power?

      The plug is “incoming power” (electric power going TO the space heater) that provides fossil-fueled power for the AC fan inside the red cylinder.
      The gas (liquid fossil fuel) is in a tank below the hollow red cylinder, it is pumped up into the burner inside the red can, burns, is exhausted out through the small smokestack (the vent pipe on top).
      The very hot (fossil-fueled) flames heat the inner liner of the red can, which then heats the cold air (being sucked into the can by the fan), which then discharges into the flexible (made of fossil-fueled plastic) hose which directs the newly hot-but-exhaust-free air into the duct (which is uninsulated-thereby-losing-a-LOT-of-fossil-fueled-heat) to the tent. The tent, apparently, is out-of-picture towards the left.

      • Heh… a minute apart, RA. If Tom doesn’t lust in his heart for one of those puppies, even if he does live in Florida, then he’ll just have to give up his ‘man’ card.
        Weld up some appropriate racking and just think of all the hot dogs you could roast in front of one of those!
        (Channeling Tim the Tool Man Urnhh! Urnhh! Unrhh!)

    • Tom,
      It looks like a good old-fashioned kerosene heater to me. Check out the exhaust stack. The electricity controls the ignition, thermostat, probably the fan speed, and some safety circuitry (for example, there’s usually a detector that makes sure the fan is running or the unit will shut down).

    • Thanks for the info. I am sure it was obvious to most but the last time I saw one of those was a loooong time ago when I worked for the U S Post Office in MIlford CT and the station manager forgot to order heating oil. It was Feb and when we went in at 4 AM to sort mail and the building was about 20 F. They were able to bring in the kerosene heaters around 7 AM, actually pretty quick by postal standards.

  3. In the Comments section of the linked Montford article there’s a guy that carries forward the flag for (to paraphrase) ‘well I say most of the heat is carried up the smokestack and besides the white background on the station could conceivably cause fluctuations in the air temp anyway and there is just no way that you should be all excited about what’s going on here anyway’ He entered the fray several times finishing with a flourish ‘well is that enough of of my petulant snide remarks for you?’ No he didn’t even say that paraphrased but it sure smelled like it!

  4. Why don’t they just attach their Prince Chucky’s mouth to the intake vent hose and dispense with the kerosene heater unit? Vast quantities of heated air are regularly emitted from his royalness’s jowls. Or is it his buttocks? They seem rather similar to this Yank.

  5. Its not simply the convective heat they need to worry about, but also the radiative heat both from the heater and the tent. If this is running on a cold anticyclonic night (for a party) with a heavy inversion, the convective heat isn’t going anywhere fast, and the radiative output impacting the screen could be significant.

  6. Oxford’s UHI?
    What about the impact of the 27 chimney flues visible in the photo.
    With a population of 150,200 I guestimate Oxford has at least 50,000 gas furnaces assuming 3 persons per furnace.
    MetLink “Weather for Teachers in England, Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland discusses:
    Urban Heat Island Introduction
    It shows the The development of Birmingham’s UHI on the night of the 22nd July 2013, during a heat wave. That shows a 5 deg C UHI!
    It then confidenteltly cites the IPCC(2007)

    Recent studies confirm that effects of urbanisation and land use change on the global temperature record are negligible (less than 0.006°C per decade over land and zero over the ocean) as far as hemispheric and continental-scale averages are concerned

    A 1000 x difference is conveniently swept under the carpet!

    • Most of those chimneys are inop leftovers from the days when you had a fireplace in every room you wanted warm. Pretty much all boiler heat these days.

    • In many cases, in older houses like that with a gas fired boiler installed in one of the fireplaces, the flu gases are still sent up the chimneys.

  7. More idiocy from here in the UK as the Guardian environment correspondent Fiona Harvey doesn’t know the difference between actual temperature and degrees of difference.
    “Without a Paris agreement, global warming is set to reach as much as 5C (41F) above pre-industrial levels. Scientists estimate that warming above 2C (35.6F) will result in catastrophic and irreversible changes to the weather, including droughts, floods, heatwaves, fiercer storms and sea level rises.”

    • ‘Pre-industrial’ means before 1800 which was called the Little Ice Age.
      I keep saying, they use that colder than normal era as the motherlode for how warm it should be. Back then, the Thames froze over regularly, for example.

      • So if we get ‘warming’ of -5 C – that is pretty [insert magnifying expletive of choice] significantly cooler (!!!! May we be spared!) – it will still – per the Grauniad’s resident genius – reflect a 23 F rise.
        After nearly half a century in shipping, I’ll keep my expletives to myself, but – really??!!??!?!?
        Auto, reeling at the lack of educated sub-editors . . . . . .

      • ems,
        In fairness – possibly mentioned before – the Thames was channelled between the Victoria and Albert Embankments (during the Victorian Era).
        This narrowed the channel, so sped the waters, so reduced the likelihood of freezing – for any given ambient [sub-zero] temperature.
        When the Thames – in London – was wider and shallower – so the river bank was the strand – now The Strand – flow was much slower, so freezing, frost fairs etc. more likely.
        But – if it was colder [see Little Ice Age] freezing was more likely – at least in ‘bad’ ( =cold) winters.

    • It’s not idiocy, it’s innumeracy. The woman is innumerate. She is not fit for purpose; she does not understand what she is writing about.
      (apologies for sounding a bit like John Cleese returning a parrot)

    • More idiocy from here in the UK as the Guardian environment correspondent Fiona Harvey doesn’t know the difference between actual temperature and degrees of difference.

      Those who can, do.
      Those who can’t, teach.
      Those who clueless about either, work in newspapers & TV

  8. The question is, ‘who’ is supposedly in charge of this institution?
    Why would didn’t he or she simply instruct staff to relocate the heater?
    Someone failed in their simplest of duties.

    • Even with the heater in a different place, there is the issue of this big balloon of hot air called a tent.

  9. Why bother to adjust the figures after the fact – some sceptic might catch on to the trick and make you look like a charlatan- so warm up the thermometer instead (not too much, and not the same every day, it’s got to look real) – and this picture shows how you do it (from the handbook for cli-sci beginners)..

  10. Sigh,, you know the people who put up the tent & the heater, they probably don’t even have a clue. The temperature station is just scenery to them. No more of note then a wall, monument or statue. The person responsible for the station may not even be aware of the “incursion” .

      • I was thinking that the reading might be remotely recorded. If someone is physical going to the station and sees this abomination then…. he’s either an idiot or the campus administrators are.
        Do you laugh or do you cry?

  11. They probably had difficulty “adjusting” the temperature data to fit the alarmist theme without being caught out so used the space heater to “adjust” the raw data instead / sarc.

  12. I am confused. In which direction is the heated air from that red machine moving? Is the machine sending warm air into the tent through the hose? Or is it extracting air from the tent and blowing it towards the Stevenson screen?

    • Yes, it is sending hot air into the tent. But it is very hot itself. When the wind blows toward the recording station, it’s heat will effect the readings. Even the the heat from the tent itself could effect the station when the wind is low.
      Any readings from it could easily be influenced by ALW. (Anthropomorphic Local Warming)

      • Hot air enters the tent. Hot exhaust comes out of the pipe with the cap above it. The exhaust doesn’t go into the tent!

    • No matter where the heat is going, the bottom line is that if you burn a fossil fuel, you get heat, and plenty of it. Then Newton’s law of cooling kicks in, and the tent/heater/fuel complex all gradually cool down, giving up their heat to the surroundings. That would include the Stevenson screen to some extent.

    • Resourceguy November 23, 2015 at 1:01 pm
      We have arrived at meek future of H.G. Wells.
      And this bothers me how? ;-D

  13. Aw, c’mon, be fair, the whole thing, tent, heater and all probably were there for 36 hours in total, and certainly not during any rain. Rain would get into the electrical socket and discombobulate the whole thing in a quite spectacular fashion.
    I had one of these things for a function years ago. It went up Saturday pm, the heater ran from 17:00 to Midnight and the whole thing, including a full kitchen, was gone by Sunday Noon.

    • According to the article, it’s put up once a month. Since it’s a min/max, it would affect a single day.
      It wouldn’t be such a problem if they weren’t claiming accuracy to tenths or hundredths of a degree. Even then, it’s more the principle of the matter. Climate change is important enough to spend billions on just measuring tempearture and commit to tens of trillions of dollars of expenses because of it, but you can’t be bothered to not contaminate your temperature records.

    • I looked at Google Maps and the tent is clearly seen in the satellite view along with the weather station. The Stevenson box looks about 30 feet from the tent.

  14. Isn’t that a heater blowing hot air into the function tent? The end that is pointing towards the weather station should be sucking in cold air. There would be very little effect from the exhaust stack.

    • Which way is the wind blowing? When global temps are recorded to 0.00 degrees, a slight breeze in the direction of the station would have an effect. Even a still night would.
      (Has anyone recorded the siting of the UK stations as our host has the US stations?)

    • The biggest effect would be the huge tent filled with people and so much hot air that they needed to get a fired heater radiating heat all over the area.

    • Every molecule of heated air blown into that tent is leaking out somewhere. If it weren’t, the tent would blow up like a balloon until it pops. If the breeze is towards the weather station than that’s a lot of heat moving that way. Beyond that there is radiative heat. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

    • “There would be very little effect from the exhaust stack.”
      Then measure it!
      But very little effect is the worst. We are talking about climatology here!
      A very large effect would be good: a sudden large temp jump would indicate something fishy and someone would notice (right? RIGHT?).
      Even a moderate jump could be detected. But a small change:
      is undetectable over a very noisy background (like local temp), even with the best tools
      – contaminates the average data
      is not taken into account in the uncertainty metric, because it cannot be measured
      For weather computations, small errors probably don’t matter. For climatology, when we are talking an average change rate of about 1 K per century, it certainly does;

  15. “Thus, with regards to surface observations on climate, this station is one of, if not, is the most important weather station in the world. “
    It isn’t contributing data to any of the major indices. It isn’t in GHCN V3. It was de-listed in 1980.

  16. If they also record wind direction at the site, I’m sure they could prove CAGW when the site is downwind.
    (But who want’s to be downwind of a pile of BS?8-)

      • Teddle
        Well, Maybe Google got lucky . . . . .
        And – of course – they might have not, and it’s there 4/7/365 .. .. .. . . .
        Check local planning application if it might have been up for a bit . . .

      • I liked the view of the black asphalt parking lots to,the south, and the two asphalt tennis courts to the east…

    • And the pie/pizza shop, and the A4144 road, and the dry cleaners, and university, and residential etc. I know how man influences temperatures.

    • The dome of the Radcliffe Observatory casts a shadow to the north across the tent into the grass beyond, so the white dot at the upper left of the shadow must be the Stevenson screen. The camera had to be in the grass on the right (east) shooting straight west across the north edge of the tent.
      The same view is available via Google Earth, and the yardstick says the north west corner of the tent is 22 feet away from the Stevenson Screen, which will make the distance to the heater about the same (~20 ft).

  17. The CET was a ‘weird creature’ before 1990.
    In the winter Atlantic Ocean keeps Oxford (51N) much warmer than say New York (40N) despite being more than 10 degrees further North.
    But curious thing about it is: In the winter when the N. Atlantic was warmer the CET winter got colder and vice versa ?!
    Then came along 1990, the CET got to its senses.and started behaving as expected.
    note that the NA SST scale is inverted.
    What is going on here?
    In the winter when the jet stream is predominantly ‘zonal’, the CET area gets warm south westerlies bringing warm air (sea surface is warmer than land). If the jet stream has ‘meridional’ orientation prevailing winds are from N-NW bringing in the Arctic’s cold air.
    I think that for some reason the NA SST – polar jet stream orientation relationship has flipped ?!
    Anyone ?

  18. The picture is taken during daytime. At night the heater is connected directly to the Stevenson Screen, in order to adjust the recorded temperature.

  19. It would seem easy enough to experiment and discover what the device actually does when running. If anyone actually cared about accuracy and data.

  20. No one pumps heat out of a house except in summer, and would not use a heater to do so. Clearly this is an intake unit. So What. Radiant heat from over 40 ft away will be in hundredths of a degree if any.

    • Radiant heat plus all that nice warm air leaking from the tent.
      Regardless, hundredths of a degree would just about cancel out global warming.

  21. Quote:-The Central England Temperature series (HadCET)
    These series are representative of an area from the south Midlands to Lancashire.
    Series are produced for maximum, minimum and mean temperature – both daily and monthly.
    Data from a small number of stations are used, the 2007 core network being Rothamsted (Herts), Pershore (Worcs) and Stonyhurst (Lancs).
    Any effects of urbanisation are minimised by comparison with nearby rural stations.
    Estimates of the uncertainty associated with the values are available at all timescales, from daily to annual.

  22. Meanwhile, near the antipodes of Oxford, the historic Melbourne Regional weather station, BOM 86071, is now stripped of instruments. So, we have gained an inner city picnic spot behind that black wire mesh.
    Yes, this is the station that was prominent in questions arising about the quality of BOM temperature data. All gone now. End of stories. Nothing to see here.

  23. In Hawaii we prefer them aside the Tarmac of the landing field. That is where they are in all four counties. Interestingly enough, Honolulu has a back up weather station a half mile away on a barren coral bed, near a freeway. But it always reports about 2F less than the “official” station, daytime . The meteorologist consider that temperature closer to the real one.
    But may not report it to NOAA via strict orders

    • In Hawaii we prefer them aside the Tarmac of the landing field. That is where they are in all four counties. Interestingly enough, Honolulu has a back up weather station a half mile away on a barren coral bed, near a freeway. But it always reports about 2F less than the “official” station, daytime . The meteorologist consider that temperature closer to the real one.

      Here is a sample of IR readings from a clear sky day, starting at 6:30pm, 11:00pm, 12:00pm, then 6:30am.
      These temps came from my front yard, concrete sidewalk that I measure as I walk to the driveway which is asphalt. From early afternoon, as it gets later, more and more of the sidewalk is in the shade.

  24. I know that site rather well. It used to be occupied by the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford’s oldest hospital. I was born therein.

  25. Once CAGW is finally dead and buried, real scientists will have the arduous task of correcting all the manipulative “adjustments” CAGW advocates have made to raw temperature data and to weather station sites over the past 30 years.
    As it stands now, HADCRUT4 and GISTEMP have almost become meaningless temp anomaly data sets due to all the unfounded “fixing” of data to meet the various CAGW agendas.

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