When climate data is all wrong

HOUSTON - There's no question that February was much warmer than normal. Everything's green and flowering as if it's the beginning of April. What a month it was! That said, "Houston we have a problem..." (Don't worry, this isn't a blog about global warming. It's a blog about endemic problems with our record keeping -- and they're big!)

We're now a few days into March and the National Weather Service has released their monthly report on the state of the climate for February. They concluded that February was indeed, the warmest in our recorded history.

However, when it comes to matters of climate, it seems like there's always a catch: Houston's official weather recording station is currently located at Bush Intercontinental Airport and has been, since 1969. Prior to 1969, it was was located 20 miles down the road in downtown Houston. (That's the problem!) The weather between these two spots can vary greatly on any given day since they are 20 miles apart and that's important because the February climate records cited by the NWS in this report are based on data from the two weather stations, combining them into one.

(Of note: When the weather station was located in downtown Houston from the 1880s to the late 1960s, it was moved several times within downtown. For the sake of simplicity of this argument, I will refer to this as, "the" downtown weather station.) 

All of our official historic temperature records are treated like this and are therefore inherently inaccurate. They're ball park, but they're not exact. We want to be exact in science. Sea breeze fronts, isolated summer storms, stalled cold fronts, etc, etc, can all influence the weather and radically change numbers over a 10 mile distance (not to mention 20 miles!)  As I write this, it's 67° at Bush IAH and 65° in downtown Houston. In a game where one degree can make or break a record temperature, to compare today's records to pre-1969 data is nothing more than comparing apples to oranges.

NWS Houston report ranking warmth in February:

  • 2017 is considered warmest (67.6°)
  • 1962 is the second warmest* (65.9°)
  • 1932 is the third warmest* (64.9°)

The above numbers are based on two separate weather stations, 30 minutes drive apart. Further, to compare these temperatures down to the 10th of a degree when the temps can easily vary between 5° to 10° exemplifies the idea that exact numerals don't necessarily mean it's exact science.

How did February 2017, "really" stack up, if you want to compare apples to apples? To do this, we must only look at data from 1969 on from our current Bush airport weather station. 

  • 2017 was indeed, the warmest (66.4°)
  • 2000 was the second warmest (61.4°)
  • 1999 tied for the second warmest (61.4°)
  • 2009 was the fourth warmest (61.2°)

The results are the same: February 2017 is #1. But, this for different reasons. Another thing we can deduce? Comparing apples-to-apples, it's obvious that we absolutely smashed the old record -- by 5°! (If using the flawed data, Feb. 2017 only beat the previous record by 1.7°)

It's super important to note that our local National Weather Service isn't intentionally misleading you or trying to skew the numbers from their office. (I personally know several of their employees and can vouch that they're people with integrity -- and really nice to boot!) The problem here is with their governing authority on matters of climate -- the NCDC (National Climate and Data Center). NCDC (a division of parent organization, NOAA) has made the executive decision to direct their local forecast offices to combine data from our various regional weather stations spanning the decades, into one. This is done in an effort to extend the span of their database. You don't have to be a scientist to see the problem here.

-Brooks
facebook/twitter

 

© 2017 KHOU-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment
More Stories