Inconvenient Thermometers

Surfacestations.org and this is a project that is photographing and documenting the quality of the stations in their placements around the United States.

GLENN: All right, you sick twisted freak. We told you last week that there is a big global warming convention going on in New York with, all the scientists getting back together to talk about global warming, except this one is different. These are all the scientists getting together saying I don’t think so but tonight the press just won’t cover it. Tonight we’re covering it as if it’s the second coming of Jesus. We’re spending a whole half hour on it. We have the president of the Czech Republic on with us and a couple of other scientists. Right now we have Anthony Watts on. He is a meteorologist and he is a guy who decided to look at all of the temperature readings because remember, temperature’s going up. So he wanted to look at all the thermometers and every thermometer that is taking these readings and Anthony, what exactly did you find?

WATTS: Well, Glenn, I kind of stumbled into this. This was a project started on serendipity. I started out looking at paint. You may call seeing some of the early weather shelters that are housing the thermometers. They look like chicken coops on stilts that are white with slots and so forth. Anyway, to make a long story short, the weather bureau designed them back in the 1800s and they lasted until now, some of them still in use. They changed the paint in ’79. A long time ago I had a conversation with the state climatologist of California about them and we wondered if the change in paint, the original spec was the old Tom Sawyer whitewash because they were designed in the 1890s and they changed the paint check in 1979 to latex. So I wanted to do an experiment about finding out whether that paint made a difference. The first thing I had to do was determine if, in fact, the stations had been repainted. So I went around to look at three of them in my area and the first one I went to had been automated but it had the radio transmitter, the electronics right next to the temperature sensor, six inches away and I thought that was really odd. Who puts electronics that makes heat next to the temperature sensor. I figured it was a fluke. I went on to the next station about 30 miles to the West Orland, California and it was perfect. Everything looked good. So I just assumed it was a fluke. And then I went to another station in Marysville, California at the fire station and it was a new design and I discovered that the fire chief parked his vehicle, radiator end, right next to the sensor within about two feet of the sensor. And the sensor was next to this cell phone building that they had put in there. They dropped in these portable cell phone buildings because the city had rented out space there, the fire station, for a cell phone tower and I could feel air conditioning exhaust from the air-conditioners cooling those electronics, blowing around the sensor. So I had two out of three now that said, wait a minute, these aren’t good measurement environments.

So my project changed from looking at paint to looking at stations all around the country.

GLENN: And so — and you did. And is it surfacestatistics.org?

WATTS: Surfacestations.org and this is a project that is photographing and documenting the quality of the stations in their placements around the United States. There are 1221 official climate monitoring stations in the United States operated by NOAA. The data that come from these is used by researchers worldwide and so it’s extremely important to know what the environment that the temperature is being measured in.

GLENN: Okay. So now I’m looking at this and you have pictures and graphs and everything else and some of the pictures of the — well, here’s the picture of the one with the firehouse. I mean, it’s — I mean, look at that. It is sitting there on asphalt. I mean, who — how much — have you looked at all of them yet here in the United States?

WATTS: So far — I have a volunteer organization and these are just people that are just interested in finding out just like myself, a volunteer organization that has covered a good portion of this, the network. We’re now up to 502 stations out of 1221. We still have a lot of them to go, particularly in the Midwest because a lot of the stations there are located in the agricultural belt on farms and private ranchers and things of that nature and a little more difficult to locate and get to. But out of 502 stations surveyed thus far we found the vast majority of them to be out of compliance of NOAA’s own published specifications for station sighting and these stations at the bare minimum, they have something called the 100 foot rule. The 100 foot rule says if you are going to place an official thermometer for use in measuring climate, weather, whatever, it needs to be 100 feet away from asphalt, concrete, automobiles, buildings and other such influences that might bias the temperature.

GLENN: My gosh, I’m just looking at some of these pictures on the website. You’ve got one in Oregon that is — I mean, it’s just surrounded by equipment and asphalt and it’s — is it on top of a roof as well?

WATTS: I think you may be looking at the one in Roseburg, Oregon?

GLENN: Yeah, yeah.

WATTS: Okay, that was taken by the state climatologist in Oregon, George Taylor, who was just recently under fire from the governor there.

GLENN: Yeah, I know.

WATTS: To step down because George was saying things the governor didn’t approve of. Yes L with, yes, that one’s on a roof. It’s at a radio station in Roseburg, Oregon. It is on the roof next to an air conditioning unit and that is the official climate monitoring station for Roseburg, Oregon. And yes, it is used in the records.

GLENN: So what is the — so what do you think the total variance is of, you know, plus or minus so many degrees Celsius? What is the error rate, do you suppose?

WATTS: Well, I can tell you individually about stations. NOAA has a reference that they do —

GLENN: You know what? I don’t mean to be — I don’t mean to be rude, Anthony, but I’m being told I’ve only got about 10 seconds. Do you have a short answer?

WATTS: Short answer is I don’t know the total for all the United States but I can tell you that things that are on a rooftop are typically going to read as much as 5 degrees higher.

GLENN: Oh, my gosh. Anthony, thank you so much. We’ll look for you at the convention in New York. These are the scientists that are saying, wait a minute, hold your horses on global warming.