Poorly sited U.S. temperature instruments not responsible for artificial warming

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 5:57 PM GMT on January 25, 2010

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Former TV weatherman Anthony Watts, who runs the popular global warming contrarian website, "Watts Up With That", was convinced that many of the U.S. network of surface weather stations had serious flaws in their siting that was causing an artificial warm bias in the observed increase in U.S. temperatures of 1.1°F over the past century. To address this concern, Watts established the website surfacestations.org in 2007, which enlisted an army of volunteers to travel the U.S. to obtain photographic evidence of poor siting of weather stations. The goal was to document cases where "microclimate" influence was important, and could be contaminating temperature measurements. (Note that this is a separate issue from the Urban Heat Island, the phenomenon where a metropolitan area in general is warmer than surrounding rural areas). Watts' volunteers--650 strong--documented the siting of 865 of the 1,218 stations used in the National Climatic Data Center's U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) for tracking climate change. As reported in Watt's 2009 publication put out by the Heartland Institute, the volunteers "found stations located next to the exhaust fans of air conditioning units, surrounded by asphalt parking lots and roads, on blistering-hot rooftops, and near sidewalks and buildings that absorb and radiate heat." Watts surmised that these poorly-sited stations were responsible for much of the increase in U.S. temperatures over the past century, due to "a bias trend that likely results from the thermometers being closer to buildings, asphalt, etc." Watts concluded, "the U.S. temperature record is unreliable. And since the U.S. record is thought to be the best in the world, it follows that the global database is likely similarly compromised and unreliable".


Figure 1. A poorly sited temperature sensor in Marysville, California, used for the USHCN. The sensor is situation right next to an asphalt parking lot, instead in the middle of a grassy field, as it is supposed to be. The sensor is also adjacent to several several air conditioners that blow their exhaust into the air nearby. Image credit: surfacestation.org.

Analysis of the data disagrees with Watts' conclusion
While Watts' publication by the Heartland Institute is a valuable source of information on siting problems of the U.S. network of weather stations, the publication did not undergo peer-review--the process whereby three anonymous scientists who are experts in the field review a manuscript submitted for publication, and offer criticisms on the scientific validity of the results, resulting in revisions to the original paper or outright rejection. The Heartland Institute is an advocacy organization that accepts money from corporate benefactors such as the tobacco industry and fossil fuel industry, and publishes non-peer reviewed science that inevitably supports the interests of the groups paying for the studies. Watts did not actually analyze the data to see if taking out the poorly sited surface stations would have a significant impact on the observed 1.1°F increase in U.S. temperatures over the past century. His study would never have been publishable in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.


Figure 2. Annual average maximum and minimum unadjusted temperature change calculated using (c) maximum and (d) minimum temperatures from good and poor exposure sites (Menne 2010). Poor sites showed a cooler maximum temperature compared to good sites. For minimum temperature, the poor sites were slightly warmer. The net effect was a cool bias in poorly sited stations. The dashed lines are for stations ranked by NOAA, while the solid lines are for the stations ranked by surfacestations.org.

Fortunately, a proper analysis of the impact of these poorly-sited surface stations on the U.S. historical temperature record has now been done by Dr. Matthew Menne and co-authors at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). In a talk at last week's 90th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society, Dr. Menne reported the results of their new paper just accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research titled, On the reliability of the U.S. Surface Temperature Record. Dr. Menne's study split the U.S. surface stations into two categories: good (rating 1 or 2) and bad (ratings 3, 4 or 5). They performed the analysis using both the rating provided by surfacestations.org, and from an independent rating provided by NOAA personnel. In general, the NOAA-provided ratings coincided with the ratings given by surfacestations.org. Of the NOAA-rated stations, only 71 stations fell into the "good" siting category, while 454 fell into the "bad" category. According to the authors, though, "the sites with good exposure, though small in number, are reasonably well distributed across the country and, as shown by Vose and Menne [2004], are of sufficient density to obtain a robust estimate of the CONUS average". Dr. Menne's study computed the average daily minimum and maximum temperatures from the good sites and poor sites. The results were surprising. While the poor sites had a slightly warmer average minimum temperature than the good sites (by 0.03°C), the average maximum temperature measured at the poor sites was significantly cooler (by 0.14°C) than the good sites. As a result, overall average temperatures measured at the poor sites were cooler than the good sites. This is the opposite of the conclusion reached by Anthony Watts in his 2009 Heartland Institute publication.

Why did the poorly sited stations measure cooler temperatures?
The reason why the poorly-sites stations measured cooler temperatures lies in the predominant types of thermometers used at the two types of sites. An electronic Maximum/Minimum Temperature System (MMTS) is used at 75% of the poor sites. These MMTS sensors are attached by cable to an indoor readout device, and are consequently limited by cable length as to how far they can be sited from the building housing the indoor readout device. As a result, they are often located close to heated buildings, paved surfaces, air conditioner exhausts, etc. It turns out that these MMTS thermometers have a flaw that causes them to measure minimum temperatures that are slightly too warm, and maximum temperatures that are considerably too cool, leading to an overall cool bias in measured average temperatures. In contrast, only 30% of the "good" sites used the MMTS sensors. The "good" sites predominantly used Liquid in Glass (LiG) thermometers housed in wooden shelters that were more easily located further from the buildings where the observers worked. Since the poorly-sites stations were dominantly equipped with MMTS thermometers, they tended to measure temperatures that were too cool, despite their poor siting.


Figure 3. Comparison of U.S. average annual (a) maximum and (b) minimum temperatures calculated using USHCN version 2 temperatures. Temperatures were adjusted to correct for changes in instrumentation, station relocations, and changes in the time of observation, making the trend from good sites show close agreement with poor sites. Good and poor site ratings are based on surfacestations.org. For comparison, the data between 2004 - 2008 taken by the new high-quality U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN, black dashed line) is shown, and displays excellent agreement for that time period. Image credit: Menne 2010.

Independent verification of recent USHCN annual temperatures
Clearly, the siting of many of the surface stations used to track climate change in the U.S. is not good. To address this issue, in 2004 NOAA created the U.S. Climate Reference Network, a collection of 114 stations in the continental United States for the express purpose of detecting the national signal of climate change. The stations were sited and instrumented with climate studies in mind, and can provide an extremely high-quality independent check on the old USHCN network. Each of 114 stations at 107 locations (some stations were installed as nearby pairs) is equipped with very accurate instruments in a triplicate configuration so that each measurement can be checked for internal consistency. As shown in Figure 3, the USCRN air temperature departures for 2004 - 2008 are extremely well aligned with those derived from the USHCN version 2 temperature data. For these five years, the the difference between the mean annual temperatures measured by the old USHCN compared to the new USCRN was just 0.03°C, with a mathematical correlation coefficient (r-squared) of 0.997. Menne et al. concluded, "This finding provides independent verification that the USHCN version 2 data are consistent with research-quality measurements taken at pristine locations and do not contain spurious trends during the recent past even if sampled exclusively at poorly sited stations. While admittedly this period of coincident observations between the networks is rather brief, the value of the USCRN as a benchmark for reducing the uncertainty of historic observations from the USHCN and other networks will only increase with time". The authors finally concluded, "we find no evidence that the CONUS temperature trends are inflated due to poor siting".

Crediting Anthony Watts
The surfacestations.org effort coordinated by Anthony Watts has made a valuable contribution to science, helping us better understand the nature of the errors in the U.S. historical temperature data set. In his talk last week at the AMS conference, and in the credits of his paper, Dr. Menne had some genuinely grateful comments on the efforts of Anthony Watts and the volunteers of surfacestations.org. However, as of this writing, Watts has made no mention on surfacestations.org or on wattsupwiththat.com of Dr. Menne's study.

I'll have a new post Wednesday or Thursday.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Tazmanian:



you dont think Haiti will be Sinking do you with all the Earthquake they been haveing i no it wont and i hop not but could it?

That section of the plate boundary currently is not a subduction zone, so no it won't sink in any geologically soon time frame. Sheared apart a cm or so per year? Sure, that's what caused this quake. But even that needs a geologic clock, not a wrist watch
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Quoting tornadodude:


LOL what isnt?


I won't stoop to all they want to post...about Bush. Look what Obama and the people he follow are doing....Have fun with all one could publish....under the Clinton's.....LOL...what a joke!
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1226. Patrap
Quoting Skyepony:
Pat~ Thanks for the references. To blame this on a govt conspiracy one must totally forget recent history.. Or maybe that's still being rewritten.

Haiti is on Floater 1, been watching the AVN version for any odd IR emissions that aren't explained by weather. None have been spotted since before the last 6 something after shock. Probably no big ones coming tonight.


Heard you mention that about the IR floater,interesting stuff.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125572
1224. Skyepony (Mod)
Pat~ Thanks for the references. To blame this on a govt conspiracy one must totally forget recent history.. Or maybe that's still being rewritten.

Haiti is on Floater 1, been watching the AVN version for any odd IR emissions that aren't explained by weather. None have been spotted since before the last 6 something after shock. Probably no big ones coming tonight.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting TampaSpin:
This does not make Sense....these should be easing by now.......What the heck is going on.....i really fear something big is coming somewhere else with all this energy being released its building somewhere else....


Earthquake Details
Magnitude 4.9
Date-Time Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 00:57:27 UTC
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 07:57:27 PM at epicenter
Time of Earthquake in other Time Zones

Location 18.380°N, 72.921°W
Depth 10 km (6.2 miles) set by location program
Region HAITI REGION
Distances 65 km (40 miles) WSW of PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti
90 km (55 miles) E of Les Cayes, Haiti
170 km (105 miles) SSW of Cap-Haitien, Haiti
1110 km (690 miles) SE of Miami, Florida





you dont think Haiti will be Sinking do you with all the Earthquake they been haveing i no it wont and i hop not but could it?
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1222. Patrap
Down the Wabbit Hole...

Nighty nite.


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125572
1221. Patrap
Night skyepony...

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125572
Quoting TampaSpin:


Matt its crazy man. Now its a conspiracy on Bush......LOL


LOL what isnt?
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
1219. Patrap
Muzzled under Bush, NASA Scientists Still Face Hurdles Publicizing Findings

The December 3 GAO report was triggered after the space agencys Inspector General found last year that between 2004 and 2006, the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs managed the topic of climate change in a manner that reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public, including barring researchers from speaking with the media and downgrading news releases, which often spur press pickup, to Web features,the IG report found. (One downgraded news release was fuzzily titled, Earth Gets a Warm Feeling All Over.)

It concluded that inappropriate political posturing was the proximate cause of at least some of these actions and that a political appointee was a central figure in the allegations of censorship and denial of media access.

In May 2007, after an internal review, a key management position in the communications office that had been filled with a political appointee was converted to a civil service position. Bob Jacobs, a NASA spokesman, said none of the four or so Bush-era appointees targeted by the report still work at the agency.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125572
Quoting tornadodude:
here we go again :P


Matt its crazy man. Now its a conspiracy on Bush......LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
here we go again :P
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
Quoting Skyepony:
I only made it through 53 of the 107 pages of Watts rebuttal. I was surprised by the amount of quotes from dead people that died before the industrial revolution. My favorite was about beating the story out of data... I'm not sure he's actually read peer reviewed articles or had a college chemistry class. He certainly isn't aware how Agricultural planting zones have shifted north, followed by animals & trees, the melting ice at the poles..ships sailing where ice was permanent..sudden not so permafrost. At one point he seemed to not even recognize the points of this paper he's rebutting. Same assumption..look how bad that station is placed..ignoring the data, the flaw in the MMTS sensors, testing a hypothesis. He sounds really paranoid too.. NASA & NOAA backing a govt conspiracy.. I know people that work at for NASA. These people are doing their life's work trying to better things while winning the races against the other countries. NASA & NOAA employees got mad when the govt under Bush changed their words & results trying to hide what we are doing to our environment.

Torn~ That pic of the bad station you posted.. What kind of sensor is that? What problems are those sensors known for??

Too bad about CaneWarning..was really looking forward to a response to my post there.


I guess Obama is making the big Change......ROFLMAO
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1215. Skyepony (Mod)
I only made it through 53 of the 107 pages of Watts rebuttal. I was surprised by the amount of quotes from dead people that died before the industrial revolution. My favorite was about beating the story out of data... I'm not sure he's actually read peer reviewed articles or had a college chemistry class. He certainly isn't aware how Agricultural planting zones have shifted north, followed by animals & trees, the melting ice at the poles..ships sailing where ice was permanent..sudden not so permafrost. At one point he seemed to not even recognize the points of this paper he's rebutting. Same assumption..look how bad that station is placed..ignoring the data, the flaw in the MMTS sensors, testing a hypothesis. He's beginning to sound really paranoid too.. NASA & NOAA backing a govt conspiracy.. I know people that work at for NASA. These people are doing their life's work trying to better things while winning the races against the other countries. NASA & NOAA employees got mad when the govt under Bush changed their words & results trying to hide what we are doing to our environment.

Torn~ That pic of the bad station you posted.. What kind of sensor is that? What problems are those sensors known for??

Too bad about CaneWarning..was really looking forward to a response to my post there.
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Groundhog will probably not see shadow, due to snow :) (Systems often (always, if you ask me) move slower than the models predict)
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1213. Patrap
Nite Mom,

nite Jacob,..


nite AIM,...

Night..Mary Ann

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125572
This does not make Sense....these should be easing by now.......What the heck is going on.....i really fear something big is coming somewhere else with all this energy being released its building somewhere else....


Earthquake Details
Magnitude 4.9
Date-Time Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 00:57:27 UTC
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 07:57:27 PM at epicenter
Time of Earthquake in other Time Zones

Location 18.380°N, 72.921°W
Depth 10 km (6.2 miles) set by location program
Region HAITI REGION
Distances 65 km (40 miles) WSW of PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti
90 km (55 miles) E of Les Cayes, Haiti
170 km (105 miles) SSW of Cap-Haitien, Haiti
1110 km (690 miles) SE of Miami, Florida


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Quoting AwakeInMaryland:

Thank you for the link, kind sir (:
Sigh, I guess there's always the Georgetown Hoyas...a sis-in-law went there.

Congrats to your women's team.

Bed-time for me...
Good night, Matt, & anyone still here or lurking.



No problem!

have a good one Nana :)
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
Quoting tornadodude:


The Purdue women's team beat #4 ohio state yesterday, that was nice!

And I try to be a gentlemen, and for the rankings go here

Thank you for the link, kind sir (:
Sigh, I guess there's always the Georgetown Hoyas...a sis-in-law went there.

Congrats to your women's team.

Bed-time for me...
Good night, Matt, & anyone still here or lurking.

Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
Quoting AwakeInMaryland:
Yup, it was a sad day here when the U.Md. Women's Basketball 40 game winning streak finally came to an end. They're still No. 1!
Quoting AwakeInMaryland:
I know Maryland Men's Basketball has done pretty darn well...what I couldn't find on the net today, is just where are they in the standings? I don't know the best site for that.

Diff. topic: who would have ever thought that Toyota would ever have to suspend selling 8 models of cars. U.S. companies must be drinking champagne.

Glad you escorted your lady back, like a gentleman.


The Purdue women's team beat #4 ohio state yesterday, that was nice!

And I try to be a gentlemen, and for the rankings go here
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
1208. Motttt
stay in school as long as you can.. That all that I know to say
Member Since: September 10, 2001 Posts: 0 Comments: 213
Quoting Motttt:
wish I was young again


I'm doing what I can to enjoy it
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
1206. Motttt
wish I was young again
Member Since: September 10, 2001 Posts: 0 Comments: 213
Quoting Motttt:
yea that was a fast date


Lol yea, but we hung out earlier as well
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
1204. Motttt
yea that was a fast date
Member Since: September 10, 2001 Posts: 0 Comments: 213
Quoting AwakeInMaryland:
cricket cricket chirp chirp
Matt is reading his WU mail.
All the guys on the blog have wu-mailed him.

We weren't talking about trolls bothering you.
Even geeks get off the blog when the pretty young lady is around.

Awake is going to delete this post in 2-3 mins.


LOL wow :P nice one Atmo!

I got back on here after I walked her back to her room Lol
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
I know Maryland Men's Basketball has done pretty darn well...what I couldn't find on the net today, is just where are they in the standings? I don't know the best site for that.

Diff. topic: who would have ever thought that Toyota would ever have to suspend selling 8 models of cars. U.S. companies must be drinking champagne.

Glad you escorted your lady back, like a gentleman.
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
Yup, it was a sad day here when the U.Md. Women's Basketball 40 game winning streak finally came to an end. They're still No. 1!
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
So Kentucky lost to South Carolina, whatcha think about that, Press :)
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
Quoting atmoaggie:

Well, what WaterWitch may be true for some, but not if they have to wait around for you to get tired of the WUnderground blog...

What's the matter with you?

Sorry, parting shot.

G'Nite, tdude, AIM, Pat, Press, Astro, etc.
G'morning, Aussie.


Oh I'll make sure to stay around, way too many great people here to let a couple trolls bother me. sorry, I'm not leaving :)

have a great night Atmo!
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
1198. Patrap
Night Grandpa..

nite John Boy,

nite Susan,


Night atmo
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125572
Quoting AwakeInMaryland:


Whoa. We need a new snow shovel. Our old one broke during the N'or Ida blizzard. Guess I'd better get two...the ergonomic kind...one for the yorkie, one for the pom. As if...I wish.


haha that would be funny.

or you could do this:

Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
Quoting tornadodude:


Parts of kentucky might get 10 inches or more

Well, what WaterWitch may be true for some, but not if they have to wait around for you to get tired of the WUnderground blog...

What's the matter with you?

Sorry, parting shot.

G'Nite, tdude, AIM, Pat, Press, Astro, etc.
G'morning, Aussie.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting tornadodude:


Parts of kentucky might get 10 inches or more


Whoa. We need a new snow shovel. Our old one broke during the N'or Ida blizzard. Guess I'd better get two...the ergonomic kind...one for the yorkie, one for the pom. As if...I wish.
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
Quoting AwakeInMaryland:

Always sorry to hear that; both for banner and bannee.

It's different if you get banned for a purple-hippo-pooping (a personal fave, via our west coast buddy).

(Time out for our local weather.)

Oh gosh, the arrows come down SE from the north, and up NE from the south, and guess where they meet? Uh huh, uh huh...the only question is how MUCH snow...that was the teaser...



Parts of kentucky might get 10 inches or more
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
Quoting tornadodude:
haha well I guess he said it was for personally attacking someone? I'm confused.

Always sorry to hear that; both for banner and bannee.

It's different if you get banned for a purple-hippo-pooping (a personal fave, via our west coast buddy).

(Time out for our local weather.)

Oh gosh, the arrows come down SE from the north, and up NE from the south, and guess where they meet? Uh huh, uh huh...the only question is how MUCH snow...that was the teaser...

Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
Quoting AwakeInMaryland:


Was Cane the fellow who posted the funny cartoons? The rest of you made me go zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Oh, sorry...pfft, what do you care (see avatar).


;)

haha well I guess he said it was for personally attacking someone? I'm confused.
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
Quoting tornadodude:
So I guess Canewarning got banned :p It's a wonder how he get's banned, and none of us others did


Was Cane the fellow who posted the funny cartoons? The rest of you made me go zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Oh, sorry...pfft, what do you care (see avatar).
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
Dear Jeff,

Has your little disertation had the required triple peer review to validate your premis. Just kidding, we have had a peek into that egotistical "scientific" elitist power trip with the revalations of Climatgate. I'm not buying your line...
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Quoting hydrus:
O.K. I see, but Georgia does get the flooding rains and high winds from storms coming from the Gulf across the panhandle of Florida. Is that correct?


Yes. Also spin-off tornados. Georgia can also be impacted by hurricanes coming in from the East and moving West. I remember getting off work from a 7AM-3PM shift in Valdosta in 2004 or 2005 and watching a approaching hurricane in my rear-view mirror as I drove West on US 84. The winds hit just after I arrived home, and snapped off part of a 75 year old pecan tree in my back yard. It missed the house.

In 1994 (I think) a tropical storm from the GOM stalled over the Americus GA area. Flooded downtown Montezuma GA, and the dam on Lake Blackshear broke, causing major flooding downstream alogg the Flint River.
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1187. Motttt
Thanks Press will try to find
Member Since: September 10, 2001 Posts: 0 Comments: 213
Quoting charlottefl:


Good ice breakers... :)


My turn to ROFL -- I would never have read my own post that way. Oh, that's good. Hey, baby, howzabout letting me see your curriculum vitae?

SO glad the fun geeks, I mean, guys, have reappeared. WaterWitch is right.
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 32 Comments: 1918
So I guess Canewarning got banned :p It's a wonder how he get's banned, and none of us others did
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8185
Mott...it apparently ran on CCNI over the weekend...doing followup Thursday AM with NBC Nightly News...first segment should run Thurs or Fri night...second segment sometime next week....


Let's start a pool on how many times I can say 'Weather Underground"...
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guys I need to go to bed but I eed to know when will we hav our cold blast down here please tell me
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Pacific Ocean MSLP Analysis (00UTC)

Indian Ocean Analysis (00UTC)
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
1181. Motttt
Hey Press. Whats the word with cnn. Are you still on?
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
here's my take


That looks like a sign in the outback.
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15749
Quoting PcolaDan:
Oh, the wife says hello too.



Dan, you kill me...just catching up on the "debate"...going to crash now...it's hard keeping up the day job and the good job simultaneously ...LOL
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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.