Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.
By: Christopher C. Burt , 10:18 PM GMT on March 24, 2011
Some Errors in the NCDC U.S.A. State Weather Extreme Records Data: Part 2
This week I’m looking at some more errors or omissions concerning the NCDC list of all-time state record temperatures. Below is a brief recap of my introduction I made in my previous blog concerning this subject.
Last year the National Climate Data Center (NCDC) created a new web site that neatly summarizes various state weather records: specifically what the extreme values for hottest and coldest temperatures, maximum 24-hour precipitation and 24-hour snowfall, and maximum recorded snow depth for each individual state are. This may be viewed at the NCDC web site.
The interactive map they provide and the consolidation of these records into a single user-friendly web site is a big improvement over the way they previously displayed this information (which was by listing separate tables and maps for each of the values in question). The NCDC also updated and revised the figures through the year 2009 using their collection of COOP station forms maintained in the NOAA database. These may be viewed here at the NOAA/NCDC/IPS site.
NOTE: Unfortunately, at the moment the NCDC seems to be only providing post-1992 COOP forms on the above site. They do, however, acknowledge the problem and promise to have all the older forms up “as quickly as possible”.
Cases of Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, South Carolina, Wyoming, and Oregon.
MASSACHUSETTS RECORD LOW TEMPERATURE
The NCDC claims that -35°F at Chester, MA on Jan. 12, 1981 is the lowest official temperature measured in the state (along with two other earlier similar readings at other locations). In fact, Chester also recorded -40°F on Jan. 22, 1984 as can clearly be seen on the COOP form reproduced below. Furthermore, this -40°F is confirmed in the authoritative book New England Weather and Climate (p. 77) by Prof. Gregory A. Zielinski and Prof. Barry D. Keim, University of New Hampshire Press, 2003.
The COOP form for Chester, Massachusetts displaying the record low of -40°F on January 22, 1984.
VERMONT RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURE
The NCDC lists a reading of 107°F at Vernon, VT on July 7, 1912 as the hottest temperature on record for the state. This is an erroneous figure. No other site in New England recorded over 101° on this day (at Nashua, New Hampshire). The Climatological Data, US. Dept. of Agriculture publication for July 1912 reports no temperature in the state of Vermont exceeded 96° during the month:
Data for Vermont during July 1912. The highest reported temperatures for the month are in the 7th column over from the left and report a maximum temperature of just 96°F versus the 107°F reported on the NCDC site.
The actual record high for the state is 105° also reported from Vernon but a year earlier on July 4, 1911. The July 1911 heat wave also set the state records for New Hampshire with a 106°F reading at Nashua and Maine when 105°F was reported at North Bridgeton. So we see corroborating temperatures in the region for Vernon’s record temperature in 1911 but not in 1912.
CONNECTICUT RECORD LOW TEMPERATURE
NCDC has a reading of -32F at Coventry on Jan. 22, 1961 and at Falls Village on Feb. 16, 1943 as the state low temperatures. However, a reading of -37°F was recorded at the Norfolk Valley station on Feb. 16, 1943 according to a report by Connecticut State Climatologist Joseph J. Brumbach:
Relevant pages from ‘The Climate of Connecticut’ that determine the state record low temperature to be -37°F at Norfolk Valley station.
SOUTH CAROLINA RECORD LOW TEMPERATURE
A temperature of -19°F at Caesar’s Head, SC on Jan. 21, 1985 stands as South Carolina’s coldest reading according to the NCDC site. However, the COOP form for Hogback Mountain, SC clearly shows a low of -22°F on this same morning.
The COOP form for Hogback Mountain, South Carolina displaying a record low temperature of -22°F for the state.
WYOMING RECORD LOW TEMPERATURE
For many years there has been confusion surrounding the actual location of the Riverside Ranger Station that recorded a temperature of -66°F on Feb. 9, 1933. This figure has long been erroneously reported as the coldest temperature ever measured in Wyoming (See NCDC site for instance). The problem is that this (no longer existing) ranger station was actually located in the Montana section of Yellowstone National Park. It was situated where the town of West Yellowstone, Montana now resides.
The reason for this confusion originates from the fact that the Climatological Data by Sections USWB report for February 1933 includes Yellowstone National Park in its Wyoming section even though portions of the park, including the site of Riverside R.S., are in Montana and Idaho. If one looks at the station I.D. number (248857) on the Western Regional Climate Center’s station summaries lists we see that the site was established in 1924 (when the ranger station was established) and then continues at the same location in later years as “West Yellowstone, Montana”.
Also, I have personally visited this area and investigated the location of the ranger station and can confirm that the site was in Montana when it was built in 1924 (by only 200 yards!). The actual record low for the state of Wyoming is -63°F at Moran on that same night of Feb. 9, 1933.
This map from 1929 shows the exact location of the Riverside Ranger Station. It is just sandwiched between the border of the national park (the large green border) and the border between Wyoming and Montana (the small dashed border). The name of the ranger station is not given, it just says "ranger station" but this is, in fact, the Riverside Ranger Station (named 'Riverside') because it is by the Madison River. One can understand the confusion of the location so far as being in Wyoming or Montana.
Data set for West Yellowstone, Montana (aka the Riverside Ranger Station) showing the ‘record’ low of -66°F. From the climate summaries of the Western Regional Climate Center.
OREGON RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURE
The record high for the state of Oregon has long been accepted as 119°F at Pendleton on Aug. 10, 1898. The NCDC site also mentions a similar reading at Prineville on July 29, 1898). First off, the Prineville reading can be dismissed immediately as unbelievable. Prineville is located in the center of the state near Redmond and Bend at an altitude of 2,860’. It is not a particularly warm location and its hottest temperature in modern records is just 107°F. There were many suspicious temperatures from Prineville during the summer of 1898.
The Pendleton reading is more difficult to dismiss. Pendleton is located on a river plain about 30 miles south of the Columbia River. This valley is the hottest area in the state with 100°F+ temperatures common every summer. An undisputed temperature of 117°F has been measured at nearby Umatilla, Oregon on July 27, 1939. The problem with the Pendleton reading is that it was an estimated not measured reading and it would seem that estimated temperatures should probably not be considered official, especially for something as significant as a state weather record.
According to the newspaper East Oregonian a report on Aug. 11, 1898 stated “…the government thermometer is only calculated to 115°, so that the 4° indicated above that had to be measured (estimated) by an observer.” This story is recounted in The Oregon Weather Book: A State of Extremes (p.64) by George H. Taylor and Raymond R. Hatton, Oregon State University Press, 1999.
Next week I will look at some errors from the ‘official’ precipitation (including snowfall) state records.
KUDOS: Maximiliano Herrera, Howard Rainford, and Trent McCotter.
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