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NASA Study Confirms Climatic Impact of Weather Station Relocation

UPDATE NOV 25: Anthony Watts did cover the mentioned LA weather station in a March 24, 2008 post. I was looking for the Earth Observatory link, while he mentions the JPL one. Still, my blog below adds to the story, by providing links to the original Poster Presentation and pointing out that many stations were moved around 1998-1999.

Perhaps there is a good reason why the study below is not mentioned in Watts Up With That or at Perhaps it’s just me unable to use Google properly. Or for some reason I am the first one making the connection.

So in full glare of all my ignorance I point to this Poster Presentation at the 16th Applied Climatology Conference, American Meteorological Society, Jan. 14-18, 2007, San Antonio, TX (joint with the 14th Symposium on Meteorological Observations and Instrumentation):

Patzert, W.C., S. LaDochy, J. K. Willis, and T. Mardirosian, 2007: Will the real Los Angeles stand up: Impacts of a station move on climate records (and record weather) (short Abstract) (long Abstract)

Some may remember seeing that study mentioned on NASA’s Earth Observatory (EO)’s “A Tale of Two Sites: Impacts of Relocating L.A.’s Weather Station” (Jan 17, 2007).

Since it’s a Poster Presentation, a brief note about the authors is due, to check their trustworthiness (you wouldn’t believe what is presented nowadays as “poster” in many scientific conferences):

“Mardirosian Mystery” aside: what is that they’ve found?

In August, 1999, the National Weather Service (NWS) moved the official downtown Civic Center weather station to the University of Southern California (USC) campus, a 3.78 miles (almost 6 km) distance to the southwest of its previous location near city center at the Department of Water & Power (DWP) […]

By moving the official LA downtown weather station location, weather is now recorded as cooler, drier and less extreme than at its original DWP location […] there appears to be a discontinuity in the records. Maximum and mean temperatures are cooler, especially Tmax. Minimum temperatures are similar for the two sites. DWP also records higher rainfall amounts, although there is great variability monthly and inter-annually. Extremes occur less often at USC than DWP. […]

Moving a weather station away from the city resulted in cooler, drier, and less extreme weather. And in a “discontinuity in the records”. That appears to vindicate all the work done by Anthony Watts and surfacestations indeed.

Consequences? For example:

[…] In the 2004-5 water year (July 1-June 30), the USC rain total was 37.25” (946.2 mm), second only to 1883-84, which had 38.18” (969.8 mm). However, DWP recorded 38.32 (973.3 mm), which would have been the wettest year on record for downtown Los Angeles had not the station moved […]

[…] At USC, the all-time record for highest temperature minimum for the date June 4th was set with 68oF (previous record being 66F in 1997). At DWP, the Tmin was 70F. […]

We are talking 973.3-946.2=27.1mm and 70F-66F=around 1C overestimated in downtown LA compared to the new site. In the first case, we would have heard about “yet another climate record” having been broken. In the second case, we would have been told a temperature value that is more wrong than the total estimated temperature increase from 1850 to today.

And it’s just one station, where they were “fortunate in that the original location (DWP) is still in operation and can be compared to the new site“. Sounds ominous doesn’t it? It means that most of the time, a new station’s measures are simply attached to the previous one’s, with no time provided for suitable medium-term comparison.

Actually, it’s worse. From the EO:

The National Weather Service moved the station [in 1999] as part of a nationwide effort to locate all official weather stations on ground-level sites in natural settings

In other words, there are many weather station records that are for all intents and purposes useless for comparing recent data to measure done before around 1999.


And before somebody says that the above would have resulted in a spurious cooling trend for LA: it doesn’t matter. What matters is always the quality of the data.

And if NASA says that many weather stations have poor quality records, doubts on the very existence of an ongoing, potentially worrying global warming can only increase.

Has anybody noticed how the “warming trend” has almost stopped…exactly since 1999?

7 replies on “NASA Study Confirms Climatic Impact of Weather Station Relocation”

That’s true.. Global warming is now a days heard very less.. It had almost become one common topic of discussion.. But now I almost hardly hear about it.. Sometimes I doubt it was just a rumor.

I know Roger and Alex are well off-topic, but I find their psycho-social analysis an original and important addition to the discussion of AGW. Once an idea leaves the ivory tower and becomes a movement, rational discussion has a limited effect. I used to think I was “green”, until the day someone invited me to measure my carbon footprint, and I discovered that the world had become one big session of Polluters Anonymous. My a-social reaction was as illogical as the social phenomenon Roger and Alexis describe so well, but at least I took the trouble to inform myself.

“Religon, religion…” says Maurizio. If only it were, then we could all agree to differ and believers would hesitate to impose their belief on others. I think a nearer equivalent is “moral crusade”. Think of the abolition of slavery, which undoubtedly was morally right, but had disastrous unintended consequences. Most opponents were motivated by financial interest, so no rational warning voices could be heard. And once applied, it could not be reversed, or even be amended to alleviate the sufferings of the ex-slaves.

Maurizio seems to believe that belief in AGW is a fad which will melt away once scientists revert to their default position of healthy scepticism. (And it’s certainly difficult to imagine the next IPCC report being received as uncritically as the last). My fear is that the reaction, when cognitive dissonance breaks down, will be politically and socially messy.

PS. Maurizio, you’re a braver man than I. I’ve argued AGW with an epidemiologist, an entomologist and a physicist, but I’d never dare argue with my kids’ teacher. Good luck, and please record the event for Youtube and posterity.

alexjc38 (18:09:17) …that people in England suffered less depression during the Second World War…
I am frequently reminded of the “London Blitz Syndrome” in many stories (some very positive) of diverse subjects, Alex, and agree wholeheartedly. I believe your observations above encapsulate a great truth.

omnologos (21:36:43) …day my son comes home…
I regularly reeled under that one from about 1980 to around 2000. Now, the teachers gone, I’m fighting to keep four adults honest…

Religion religion religion

Some kind of religion with a sell-by date, this AGW…

But the day my son comes home with the picture of an unhappy polar bear on a shrinking ice floe, the School will hear about my displeasure

“It is far more fun to believe”. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Roger. AGW appears to have generated a great deal of Earth Day-style group activity, such as charity events and school competitions; my take on this is that people simply enjoy the feeling that they’re “doing their bit” to “tackle climate change”, even though the science underlying their belief is dodgy. This may be apocryphal but I’m reminded of observations that people in England suffered less depression during the Second World War, due to a feeling that everyone was in this together and facing a common enemy. For example, a schoolteacher who has worked hard to get all her 11-year olds painting pictures of unhappy polar bears on shrinking ice floes, or a green enthusiast who has organised bike rides and petitions to “raise awareness” of global warming, are not going to be very receptive IMO to stories about dubious data or evidence that points to something other than AGW. Maybe being a “joiner” is part of the phenomenon – the urge that many people feel to sign up to a cause they perceive as larger than themselves, something they feel is meaningful and which puts their personal problems into perspective. For me, one question is: how long can the sense of urgency last? And how will many of the people who feel moved to “act now” in 2008 feel at the end of another five or ten years of this?

I know of only 3 stations with century long records using the same instruments and measurement methods located in unchanging rural locations. All three show little or no warming over the 20th century.

Most stations have adjustments to their records larger than the signal being sought, so should be viewed with suspicion.

And if NASA says that many weather stations have poor quality records, doubts on the very existence of an ongoing, potentially worrying global warming can only increase.

The disconnection between fact and fancy seems already to have taken place. Whilst those on the more traditional plane tend to probe and test the science, a far larger proportion of people appear more content to follow a simplistic call-to-arms which has the social comfort and sense of brotherhood of belonging; of sharing. A common fear; a shared (but really not threatening) danger; that cements one into the crowd.

Pointing out as you do in the quote above that doubts and bad data should sound a caution does not impinge on this mass anymore than drawing attention to the fact that Palin was misquoted (“I can see Russia from my back stoop.”) does. It is far more fun to believe.

Of course this crowd hysteria is dangerous, and always has been, but it seems to be a very powerful part of our being, and calls such as you make above will be heeded or acknowledged only by those who are already aware.

Perhaps this is why this post has taken so long to generate any comments. There is a sense of despair, and a growing fatigue, amongst those who would alert their fellow man to the senseless panic as the realisation grows that “they” do not wish to be alerted. “They” are happy in their panic… and enjoying it.

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