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U.S. Surface Station Network Is Fatally Flawed, Heartland Report Shows


By H. Sterling Burnett, Heartland Institute


Way back when climate change was still called global warming, the whole thing was a bit more honest. The basic underlying cause of how catastrophic climate change is supposed to be occurring is greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere, trapping heat, warming the Earth, and driving myriad other changes such as worsening weather events.

The problem for that narrative is that the Earth has not been warming to the degree (pun fully intended) that climate models have consistently projected over the years it would. No catastrophic warming, no catastrophic climate change. If climate models are wrong about the most basic projection they were created to make, there is no reason to take any of their other projections seriously.

Worse news for climate alarmists—though not for normal people with other things to worry about—is that even the warming that has been recorded is a result of bias, not reality, with reported average temperatures being higher and trending steeper than if the system used accurate measurements. Proof of this has been published in a new report by The Heartland Institute: Corrupted Climate Stations: The Official U.S. Surface Temperature Record Remains Fatally Flawed. This report is an update of a 2009 study by meteorologist Anthony Watts, a Heartland senior fellow: Is The U.S. Surface Temperature Record Reliable? Spoiler alert: it wasn’t then, and it isn’t now.

The 2009 study found approximately 89 percent of the stations used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to calculate average U.S. temperatures failed to meet the National Weather Service’s (NWS) siting standards, which stipulate stations must be 30 meters (100 feet) or more away from any artificial or radiating reflecting heat source. That was disgracefully poor performance. The new, updated report says the situation is now worse.

The 2009 report received widespread media attention, which sparked multiple agency audits and Inspector General investigations. Several scientific studies confirmed Watts’ results, all the while trying to downplay their importance. As one Inspector General report stated, “NOAA acknowledges that there are problems with the [United States Historical Climatology Network] data due to biases introduced by such means as undocumented site relocation, poor siting, or instrument changes.”

NOAA and the NWS took a variety of actions in the aftermath of the 2009 report, perhaps in response to it. Some were positive; others appear intended to bolster the claims of dangerously rising temperatures on which Watts’s study cast doubt.

On the positive side, the agencies closed some of the worst temperature stations, in particular those held out for specific ridicule in Watts’ 2009 report. These include stations in Marysville, California; at the University of Arizona; in Tucson; in Ardmore and Perry, Oklahoma; and in Lampasas, Texas. These stations were in or beside parking lots, highways, or buildings and/or adjacent to air conditioning units and barbecue pits. Unfortunately, as the new survey of stations found, other stations, although similarly badly located but not highlighted for specific attention in the initial report, remained open. Their biased temperature measurements are still distorting the official record.

NOAA also rolled out a new network of temperature stations: the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN). Although the USCRN was in the works while Watts was compiling his data, the final rollout of 114 stations wasn’t completed until 2012. It comprises a subset of existing temperature gauge locations that meet all NWS conditions for unbiased, high-quality temperature data that are not expected to be affected by nearby development or the placement of artificial heat sources for at least the next 50 years. The National Climate Data Center described the USCRN thus:

The USCRN measures temperature with superior accuracy and continuity in places that land-use change will not likely impact during the next five decades. Built specifically for this purpose … [t]he USCRN serves, as its name and original intent imply, as a reference network for operational estimates of national-scale temperature.

Concurrent with the creation of the USCRN, NOAA developed a second new temperature recording and reporting network, adding thousands of stations from the Global Historical Climatology Network to NOAA’s Historical Climate Network of 1,218 stations for a new dataset it called “nClimGrid.” This new system collects data from more than 10,000 high-quality (unbiased) and low-quality (biased) stations alike.

Would it surprise any of CCW’s regular readers to learn that in its monthly and annual reports on temperature and weather trends, NOAA does not use or cite the data from the unbiased USCRN? Instead, the federal government’s official reports cite data from the woefully inadequate, fatally compromised nClimGrid network. Why would that be, one wonders, since NOAA acknowledges the USCRN has, in its own words, “superior accuracy”? Could it be because the USCRN dataset shows warming of less than half that recorded by the broader, biased system? The USCRN shows an unalarming amount of warming, which doesn’t make for compelling reports motivating large-scale government action and increased funding and personnel for the agencies.

For the new report, Watts and his team of volunteers surveyed a representative sample of the original temperature gauges and the more recent nClimGrid network, in different regions across the country. The results were worse than even I could have imagined. As the media advisory on the report states, “96% of U.S. Climate Data Is Corrupted.” You read that right. Instead of improving station siting and reporting since the 2009 report, the temperature dataset NOAA uses for official reports has gotten worse.

This survey confirms what independent studies have also found, as Watts noted in his statement: “The issue of localized heat-bias with these stations has been proven in a real-world experiment conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and published in a peer reviewed science journal.”

I suggest you read Watts’s shocking report in full before the corporate media coverage biases everyone’s view of the study by twisting or downplaying the importance of its findings and critique. For me the main takeaway is threefold. First, the government is either inept or stubbornly refusing to learn from its mistakes for political reasons, with possibly both at play. Second, the government’s official temperature record can’t be trusted. It reflects a clear urban heat-bias effect, not national temperature trends. Third, you can’t trust the official temperature record, and with rising temperatures supposedly driving dangerous climate change, you shouldn’t trust the government’s projections of worsening extreme weather events.

It’s just not getting as hot as fast as climate alarmists within and outside the government are telling us.


H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is the director of The Heartland Institute’s Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.