WASHINGTON – A meteorologist performing a comprehensive study of temperature-monitoring stations that provide data about global warming says the official facility at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is riddled with problems that render it useless to scientists.

But the data collected there is being used nonetheless.

Anthony Watts concludes in his investigation that the station at O’Hare is affected by an urban heat effect that would make temperature readings inaccurate as an indicator of what is actually occurring regionally.

“The community around O’Hare was much smaller during World War II, when the airport was built, than it is now,” says Watts. “The area had a significantly less-urban population and lacked the acres of concrete and asphalt that exist there today.”


Aircraft parking within 10 feet of temperature sensor at Derby Field in Lovelock, Nev.

The problems at O’Hare are similar to those found by Watts around the country in his study of temperature stations used by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration..

What he has found elsewhere are temperature stations with sensors on the roofs of buildings, near air-conditioning exhaust vents, in parking lots near hot automobiles, barbecues, chimneys and on pavement and concrete surfaces – all of which would lead to higher temperature recordings than properly established conditions.

To qualify as a properly maintained temperature station, sensors must be placed in elevated, slatted boxes on flat ground surrounded by a clear surface on a slope of less than 19 degrees with surrounding grass and vegetations ground cover of less than 10 centimeters high. The sensors must be located at least 100 meters from artificial heating or reflecting surfaces, such as buildings, concrete surfaces and parking lots.


Watts’ concerns about the temperatures being used to gauge whether global warming is actually taking place began when he read a 1997 study by the U.S. National Research Council that concluded the consistency and quality of temperature stations was “inadequate and deteriorating.” Meanwhile, he learned, the U.S. Historical Climatological Network, responsible for maintaining the stations, was doing nothing to address the problems.

So Watts decided to take up the challenge himself. After surveying a few randomly chosen temperature stations and being shocked at the shortcomings, he set forth on a plan to survey all 1,221 stations, taking photographs along the way. With the help of volunteers, Watts has systematically surveyed one-third of the official weather stations.

The vast majority of the stations surveyed to date fail to meet the prescribed standards. Using a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 reflecting proper maintenance and standards and 5 representing facilities that are severely compromised, Watts says 70 percent of those stations surveyed received a 4 or 5 rating, while only 4 percent received a grade of 1.

All of the most egregious violations he has observed in the study would result in artificially higher temperatures being recorded.

 


 


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