Watts not to love: New study finds the poor weather stations tend to have a slight COOL bias, not a warm one

Analysis of actual U.S. data disagrees with Anthony Watts’ primary conclusion.

My guest blogger today is one of the best meteorologists around, Dr. Jeff Masters, former Hurricane Hunter and now Director of Meteorology for the Weather Underground.  There’s so much damn stuff to blog on, I didn’t get around to the amazing new study that, as DotEarth’s Andy Revkin put it, “throws cold water on the allegation that bad weather stations have amplified America’s warming trend” — allegations made by former TV weatherman Anthony Watts who runs the anti-science website WattsUpWithThat.

We knew that the “good or best” weather stations provide data that matches the overall U.S. temperature record (see Must-read NOAA paper — Q: “Is there any question that surface temperatures in the United States have been rising rapidly during the last 50 years?” A: “None at all.”).  But as Revkin explains, “In essence, the paper, On the Reliability of the U.S. Surface Temperature Record (pdf), concludes that the instrument issues, as long acknowledged, are real, but the poor stations tend to have a slight cool bias, not a warm one.”  Like Revkin, I first saw this on Masters’ Wunderblog, and he gave me permission to excerpt it at length here.

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 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:

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

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, and from an independent rating provided by NOAA personnel. In general, the NOAA-provided ratings coincided with the ratings given by 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 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 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 However, as of this writing, Watts has made no mention on or on of Dr. Menne’s study.

JR:  Masters is much more generous to Watts than Watts has been the entire scientific community, which he has repeatedly accused of fraud and bad faith.  Watts has responded on his website, but most of the response is non-substantive, process-related whining that appears to be contradicted by reporting by Andy Revkin at DotEarth.

UPDATE:  Brian Angliss has a good post on the paper here, and he points out others who have written on it:

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37 Responses to Watts not to love: New study finds the poor weather stations tend to have a slight COOL bias, not a warm one

  1. Cedric Pratt says:

    It is my understanding that Watts study is neither our nor published. Could you tell us where we may read it?

    [JR: Uhh, doesn’t anybody click on links anymore??? I added a second one, just for you all.]

  2. progressive says:

    Joseph Daleo and Anthony Watts have recently published a relevant study which documents the analysis that led to their concern with the temperature records. See http://

  3. John P says:

    I believe it is common knowledge the land based temperature record is a wreck. It is so messed up that there probably is no good useful data left to use. Too bad it had to come to total break-down before they will finally do something about it. Problem with that though is we probably have lost all the useful data. Even if they fixed the sites and made them all up to par and away from heat pollution and UHI effect. Besides the bad sites, I can drive from the airport out a few miles to a rural area and the temp drops by as much as 16 degrees F. But yet many reporting sites are at airports, that resemble getting a historical temperature record from a frying pan and then make some magic adjustments and say they are meaningful and corectable. They all should be rural and all have the same equipment and setting. Garbage in Garbage out. A new published paper is the works. The Menne paper is going to look suspect at best.

    Sincerely, John

  4. Neven says:

    “The Menne paper is going to look suspect at best. ”

    Could be true, could also turn out to be another case of WUWT (We Use Wishful Thinking). I’m very curious as to how all of this will play out.

    Meanwhile the UAH satellite ch05 still shows January anomaly temp to be above the 20 year records (fow how long, 10 days in a row now?). Anthony Watts must be too busy to report that one.

  5. Martin says:

    Joe, thanks for highlighting this study. It appears to put to rest any reasonable concerns about the US temperature record.

    However, I can imagine the reaction from the Watts camp: “Look at the cooling over the last two years!!!!”

    That’s the way this works. It’s a giant game of wack-a-mole!



  6. Ron Broberg says:

    @progressive:Joseph Daleo and Anthony Watts have recently published…

    Joseph D’Aleo and Anthony Watts are intentionally conflating “hot and cold” stations with “warming and cooling” stations. The two are distinct and different. Apples and oranges. Conflating the two is deceitful.

    Thought Experiment

    You put a bowl of boiling water on a counter top. Next to it, you put a bowl of near freezing water. Say that the hot water is cooling at a rate of 4C/min. The cold water is warming at a rate of 4C/min. The average temperature is near (212+32)/2 = 244/2 = 122C. The warming trend is ((-4)+(+4))/2 = 0C/min. The trend is flat.

    Now stop recording the temperature at the cold water bowl. All the data you have is from the hot bowl. The average temp is close to 212/1 = 212C. The warming trend is no -4C/min. Removing the COLD station did not cause a WARMING trend

  7. Jim Galasyn says:

    I propose we call this the “Watts bias.”

  8. Doug Bostrom says:

    John P says: January 28, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    (does not understand accuracy of absolute temperature measurements versus distinguishing an environmental trend from records that may or may not be useless as absolute temperature indicators)

    “But yet many reporting sites are at airports, that resemble getting a historical temperature record from a frying pan and then make some magic adjustments and say they are meaningful and corectable.”

    Actually, the thermometers could be located in a frying pan and you’d still be able to remove the bias and see an environmental trend. Thanks for the powerful example!

    Unless you can hypothesize a explanatory longitudinal error trend as opposed to a generally warming environment, you’re left with the conclusion that the environment is warming. The alternate hypothesis has to generalize, too, not just cover a single site.

    This is not even slightly complicated and even for somebody with essentially zero scientific background should be easy to understand. Watts struck out.

  9. dhogaza says:

    “Joseph Daleo and Anthony Watts have recently published a relevant study which documents the analysis that led to their concern with the temperature records”

    Actually it was EM Smith, a self-described “computer expert”, not Watts. And all they “proved” was that they don’t know the difference between an anomaly and an absolute temperature. Lucia of the Rank Exploits blog – a denialist who’s been trying to prove that climate models have been falsified for a couple of years now – raked EM Smith over the coals over this. When people supposedly on your side point out that you’re full of hooey, you’re in trouble.

    “I believe it is common knowledge the land based temperature record is a wreck. It is so messed up that there probably is no good useful data left to use.”

    What bull. Did you read the paper? Other people have analyzed the data in a variety of ways, and the same trend spits out of the sausage maker.

    In this case, among other things Menne et al show that the brand new (6 years old) Climate Reference Network station based temperature product match almost exactly over those years. The new stations were explicitly designed to collect data for climate research and are very carefully sited for environmental factors and to give optimal spatial coverage of the United States.

    Satellite trends over the last thirty years match the land record very closely.

    Everything we see in the natural world, from diminishing arctic sea ice (it’s going away), wintering and breeding ranges of birds (they’re moving north), insects like pine bark beetles (they’re moving north), glacier mass loss (most are shrinking) – the list of observations goes on for pages – is consistent with the warming measured by both ground and satellite instrumentation.

    The world doesn’t care about your politics. Sorry.

  10. Doug Bostrom says:

    I should amend my remark in #8 to say it is not actually necessary to remove bias to discern a longitudinal trend from a thermometer sitting in a frying pan, in fact even where it is not possible to do so it’s still easy to expose a trend. Again, accuracy has nothing to do with the problem; daily accuracy is about weather (or finding rotation speed of aircraft), trend in annual mean is about climate.

    Main thing is, if John P’s frying pan’s ability to shed heat changes as a result of a change of environmental conditions, the thermometer will reveal that change, regardless of what it says about the actual temperature of the environment.

    Until the thermometer reaches end of scale, that is. Not a problem.

  11. Rick says:

    Cable length issues are the reason for bad siting? and thermometers that don’t work right solve that problem?

    My confidence in the instrument record is diminished.

  12. Doug Bostrom says:

    Rick says: January 28, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    “My confidence in the instrument record is diminished.”

    If you’re concerned with a change in mean annual temperature over time, you need not worry.

    On the other hand, if you’ve spend several years loudly crying wolf over a misunderstanding about absolute temperature versus anomaly, you’re sort of screwed, reputation-wise. Cause to worry, cause for loss of self-confidence. Hit the books is my advice.

  13. Doug Bostrom says:

    Further to John P, Rick:

    General advice for followers of Watts at this point would be, do some fact checking, for your own sanity.

    Does the guy who appears unable to distinguish or communicate the distinctions between accurate absolute temperature measurements versus superimposed secular temperature trends know what he’s talking about when it comes to anything more complicated?

    After all, this was the -easy- one. You can show how he’s wrong with regard to this temperature data using a simple experiment done in your own kitchen.

    How about his other claims? Are they what you want to be associated with, to passionately tout and defend? Do you really want your reputations to depend on rubbishy half-baked misinterpretations? How much egg are you prepared to wipe off your faces, and do you have enough paper towels for the job? Can Watts make up excuses for why facts don’t match his fantasy fast enough to make up for you being humiliated in public?

  14. Andy says:

    No confidence in the US temperature record??? The bias was 0.03 degrees C. The global temperature record indicates warming at 0.2 degrees per decade. The bias amount is negligible. Further, because the source, magnitude, and variability of the bias is now known it can be corrected for. But if you’re not happy with that then know that a set of reference stations that do not use the biased cabled thermometers exists. That is the USCRN data shown in the graph.

    This study erases any doubt I had in my mind regarding the validity of the US temp record.

  15. Richard Brenne says:

    “I can drive from the airport out a few miles to a rural area and the temp drops by as much as 16 degrees F.”

    Did you factor in that you must’ve been measuring within a few feet of the back of a jet engine at the moment of take-off?

  16. Richard Brenne says:

    Thermometers have evolved from ancient Alexandria and through the work of Galileo and many other scientists and were given scales by Fahrenheit in 1724 and Celsius in 1742 and refined by countless scientists, professional and amateur meteorologists including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson (founder of NOAA) and Lewis and Clark, with each of these Americans understanding how to place thermometers avoiding the ground, direct sunlight and reflected heat as much as possible.

    Watts and D’aleo are so arrogant they evidently believe that no one of the above (and by the way, one heat source they might investigate is that of Franklin and Jefferson spinning in their graves at thousands of RPMs in response to the anti-science trend they lead and that has taking hold in this more than any other developed nation) nor any of the thousands of meteorologists since have ever thought of anything like Urban Heat Island effect.

    The temperature data is consistent with nature’s many indicators of warming temperatures including rising sea levels (from both thermal expansion and glacier melting), melting glaciers, ice fields and icecaps, loss of sea ice, loss of ice observed by every avid ice fisher, outdoor ice skater, ice, glacier or mountain climber over enough area and time, longer growing seasons, species migrating to higher elevations and latitudes, tree ring, fossil tree ring, ice core bubble, lake and seabed core measurements. There will always be short-term cooling periods in times and places and globally, but the overall trend of global warming decade by decade is clear to all with appropriate objectivity.

    If the Earth were cooling, each of these long-term indicators would be going in the opposite direction.

    In total this involves the work of at least tens of thousands of scientists going back hundreds of years in virtually every academic discipline. To believe that there is a conspiracy among each of these people is simply beyond belief and says much more about those making these irresponsible claims than anyone else.

    Watts and D’aleo may have been competent or even excellent meteorologists when that was their primary focus, but for two people without PhDs, without publishing in Nature, Science or the other most prestigious scientific journals to question the work of the thousands of scientists who do is simply the height of pseudo-scientific arrogance and ignorance.

    They have had a long-term ideology they have wished to see proved and have proven only that they will grasp at any straws to try to prove it. Their beliefs have been disproven countless times by working, published, peer-reviewed PhD scientists in a wide variety of disciplines. Their endless efforts to shout down credible science are reckless, irresponsible and harmful in the extreme. It simply throws sand in the gears of the most sound science that has no ideological basis, and it confuses the public, policy-makers and media when discussing the appropriate responses to climate change is what is most needed.

  17. Doug Bostrom says:

    Richard Brenne says: January 28, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    “Did you factor in that you must’ve been measuring within a few feet of the back of a jet engine at the moment of take-off?”

    That must be it. Jet engines are getting bigger. Here, let me show you a graph correlating jet engine thrust with global mean temperature!

    The only secular trend we know of that may truly explain this misunderstanding is increasing emissions of hot air from a certain TV weather forecaster.

  18. Chris Dudley says:

    Does anybody else read the letter quoted by Watts in the Dot Earth piece as a reply to a refusal to collaborate? Seeking a way forward to maybe work together in the future on some other data set? Perhaps there is no real contradiction in the two accounts, just posturing and an attempt to represent the meaning of the letter as something it is not.

  19. Doug Bostrom says:

    Chris Dudley says: January 29, 2010 at 12:31 am

    “Does anybody else read the letter quoted by Watts in the Dot Earth piece as a reply to a refusal to collaborate?”

    Well, at a minimum and using the same picky/sloppy parsing and exactitude for which Watts and his followers are famous, Watts took over 6 weeks to reply to Tom Karl’s final letter.

    After over 6 weeks of discussion with “Dr. Pielke and the rest of the team” who apparently are unable to use telephones or email, Watts suddenly for some reason used Fedex to reply to Karl, then was surprised to find that nobody felt compelled to wait in suspense for weeks while Watts bothered to reply.

    Taking the Wattsian parsing approach even further, Watts’ account certainly does not seem totally complete, when compared with Easterling’s statement to Revkin:

    ‘Dr. Easterling of the climate center said, among other things, that Mr. Watts had been invited to participate in writing the paper, given that it drew on his weather-station data. “We invited him a number of times to participate in the work,” he said. “He declined.”’

    Watts’ account initially leaves the impression of a single contact:

    The appearance of the Menne et al paper was a bit of a surprise, since I had been offered collaboration by NCDC’s director in the fall. In typed letter on 9/22/09 Tom Karl wrote:

    “We at NOAA/NCDC seek a way forward to cooperate with you, and are interested in joint scientific inquiry. When more or better information is available, we will reanalyze and compare and contrast the results.”

    “If working together cooperatively is of interest to you, please let us know.”

    Yet later in his account, Watts implies more than one contact:

    We all waited, but there was no reply from NCDC to our reply to offer of collaboration by Mr. Karl from his last letter.

    So yes, when you take it all together one reasonable interpretation is that Karl’s letter quoted by Watts is a response to a refusal. Either that or Watts has not done a very good job with his explanation.

    If Watts is forced to take the matter further I’m sure all parties can help to clarify what actually happened.

    In any case at the end of the day it’s the science not Watts’ hurt feelings that really counts.

  20. Nick says:

    Watts has got so much invested in this quixotic nonsense that it is very difficult for him to retreat publicly. So he will not. It’s a pity some of his more circumspect fellow travellers could not persuade him to tone down the incessant smears and sneers and stop adding to his already towering stack of rubbish analyses. Maybe because they seem circumspect compared with Watts,I overrate them! Watt’s Left?

  21. George D says:

    He’s gish-galloping so fast at his site it’s impossible to keep up!

  22. Lars Karlsson says:

    In this post at WUWT from 2008, Watts demonstrated that he didn’t know that different temperature series had different base lines. So he made histograms over the anomalies for the four major series, and found that while for UAH and RSS (satellite), 67% of measurements gave a positive anomaly, the correspondings numbers for HadCRUT and GISS (thermometers) were 89% and 97%. The explanation is obviously that HadCRUT and GISS use lower base lines to compute the anomalies, but Watts thought that this indicated that HadCRUT and GISS were unreliable.

  23. Charles says:

    Thanks Doug and dhogaza for making the points about trends and anomalies. Sigh. I’m wondering if some people will ever get it. As you said, Doug, this is simple stuff. I’m perplexed that some people seem to be incapable of understanding this.

  24. Elodie says:

    I’m a person who is interested in what is happening in our climate, but definitely sometimes these trends and ideas and studies go over my head. Thanks for breaking it down for us laypeople. :o)

    Slim Girl Diary

  25. As others have stated:

    1) There is no UHI nor micro-climate over the oceans which cover 70% of the planet’s surface. Satellite derived temperature trends from the oceans closely matches that over land. Case closed.

    2) A rising tide lifts all boats (thermometers)…even boats that are near exhaust fans and airports. :)

  26. Chris Dudley says:

    Doug (#19),

    That makes some sense. Watts could have been replying inappropriately to an offer of future collaboration as though is were an offer of collaboration on the current project which he had already declined.

  27. Mary Oropesa says:

    We have 30 years of ocean sattelite readings. I take it that is proof of innadequate sampling.

  28. Ron Broberg says:

    @Ron Broberg#6: boiling~212C, freezing~32C

    Doh! I’m an idiot. Of course those temps should be marked in degrees Fahrenheit.

    By the way – here is a quick analysis of losing ‘high altitude, high latitude’ stations.
    It is quick – hopefully I haven’t munged it up too much.

    The baseline is composed of 3188 GHCN RAW stations,
    gridded and averaged per the CRU perl code released last month.

    The first set shows the effect of removing all the stations 1000m and higher:

    The second set shows the effect of removing all the station above 60N and below 60S:

  29. Dennis says:

    Watts has put a very long post on his website that he describes as a partial rebuttal to the Menne paper.

    The link is here:

    Have any climate scientists out there had an opportunity to read it, and offer any insights?

    [JR: Like I said, mostly whining about process that is contradicted by Revkin’s reporting. He needs to respond in the peer-reviewed literature, which he was given the chance to do but rejected.]

  30. Alex A. says:

    @Richard Brenne (#16)

    NOAA is a relatively recent organization (Nixon years, I believe). Thomas Jefferson founded “Survey of the Coast” which morphed over the decades into one of NOAA’s precusor agencies.

    Your point, of course, still stands.

  31. Richard Brenne says:

    You’re absolutely right Alex A! I knew what you’re saying but had forgotten the name “Survey of the Coast” and was both too lazy and too committed to a run-on sentence to include your point.

    I recently gave a talk at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park about the climate in which Lewis and Clark made their journey compared to today’s climate. They were great meteorologists and had accurate thermometers they constantly calibrated by placing them in boiling water and then in slushy water to check their 212 and 32 degree readings. They also hung them from trees in the shade, as Lewis forgot such a hanging thermometer at least once and had to send a man back to retrieve it.

    They lost their last thermometer when a horse cartwheeled down a mountainside and slammed into a tree (it’s amazing how many times this happened – okay probably sliding more than cartwheeling) on September 3, 1805 on the way out.

    They only registered three days above 90 (two 90, one 92) in the two summers going up the Missouri, when we’d expect dozens today.

    The average temperatures at Fort Mandan (taken at least at sunrise and sunset every day and meticulously charted) in December, January and February of 1804-1805 were within a few degrees of the all-time record low averages for each month since, and their coldest single measurement of 45 below was within a degree of the all-time record low today taken at Mandan within miles of the same place.

    They had two weeks of snow on the ground at Fort Clatsop, couldn’t paddle up the Lewis and Clark River because of ice, and those are things old locals in my audience haven’t seen in 80 or so years. There are about a dozen examples of snowpacks and delayed run-offs that geologists and other scientists shared with me that would take record years or beyond to match now. I only wish they’d asked the Indians whether a winter or storm or summer heat was normal or unusual for the time.

    Then I asked people like Kevin Trenberth what the climate could look like 205 years from now and he basically said unrecognizable.

    And as proof that we can get along, the National Park interpreter who booked me (she was actually an excellent historian and amateur archeologist, just not so strong in geology, astronomy or cosmology) and her husband were both creationists and there were many deniers in the audience but they way I approached this we all parted friends.

    A couple of asides: Jefferson was a Deist who didn’t think God would ever let any species go extinct (he was off by a little, maybe 30 billion), so he thought Lewis and Clark would see Woolly Mammoths and Mastodons – which Jefferson himself had helped excavate (though dinosaurs were understood for what they were only in about the year of his death) – so Jefferson thought the expedition would find Mammoths, Mastodons and Strom Thurmond.

    Also Lewis named prarie dogs, but probably not each one individually.

  32. Doug Bostrom says:

    Charles says: January 29, 2010 at 4:06 am

    “…this is simple stuff. I’m perplexed that some people seem to be incapable of understanding this.”

    It’s quite extraordinary. For my part, I’d not actually bothered to look too closely at Watts’ claims, assuming that whatever the complaint was it would be sorted out by people with the chops to do the necessary work.

    When I read Menne’s abstract, I was flabbergasted to discover what was the actual nugget of Watts’ brouhaha. It’s a terrible and sad commentary that Watts has swerved so many people into accusations of incompetence and worse leveled against NOAA and others involved in temperature data collection and analysis.

    After reading Menne, I then took a look at the effort and was almost as astounded again to find how little information was being collected about the sites in question. For instance, it should be self-obvious that if a sensor is located some 40′ from a window air conditioner condenser, some notion of prevailing wind conditions at the site would be helpful, as well as a notion of the velocity and thus reach of the condenser exhaust, the duty cycle of the air conditioner, etc. Otherwise it is hard to form a conclusion about the influence of the condenser, assuming one is genuinely interested in identifying an erroneous data source. This information is not solicited from volunteers, as you can see from volunteer instructions, here: .

    The 40′ distant air conditioner photo is a favorite with the Watts crowd, despite the poor description and case it represents, but it is a useful illustration nonetheless when assessing the intent of Watts’ project. The picture and lack of additional information leaves and impression that seems to be more about producing embarrassing photographs, without much serious purpose beyond that.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps the continued delay w/Watts and crew producing a paper from all the work he has made his volunteers perform has something to do with the belated realization he’s failed to solicit enough information, thus has lost the opportunity to collect all the data he needs without doing a pile of additional work. I would be surprised if he can get a paper accepted on the basis of photographs alone because he’s not going to be able to produce numerical results with pictures alone.

    Again, it’s all about anomaly in any case. What a shambles.

  33. Paul K2 says:

    After reading WUWT for some time, examining most of the substantial posts (there is a lot of fluff and personal attacks over there, with Pachauri and Gore the favorite victims), I have concluded Anthony Watts has collected some of most error-ridden material ever seen commenting on any field of science. The posts even contradict each other; there isn’t any attempt to see how all the analysis fits together.

    After complaining for years about the land station data, and how inaccuracies in the temperature data invalidate any claims about global warming trends, it was finally left for someone else to publish a data analysis of the good station data versus the poor station data. And Menne concludes that any warming bais is clearly offset by the cooling bias introduced by the switch from mercury thermometers to electronic systems. So Menne moves the science forward, by carefully collecting and analyzing data, he discovered something that wasn’t really known or expected before. Menne did the job of a scientist; he tested the hypothesis with observations.

    Anthony Watts, for all his effort, is left to simply whine about not getting a formally written letter to be included in the study after he turned down an email request to participate in some manner. Oddly enough, a comparison of the good and bad station data was done early on by a commenter on WUWT, but the guy was ostracized and run off the site. His early analysis was based on a small sampling, but reached the conclusion that there wasn’t a significant difference between good and bad station temperature trends.

    The truth was there for Watts to see, but he chose to censor it.

  34. Dennis says:

    Joe, Thanks for clearing up the circumstances surrounding Watts’ reason for refusing to participate in the research. I hadn’t linked all the pieces together. It seems that Anthony Watts (television weatherman) insists on being the person in charge of the research, rather than Matthew Menne (Ph.D. in Physical Geography/Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences).

    [JR: He had the chance to participate in science, but all he wants to do is participate in anti-science.]

  35. Lamont says:

    Paul K2:

    The whole surfacestations project is all about finding a few cherry picked stations that cause the audience to get whipped up into a fervor, and then send them out to audit all the stations and get visions of their work being used to overthrow some kind of scientific tyranny. Then with them all becoming interested and “educated” about weather stations, to turn around and start selling weather stations to his audience.

    Its all about delay and money, and it has nothing to do with science.

    Watts has probably done his own analysis of the data and he hasn’t found a rationale in order to sufficiently twist the data to his own conclusions — which is why he’s stopped updating the data and been raising ‘data quality’ issues over using what he’s got — but he promises and promises to release the data — just as soon as he’s figured out how to come up with a rationale to generate a graph that stays flat or goes down and he can sell to his audience…

  36. Doug Bostrom says:

    Dennis says: January 29, 2010 at 9:00 am

    “Watts has put a very long post on his website that he describes as a partial rebuttal to the Menne paper.”

    What’s extraordinary is that once one has waded through all of Watts’ framing of the Menne paper, political insinuations about Menne supposedly being ordered not to cooperate by superiors, etc., he -still- does not get the basic problem with his effort, or at least Watts publicly gives every appearance of blissful obliviousness regarding the difference between absolute measurement accuracy versus anomaly detection.

    I suppose it really is far too late for a public confession. Misdirected numerical analysis using published data, that’s one thing. Creating and publicizing a relatively high profile Wiki-style effort and then dispatching volunteers high and low on a fool’s errand, that’s quite another.

    Yeesh. Talk about embarrassing.

  37. Doug Bostrom says:

    Lamont says: January 29, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    “Watts has probably done his own analysis of the data and he hasn’t found a rationale in order to sufficiently twist the data to his own conclusions — which is why he’s stopped updating the data and been raising ‘data quality’ issues over using what he’s got — but he promises and promises to release the data — just as soon as he’s figured out how to come up with a rationale to generate a graph that stays flat or goes down and he can sell to his audience…”

    His fundamental problem: There is -no- “data”, not beyond what Menne already analyzed. Watts forgot to ask for it. Even if Watts had done a competent job designing the survey, it’s still questionable whether he’d have ended up with ancillary data to accompany photos that could actually be reliably coded.

    Watts essentially has only photographs, unaccompanied by anything that might be normalized and converted into numerical results other than the “Good Siting” or “Poor Siting” used by Menne. Photographs no matter how amusing cannot be converted into numerical results, not without more information. Watts has got a relative siting quality scale basically consisting of Bad….Good, but coding the photos to fit that scale in a way that’s more revealing than what Menne already did is not going to be possible with the lack of data collected via the volunteer worksheets. There’s essentially too little to tabulate, thus nothing to graph. No paper will likely be forthcoming, or at least none that’s passed muster through a peer review process.

    First Watts flung accusations of incompetence and worse at the very community whose data he is scrutinizing, based on an infantile misunderstanding of measuring anomalies. Then he created and launched an authentically amateurish and incompetent survey method to embarrass and humiliate his “victims”. Next he was exposed as a classic post turtle by the very community he was attacking. Now he’s stuck with no possibility of doing a paper anybody is going to take seriously, and he needs to explain that to his volunteers or distract them from noticing that they’ve been bamboozled.

    Talk about a catastrophic scenario, eh?