In the next week/s the institutions responsible for collecting and collating thermometer temperature data will complete their analysis for December 2008 thus enabling a comparison of the entire year with other years typically back to the 1860s.
There will be much discussion about how warm the year 2008 was, relative to other years in Australia, North America, and globally.
While this news will no doubt grab mainstream media headlines it is unlikely there will be any discussion in the same media about how reliable the information actually is.
Meteorologist and blogger, Anthony Watts, has been surveying official weather stations in the US since May 2007 and his findings often make incredible reading. Indeed, many official weather stations are very poorly located – including one beside a barbeque and others immediately above air conditioner exhausts.
Mr Watts recently posted part 80 of “how not to measure temperature” showing an official US climate monitoring station at a funeral home in downtown Fort Scott, Kansas. Like so many official weather stations in the US the environment surrounding this weather station, between a water fountain and a brick wall near the centre of the city, will probably not provide high quality data.
It is unclear that the situation is much better in Australia – noone has done the type of audit being undertaken by Mr Watts in the US.
Long time Australian Bureau of Meteorology critic, Warwick Hughes, recently suggested there has been a decline in the quality of rainfall data held by the Bureau with values missing from series for no apparent reason.
In conclusion, while the average global citizen might assume that with all the kerfuffle about global warming the data would be beyond reproach, or at least improving, but his is not necessarily the case at least when it comes to the much quoted thermometer temperature data. So, perhaps be prepared to be entertained by the likely barrage of commentary on temperatures over the next week/s, but also be a little skeptical.
I have previously written that in not so many years time weather station data will be collected more for fun, a sense of history and for site-specific information, than for serious regional and global climate statistics. In the future it will be data from satellites that is recognised as much more reliable for understanding regional and global temperature trends.
Photograph of the official weather station at a Funeral Home in Fort Scott, Kansas, from Anthony Watts.