It is an article of faith among many untutored alarmists that “the warming we are now witnessing” is already causing a massive increase in extreme weather. Meanwhile many scientists, including the IPCC, tend to worry about what’s going to happen even while acknowledging it hasn’t yet. As Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. observed in the Wall Street Journal, the latest IPCC report actually dialed back its projections modestly, reducing the top end of ECS from 4.5 to 4 and also labeling its previously favoured emissions scenario as improbable. “The report also notes, as the press never does, the full impact of these emissions won’t be manifested until decades, even a century, later.” But from the media cheap seats we get Apocalypse Now: “The U.S. just had its hottest summer on record/ This summer beat the record set by the Dust Bowl summer of 1936, when huge parts of the West and the Great Plains were parched by severe drought.” But they reveal the game when they admit the difference was… less than 0.01 degrees C.
NBC came out swinging on this, in its “Climate In Crisis” section whose name implies a vested interest in a certain kind of news. And whose content exhibits a remarkable lack of curiosity about the data it sets on fire and flings in people’s faces: “This summer beat the previous record set in 1936 by a hair, coming in at less than 0.01 degrees warmer than during the Dust Bowl year, when huge portions of the West and Great Plains were parched by severe drought.”
How do they know? Starting with how they think anybody could possibly know “the temperature” of the United States to 0.01 degrees in 1936. The NOAA should be ashamed of themselves for saying things like “the average temperature for the Lower 48 was 74.0°F, 2.6°F above average, nominally eclipsing the extreme heat of the Dust Bowl in 1936 by nearly 0.01°F” without mentioning error bars. They do know better.
Unlike, perhaps, journalists who, discarding their profession’s fabled skepticism about those in authority, write things like “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday that the average temperature this summer for the contiguous U.S. was 74 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2.6 degrees warmer than the long-term average. The heat record caps off a season full of extremes, with parts of the country experiencing persistent drought, wildfires, record-breaking heat waves, hurricanes and other extreme weather exacerbated by climate change.” So there you go, kitchen sink and all. But in fact measuring even the current temperature of the contiguous U.S. is far more complicated than it sounds.
Beginning with the distortion of the readings due to urbanization. In consequence of which NOAA created the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) in 2005, composed specifically of stations located away from the kinds of land-use modifications that contribute to the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. And, as we noted two years ago, it shows no warming at all since 2005, possibly even cooling. But it also only consists of 114 stations, so while its findings are interesting, they do not constitute taking the temperature of the entire United States.
Nor does taking existing temperature records, altering them dramatically to fit one’s preconceptions, and going “Aha! Told you so!” Which is where things get very problematic for the NOAA.
As Tony Heller has documented, American temperatures are vital to the long-run global record because it has far and away the best measurements in the late 19th century and on toward the present. And as recently as 1999, NASA on the basis of those records showed 1934 as far and away the hottest year ever, with three others prior to 1960 above anything since including 1999. But by 2019 it showed a very different picture, not because recent years were hotter than 1999 but because someone changed the data for the 1930s.
The people in charge of the data, who were also the people predicting warming, “adjusted” the data to confirm their predictions. And while alarmists are very defensive about these procedures… they should be.
One of Heller’s real strengths is his diligence in searching through the archives, for instance unearthing stories about the heat wave of 1901 that saw Brodhead, WI break the 95 degree mark for 18 straight days in July; he comments that “Heat like that is incomprehensible now.” And in fact Brodhead didn’t break that mark once this July. Or August. Or June. Even though it is part of the NOAA map reproduced by NBC that shows a red colour.
What’s going on? As Paul Dorian has pointed out, if you look at where all-time temperature records were set by state in the US, the 1930s has 34 of them, the 1910s have 10, and no other decade has more than five (the total exceeds 50 because there are ties). Now if the U.S. is getting relentlessly hotter, at an accelerating pace, threatening the end of civilization as we know it, how can such a thing be so?
Essentially, what it comes down to is that the summer of 2021 was hotter than the hottest thing ever unless you use actual thermometer readings. Or satellite readings, at least globally; the UAH data shows June 2021 cooler than June 2010, and June 1999. However it does show the contiguous United States at its warmest in the last 43 years, but Antarctica at its coolest. (For that matter the map accompanying the NBC story does not show temperatures above normal anywhere outside the north and west. So if global warming is global, it’s remarkably selective about it.)
The global picture is relevant because NOAA had also blared that July 2021 was the hottest month ever globally, again by that blasted 0.01° though at least this time Celsius, and in doing so disagreed with the other four major datasets, satellite and surface. The UAH data say globally July was a bit warmer than June. But still far from the hottest since 1999 (obviously the satellite data don’t go back anywhere near the 1930s), while August was warmer than June but cooler than July. And it’s noteworthy that the UAH data show a steady warming trend since 1979 not an accelerating one, which is odd if accumulating CO2 relentlessly pushes it up. Moreover they show virtually nothing going on since 1999, precisely when all tarnation should be breaking loose.
If it is meaningless to say that the NOAA’s measurements cover the entire United States, it is almost equally nonsense to say, as NBC does, that “five states — California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah — that had their warmest summers in recorded history, according to the agency.” How do they know all of Idaho had its warmest summer in recorded history? And what, pray, is “recorded history”?
To some of us it’s the history that’s recorded, meaning basically since the invention of writing some 5,000 years ago. Obviously the chronicles have become more detailed over time. But it’s not just nitpicking that, when they use phrases like this one, they do not actually mean anything like what they seem to. They do not mean it’s warmer today than in the Minoan Warm Period. And it matters, because if natural temperatures were higher 4,000 years ago than today the whole man-made climate crisis thing is in hot water.
Also missing from this reporting advocacy, among many other things, is any acknowledgement that if there has been a natural warming cycle since the Little Ice Age ended, the fact that it has been getting warmer for 150 years, if it has, proves nothing about human action. (It’s also a bit odd that in 2021 Ottawa had fewer than 400 hours of bright sunshine during a “meteorological summer” for “the 1st time in recorded history” despite being right next to the American oven. Mind you Ottawa did have a hot August, probably hotter than the previous record set in … what’s this? 1876? Followed by 1947? Or by another measure 1906? All separated by .31 or .34 of a degree which we obviously could measure when prime ministers looked like this and thermometers looked like this. Or now. As for our having the hottest August 20 since 1955, well, it just goes to show that weather is variable, right? Especially since 1899 was hotter still.)
It is certainly possible that “More than 35 cities in the western U.S. tied or set heat records during the [June] multiday heat wave, where temperatures soared to up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in some places.” That some individual places where temperature is measured had the hottest summer ever is less of an imposition on our credulity. But not by as much as you’d think.