Dodgy stuff from the Bureau of Meteorology

In yesterday’s post I looked hard at the ‘new Ice Age’ scare of the 1970s, and contrasted that with the Thermageddon scare we have today: the same dire prognostications, the same insistence on draconian government regulations, and the same appeal to evidence that is mostly about weather, not climate. I was aware, while I was writing it, that our Bureau of Meteorology had released a report that argued that the recent January was the hottest ever experienced in Australia, and that is the subject of this post.

I came across it in The Conversation, about which I have written before. The essay was written by two senior officials of the Bureau, and made a number of claims that immediately raised my eyebrows: ‘the summer of 2012-13 is now the hottest on record. Average temperatures beat the record set in the summer of 1997-98, and daytime maximum temperatures knocked over the 1982-83 record. January 2013 has been the hottest month since records began in 1910.’ January 7th, apparently, was the hottest day ever.

Statements like these require evidence and argument, if only because they are based on thermometers that are located where people live, have not always been where they are now, and have been there for differing lengths of time. But there was more to come: ‘This is consistent with warming observed in the global atmosphere and oceans. And it’s going to keep getting hotter. Over the next century, the world will likely warm by a further 2 to 5 degrees, depending on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.’

OK: we’ve had a hot summer, and things are going to get hotter. No mention here of the fact that there has been no significant global warming for the last 17 years, or that the USA also had a hot summer last year, but that didn’t affect the apparent global pause in warming. And I would imagine that many Australians, if not most, would  have regarded the recent season as just another hot summer. Even on the maps shown in the article, the extreme temperatures seem to come from the hot outback.)

So, let’s look at the data. Well, you can’t. The article doesn’t provide anything more than summaries and maps, and there is no reference in it to the data or the methodology on which the article is based. The Bureau released a Climate Statement from which the article drew its material, but that doesn’t provide the data either. Apparently it’s coming, one day. I have to say that I expect better from the Bureau, whose services I use, almost on a daily basis.

And Joanne Nova, who is sharp-eyed about these things, did some investigation into it all. There are apparently just eleven thermometers whose continuous history goes back to 1911. Eleven. I am willing to bet that they haven’t always been placed at the same spot. The year 1939 saw some of our worst bush fires and some extreme heat. How does it stack up against the recent summer? There’s no available data that allow such a comparison.

Jo Nova has an enthusiastic expert team that can burrow into the data that exist, and its findings are worth reading. It seems that the supposed record hot temperature is based on the hottest readings, extrapolated across the states and territories and then averaged for Australia. It sounded dubious to the team, and it sounds dubious to me.

Joanne Nova herself had a nice metaphor to describe the record: ‘The January 7th heatwave supposedly broke all previous “daily” records in this category — a dubious honor since no-one can remember any records like it. It’s a bit like winning the Side-Jump. It’s not an event anyone knew was on until the medal ceremony. Worse, no one knows how the event was measured, even after the Gold Medal was given away, because the rules are kept  secret.’

I don’t think that this is what the Bureau of Meteorology should be doing. And you have to ask whether this drum-beating is being requested by the Minister, or instead the action of enthusiastic staff who are firm believers in the orthodoxy and know that no one will pull them into line for what is shoddy work. It is reminiscent of the IPCC, which produces its Statement for Policy Makers months ahead of the full report, which has the qualifications and uncertainties (if at all) that the Statement itself lacks.

I’ve seen officers of the Bureau in the public prints in the past, always pushing the AGW line. I don’t think that this ought to be their job They should always be open and scrupulous about their methodology and their data — and the limitations of those data. The Bureau of Meteorology is a national resource, and its work and its output should be of the highest standard.

I regret that in this case that cannot be said, and one has to ask Jo Nova’s question: ‘Is the BOM a science agency or a PR bureau?’




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