NOAA’s trouble with numbers and the hottest year

[This is an updated version of an article originally published in the Arizona Daily Independent.]

On January 20, 2016, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and NASA announced that 2015 was by far the hottest year in 136 years of record keeping. NOAA said 2015’s global temperature average was 58.62 degrees Fahrenheit.(Source)

Apparently, NOAA did not check its own temperature record, because their report on 1997 (another El Nino year) said that the global average temperature was 62.45 degrees Fahrenheit (and it was touted as the warmest year on record). (Source) Here is a screen capture, just in case the 1997 report disappears:

NOAA 1997 global temp

Even in the new math of “Common Core” 62.45 is still larger than 58.62.

NOAA bases its projections on surface temperatures and completely ignores satellite data. The satellites have been in operation since 1979. The UAH satellites show that 2015 is the third warmest year in the period, whereas the RSS satellite system puts 2015 in fourth place.

NOAA and NASA have been systematically “adjusting” the surface temperature record, making the past cooler so the present seems warmer, see The past is getting cooler and Temperature trends published by NOAA 50% too high.

Some caveats on the numbers game:

Just how does one calculate the average global temperature? Think about that. Is the number really of any use?

NOAA and NASA usually show temperature anomalies rather than true temperature. They pick a base period and report how measured temperatures depart from that base average. For instance, for 2015 NOAA reports: “During 2015, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average.” How does one determine a global average for the 20th century? NOAA and NASA also report numbers based on 30-year baselines. In 1997, NOAA used a base period of 1961-1990. Moving the goal posts of those base periods can lend itself to much mischief. “Without the adjustments and homogenization, the post-1960 US temperatures would be indistinguishable from the early 20th century.” David Middleton [link]

To put the 2015 global temperature in perspective, let’s take a look at the entire Holocene period. From this perspective 2015 looks like the 8000th warmest year.

 Cuffey and Clow

It seems that our Federal “scientists” are more into political science. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”- Upton Sinclair.


Dr. Roy Spencer writes:

Land measurements …that thermometers over land appear to have serious spurious warming issues from urbanization effects. Anthony Watts is to be credited for spearheading the effort to demonstrate this over the U.S. where recent warming has been exaggerated by about 60%, and I suspect the problem in other regions of the global will be at least as bad. Apparently, the NOAA homogenization procedure forces good data to match bad data. That the raw data has serious spurious warming effects is easy to demonstrate…and has been for the last 50 years in the peer-reviewed literature….why is it not yet explicitly estimated and removed?

– Ocean Measurements …that even some NOAA scientists don’t like the new Karlized ocean surface temperature dataset that made the global warming pause disappear; many feel it also forces good data to agree with bad data. (I see a common theme here.)

– El Nino …that a goodly portion of the record warmth in 2015 was naturally induced, just as it was in previous record warm years.

– Thermometers Still Disagree with Models …that even if 2015 is the warmest on record, and NOAA has exactly the right answer, it is still well below the average forecast of the IPCC’s climate models, and something very close to that average forms the basis for global warming policy. In other words, even if every successive year is a new record, it matters quite a lot just how much warming we are talking about.

I’m not claiming our satellite dataset is necessarily the best global temperature dataset in terms of trends, even though I currently suspect it is closer to being accurate than the surface record — that will be for history to decide. The divergence in surface and satellite trends remains a mystery, and cannot (in my opinion) continue indefinitely if both happen to be largely correct.

But since the satellites generally agree with (1) radiosondes and (2) most global reanalysis datasets (which use all observations radiosondes, surface temperatures, commercial aircraft, satellites, etc. everything except the kitchen sink), I think the fact that NOAA-NASA essentially ignores it reveals an institutional bias that the public who pays the bills is becoming increasingly aware of.

And this brings up the elephant in the room that I have a difficult time ignoring.

By now it has become a truism that government agencies will prefer whichever dataset supports the governments desired policies. You might think that government agencies are only out to report the truth, but if that’s the case, why are these agencies run by political appointees?

I can say this as a former government employee who used to help NASA sell its programs to congress: We weren’t funded to investigate non-problems, and if global warming were ever to become a non-problem, funding would go away. I was told what I could and couldn’t say to Congress…Jim Hansen got to say whatever he wanted. I grew tired of it, and resigned.


NOAA’s own data show that temperatures of the stratosphere have been declining and temperatures of the troposphere have remained level since 1980.