Official Temperature Data Aren’t ‘Data’ and Shouldn’t Be Used to Restrict Freedom

Published April 23, 2024

It is becoming increasingly clear that the temperature data the U.S. government and many other governments use to predict catastrophic climate change, the data from surface temperature stations, aren’t accurate.

To paraphrase Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43: How bad is the surface station record? Let me count the flaws.

Even its climate alarmist defenders acknowledge that surface station data runs too hot. To make matters worse for the alarmist cause, the overheated surface station data are still lower than what climate models say the temperatures should be based on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This fact strongly suggests the assumed climate sensitivity to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide of pre-industrial levels built into models is also way too high.

Further evidence that the surface station data are flawed stems from the fact that the surface station readings do not match the temperatures recorded by global satellites and weather balloons, two alternative temperature sources whose data sets closely track each other.

The Heartland Institute has exposed instances in both the United States and abroad wherein official agencies tamper with past temperature data at pristine stations. Not only have these agencies been caught adjusting records to appear cooler than what was actually recorded, they have also manipulated temperatures upward, making the recent warming trend appear steeper and more severe than it actually is.

I’ve written extensively about the so-called adjustments made by corrupt NOAA scientists in 2015, just before the Paris climate treaty negotiations – mixing data from unbiased ocean buoys with heat-biased temperature measurements taken from ships’ engine water intake inlets, which made it appear as if the ocean was suddenly warming faster than before. More recent research claiming the oceans were heating up fast, seeming to confirm NOAA’s manipulated ocean claims, had to be corrected for overstating ocean warming or risk being withdrawn from publication.

My colleague, award-winning meteorologist Anthony Watts, working with a team of volunteers, independently documented serious problems with the official surface temperature record arising from the fact that the vast majority of temperature stations are poorly sited. In fact, these stations routinely fail to meet NOAA’s own standards for quality, which results in temperatures being skewed upward due to the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect.

In 2009, and again in 2022, Watts detailed with station location data and photographic evidence just how woefully ill-sited these surface stations truly are. Stations providing official data were frequently sited in locations where surrounding surfaces, structures, and equipment radiated stored heat or emitted heat directly biased and drove the recorded temperatures higher than were recorded at stations in the same region that were uncompromised by the well-known UHI effect that is widely ignored by alarmists and official government agencies. Watts’ 2009 paper determined that 89 percent of the stations failed to meet the National Weather Service’s own siting requirements.

The media and government bureaucrats took notice of Watts’ findings, the latter producing official responses that admitted the problem, while declaring the temperature record, despite the gross violation of established rules for sound temperature data collection, was still valid and reliable.

Even while claiming “no harm, no foul,” the U.S. government shuttered some of the most egregiously sited stations highlighted in Watts’ report and established an alternative temperature network, the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN), consisting of new stations with state-of-the-art equipment sited in locations unlikely to ever be impacted by the UHI effect. The temperature data set from the USCRN, for anyone who cares, displays about half the warming and a slower rate of warming than the broader U.S. Historical Climate Network (USHCN) used by the government in its official reports claiming unprecedented warming. In fact, the data from the relatively few well-sited, unbiased USHCN stations, when compared to the network as a whole, also show half the warming reported by the government. The government has accurate data, it just doesn’t report or count it as official.

Simultaneously, the government added thousands of previously uncounted temperature stations maintained by various agencies and private parties to the official network – existing stations added without any quality control protocols.

The result of the latter effort was predictably disastrous from the perspective of producing a high quality, trustworthy record of surface temperatures uninfluenced by the UHI effect. Unfortunately, Watts’ 2022 report found that the situation has become even worse. Watts and his team of volunteers discovered that 96 percent of the stations surveyed in the NOAA’s expanded network failed its own quality control standards for siting, resulting in an UHI bias in the temperatures they report.

Now, an investigative report by Katie Spence, a journalist at The Epoch Times, exposes an additional problem with the U.S. surface temperature record – a failing arguably more egregious than the issues I’ve discussed so far: many “stations” allegedly “reporting” temperatures don’t actually exist anymore, and haven’t for years. The government is just making up the data reported from many locations based on an averaging of temperatures recorded at other locations in the area.

And it’s not just a few missing stations providing made-up numbers, pointed out Lt. Col. John Shewchuk, a certified consulting meteorologist, who was interviewed by Spence for the story.

“NOAA fabricates temperature data for more than 30 percent of the 1,218 USHCN reporting stations that no longer exist,” Shewchuk told Spence. “They are physically gone – but still report data – like magic.”

To this day, NOAA still relies upon temperature “data” from the ghost stations, with an “E” for estimate.

Watts was consulted for the story as well, explaining to The Epoch Times that, “[i]f this kind of process were used in a court of law, then the evidence would be thrown out as being polluted.”

While the surface data may be the best source we have, when it is as biased or even fabricated as it is increasingly found to be, there is no way it should be used to drive public policies limiting the freedom of billions of people in their personal and economic affairs, all in the vain hope of controlling the weather in the future.

Photo by Lisa Zins. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.