Steve McIntyre always told us to “watch the pea under the thimble” when it comes to climate change pronouncements, this is one of those cases. Yesterday, to much media fanfare, wailing, and gnashing of teeth NOAA pronounced that 2015 was the hottest year on record, ever! There’s only one problem with that…the Internet never forgets. Back in 1997 after the super El Nino made global temperatures soar, NOAA/NCDC produced this report:
Source: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/199713 (h/t to Tom Nelson)
In that 1997 report, they say clearly that the Global Average Temperature (GAT) was 62.45°F, based on a 30-year average (1961-1990) of the combined land and sea surface temperatures. Since we know the 1997 El Nino caused a record high spike in temperature, that means that for that 30 year period, there was no warmer GAT than 62.45°F up until that time.
Yet in 2015, the claim for the “warmest ever” GAT is different:
During 2015, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all 136 years in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record set last year by 0.29°F (0.16°C) and marking the fourth time a global temperature record has been set this century.
( Note that they link in that quote, to an image which does not exist: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/service/global/global-land-ocean-mntp-anom/201501-201512.png )
In the 2015 Annual State of the Climate report referenced above, NOAA says that the temperature was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average. That’s an important number. While they don’t reference the absolute value of the 20th century average temperature for the globe in that report, we can find it here in the November 2015 State of the Climate Report:
UPDATE: WUWT commenter “brian0918” points out that in other reports, NOAA give the 20th century global average temperature as 57°F – That may be they are referring to the 20th century average for the month of November in the initial report I cited, but don’t make it clear in the language used, or it may be a typo. Even so, it is still lower than 62.45°F. I made the corrections in the title and in the body of this post.
So here is the math for the claims, for 2015, to get the number, we have to add the yearly variation from the 20th century average to it to get the absolute number:
GAT for 20th century = 55.2°F GAT for 1997 = 62.45°F GAT for 2015 is 1.62°F + 55.2°F = 56.82°F In any universe, 56.82°F is lower than 62.45°F by 5.63 degrees Fahrenheit.
UPDATE: (using the 57°F 20th century GAT mentioned in comments)
GAT for 20th century = 57°F
GAT for 1997 = 62.45°F
GAT for 2015 is 1.62°F + 57°F = 58.62°F
In any universe, 58.62°F is lower than 62.45°F by 3.83 degrees Fahrenheit.
Of course, apologists and NOAA itself will run to their statistical hidey-hole and say that the 1997 value isn’t about the 20th century temperature comparison, but only compared to the “30-year average (1961-1990) of the combined land and sea surface temperatures.”, and therefore the comparison is not a valid one. (Meanwhile NASA GISS uses a 1951 to 1980 baseline for their historical temperature claims today, which is an arbitrary choice) But, I say it doesn’t matter what they say. NOAA is charged with presenting factual evidence in the context of climatic history, and when they make claims of absolute temperature, they need to be darn sure they get it right. Otherwise, the press, supporters of the cause like Seth Borenstein at AP, and the folks at the Washington Post just blindly regurgitate what NOAA says without questioning it.
To give an example of how the media can’t even do basic fact checking anymore, I calculated the GAT for 2015 is 1.62°F + 55.2°F = 56.82°F Simple math, right? Yet somehow, in press reports, that number got transposed to 58.62°F. Just look:
(UPDATE: If the 57F 20th century GAT value is used referenced in updates above, then we get the 58.62 number that is cited – while my math was correct, I relied on the context from the November, SOTC report, which was not clear, I’ve made the appropriate corrections.)
It appears that the source of that 58.62 number in error was Seth Borenstein at the Associated Press, though I can’t tell if he made the error himself, or quoted NOAA. This is what he wrote in the AP story:
NOAA said 2015’s temperature was 58.62 degrees Fahrenheit (14.79 degrees Celsius), passing 2014 by a record margin of 0.29 degrees. That’s 1.62 degrees above the 20th-century average. NASA, which measures differently, said 2015 was 0.23 degrees warmer than the record set in 2014 and 1.6 degrees above 20th century average.
The point to be made here is that NOAA professes to be an expert at telling the public what the temperature is, when so many contradictions and errors creep into what is presented to the public, we should all learn to take what NOAA says, and what the media says with a grain of salt.
When you look at temperature that isn’t biased by continuous adjustments, such as NOAA’s highly questionable fiddling with sea surface temperature data this year, you find that 2015 was not the hottest record at all according to the U.S> Climate Reference Network data, which is a state of the art system designed to need no “corrections” of any kind. 2015 comes in third for the USA:
While that USCRN data only spans a little more than a decade, it is instructive for comparison to claims made. NOAA doesn’t seem to like referencing this state of the art USCRN system in their public reports, preferring instead to rely on their old, messy, error prone, and highly adjusted COOP/USHCN network which has been shown to have significant biases. They claim in their SOTC report from Jan 2016 that it was the 2nd hottest year on record for the CONUS:
In 2015, the contiguous United States (CONUS) average temperature was 54.4°F, 2.4°F above the 20th century average. This was the second warmest year in the 121-year period of record for the CONUS.
As I’ve said before, NOAA can’t seem to keep historical temperatures static, and thus the claims made referencing them, accurate. They change from month to month, and when there is no firmament to the history they present, why trust them?
Dr. John Christy said it best:
“If you want the truth about an issue, would you go to an agency with political appointees?” Christy said. “The government is not the final word on the truth.”
If NOAA can’t keep a simple claim accurate, such as what the GAT was in 1997 versus 2015, why indeed should we trust them? We shouldn’t, we should question everything, always, because it seems the global temperature is not only nothing more than a statistical construct, it is as fickle as the political wind.
I’ll have more on this story via updates.
UPDATE: Dr Richard Lindzen notes:
MIT climate scientist Dr. Richard Lindzen balked at claims of the ‘hottest year’ based on ground based temperature data.
“Frankly, I feel it is proof of dishonesty to argue about things like small fluctuations in temperature or the sign of a trend. Why lend credibility to this dishonesty?” Lindzen, an emeritus Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT, told Climate Depot shortly after the announcements.
“All that matters is that for almost 40 years, model projections have almost all exceeded observations. Even if all the observed warming were due to greenhouse emissions, it would still point to low sensitivity,” Lindzen continued.
“But, given the ‘pause.’ we know that natural internal variability has to be of the same order as any other process,” Lindzen wrote.
Lindzen has previously mocked ‘warmest’ or ‘hottest’ year proclamations.