What We’re Up Against

There’s a post at WUWT which is really a cross-post of this by Harold Ambler. It claims that the NOAA temperature map for this February is “less than accurate.”

The hubbub is about this map of February temperature ranks from NCDC (click it for a larger, clearer view):


You can view it at the NCDC site here. Here’s another version which shows essentially the same thing, but based on temperature anomaly rather than temperature ranks (click it for a larger, clearer view):


Both maps show New England as not too far off the “normal” range for this February.

Harold Ambler wonders how that’s possible:

As the map above shows, NOAA seems to have struggled in creating a temperature map that accurately conveys what New Englanders recently experienced: a frigid February. Hartford was 5.1 degrees below normal for the month; Boston was 3.1 degrees below normal. Providence was 4 degrees below normal for the month. And yet all three locations fall within the “near normal” portion of NOAA’s map. What’s up with that?

In an update, Ambler offers these screen shots to support those numbers:


On the face of it, it looks pretty damning. The commenters, at both WUWT and on Ambler’s original blog post, offer little but damnation.

But the problem isn’t with NOAA/NCDC. It’s with Harold “has been writing about weather and climate for more than 20 years” Ambler.

Let’s consider Boston. According to the data available from NCDC, the “Massachusetts Coastal” climate division (which includes Boston) was 0.4 deg.F above normal, but according to the screenshot from Harold Ambler Boston was 2.7 deg.F below normal. [Note: Ambler says 3.1, but that's for the daily high temperature wherease the maps are for the daily mean temperature, which is pretty sloppy of Ambler.] Of course Boston isn’t the entire Massachusetts coastal climate division, so we don’t expect them to be exactly the same. But +0.4 compared to -2.7 sure seems like WAY too big a discrepancy, it just doesn’t seem possible, does it? Unless, of course, you know what you’re talking about.

It’s because the +0.4 is the temperature anomaly relative to the 1901-2000 mean, while the -2.7 is the temperature difference relative to the present “climate normal” defined as the 1981-2010 mean.

It turns out that there’s quite a difference between the 1901-2000 mean and the 1981-2010 mean. For the Massachusetts coastal division, the 1901-2010 mean for February is 28.2 deg.F, but the 1981-2010 mean for February is 30.9 deg.F, fully 2.7 deg.F higher.

That means that the February 2014 “departure from normal” (using the 1981-2010 period to define “normal”) is -2.3 deg.F. That’s not quite the same as the -2.7 listed in the table, but it’s certainly believable — after all, Boston is not the entire Massachusetts coastal division.

For those who are curious, here are the February temperatures from NCDC for the Massachusetts coastal division, together with a trend line:


Here’s what really happened: this February, the coastal region of Massachusetts had pretty “normal” temperatures by 20th-century standards. But because recent Februarys have been so hot, it seemed bitterly cold compared to what people have gotten used to over the last three decades or so. Let me emphasize that: what was normal for the 20th century, now seems bitterly cold. It’s this, transported from St. Louis to Boston.

Here’s what else happened: Harold “started his journalism career at The New Yorker” Ambler saw the NOAA temperature map, noticed “average” where he thought it had to be “bitterly cold,” and announced that the NOAA map was “less than accurate.” Either he didn’t know that the numbers he was using were on a different baseline than the map he was viewing, or he didn’t care. And if he didn’t know, he didn’t bother to find out.

Here’s what else happened: Harold “his work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The AtlanticWire, and wattsupwiththat.com” Ambler made a blog post which readers of at least two blogs look on as proof of the falsity of man-made global warming, and of fraud by NOAA scientists.

Of course I can’t be sure, but I’ve got a feeling that’s exactly what Harold Ambler wanted to happen.

Too bad he didn’t want to do the work required to understand what he was talking about. How many of the readers of those blogs will take the time to find out the truth? My guess: not many. If any. That’s what we’re up against.

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49 responses to “What We’re Up Against

  1. I heard somewhere that TV weather uses a running mean of the last 10 years of temperature. 1981 to 2010 is longer than 10 years.

    There ought to be a law…..

    But did you see:
    “A Minimal Model for Human and Nature Interaction”

    Non-mathematical versions can be found at:

    which predicts the collapse of civilization in 15 years or less?

  2. So what he’s really telling us is that he’s walking embodiment of the “boiling frog” effect. He’s so used to warmer temperatures, he’s forgotten what it used to be like in that region.

    Or perhaps he’s one of those people born after February 1985 who’ve never seen any month below the 20th century average.

  3. I knew the xkcd cartoon would fit in there somewhere!

  4. Moving the goal posts… Oldest trick in the climate change denier book.

    What we’re up against is climate change deniers preventing action on the one hand and the worst food crisis since the 1970s, this one caused in large part by climate change, on the other. Climate change deniers preventing understanding of the links between climate change and extreme weather on the one hand and weather extremes that are, depending on the region, now between 100 and 500 percent more frequent. Climate change deniers preventing responsible adaptation and mitigation on the one hand and seas that will probably rise between 3 and 9 feet by the end of this century.

    The excuses climate change deniers provide for continuing along the devastating path of business as usual are growing quite thin indeed.

  5. For what it is worth, a direct comparison with NOAA’s claim made on the map of rankings needs to actually compare rankings rather than anomalies. Looking at NOAA’s definition of rankings, a state is near average in 2014 if its ranking is between 41 and 80 inclusive. And indeed, if we look at a map of the actual rankings of each division we see that the Massachusetts coastal division is ranked at 58 for Feb 2014, comfortably within that bracket. Double checking by drawing a line across from 2014 in final figure above, I indeed counted exactly 57 values less than Feb 2014. So NOAA got it precisely right, while Ambler proves his logical acumen by trying to show that 2014 did not lie within 20 rankings of the median ranking between 1895 and 2014 inclusive by examining anomalies with respect to 1981-2010.

  6. Baseline confusion at WUWT? They just keep drivin’ that pick-up into the same dang tree!

  7. Peter Sinclair has a similar story about the size of fish caught:

    “Daniel Pauly, a professor at the University of British Columbia, has a way of describing these acts of creeping amnesia. He calls the condition “shifting baseline syndrome,” and while he was talking about marine biologists’ failure to see drastic changes in fish sizes over time, it’s a bigger, deeper idea.”


  8. One should really open a denial meme forecast service.
    “today, the main denial meme is “temps are fabricated”, with a hint of “it is natural variation”. The “Al Gore is fat” level should stay below 3 adhoms/post.”

  9. How many times now has Watts walked nose-first into this issue of baselines and anomalies? And still he doesn’t get it, re-posting Ambler with all the glee he felt the first time he didn’t get it. The stupid is almost beyond belief.

    • Lars Karlsson

      This classic WUWT post is the mother load of Tony’s baseline incompetence.

      • Yeah Lars, and only one reader seems to have picked up on the fact that some of the anomalies he was trying to compare apples to apples used different baseline periods. Notice how the promised part 2 of that post either never materialised, or was quietly disappeared. I wonder why? ;-)

      • There once was a part 2, and a promise of part 3, which was to reveal how baselines were fraudulent, or some such.

        Part 1 has been heavily edited – it was originally much worse.

        You’ll notice, if you read the comments, that there are no commentsfrom ‘Lee.’. That was me – I had several explaining the baseline issue, there and in part 2. A couple months later I asked Tony when he was going to post Part 3, because I was really interested in his explanation of how baseline choice matters to the analysis.

        Tony responded by permanently banning me from WUWT, and then going back and removing every comment I had ever made there. Most of which he had previously approved in moderation.

        The man doesn’t know what honest is.

  10. Boy, they’re still unable to figure out the baseline thing, aren’t they? Willful ignorance is sinful, in my Christian view.

  11. I still struggle with the mentality. For some reason I find it hard to believe it’s intentional misleading, but the alternative doesn’t make any sense either. If I’d made a mistake like this in public I’d be mortified, admit it, apologise and try and be more careful in future. (I’m sure I have made plenty as well). This crowd seem to be of a “never apologise never surrender” mindset. They seem not to get how dumb it makes them seem.

    • John Garland

      You need to go to the thought processes to understand the mentality. What metaphors to they use? Denialists think in terms of and use the metaphors of religion, cult, hoax, conspiracy, political coverups, and the like. Errors simply are NOT viewed as something to correct because “The Truth is Out There”. The error was that the attempt to unmask the conspiracy failed, and therefore it is no real error at all. They already know what the Truth is. It’s just that the Truth is being obscured by the cult of climatology, the conspiracy of peer review, the hoaxers out for grant money, the Greens who hate cars (who do, in fact, provide some fodder for this line of thinking as they have been known to fiddle with the truth themselves from time to time), the evil liberals out to steal corporate profits from the “job creators”, etc. Truth doesn’t emerge from multiple methods, multiple replications, and multiple interlocking lines of evidence. It is assumed. And there is a smoking gun out there if only it can be unmasked.

      And while there have been scientific hoaxes where the truth was covered up and manipulated politically (e.g., Burt, Chandra–a sad case at my own institution, and others), to date I am unaware that a single one of these has been unmasked by a denialist in the relevant area.

  12. Let me emphasize that: what was normal for the 20th century, now seems bitterly cold.

    Probably a good cue for flagging McHarg’s and Pauly’s promotion of the concept of a shifting basline. (Or, in picture form).

    It’s something that more people depserately need to understand.

  13. skeptictmac57

    Maybe Ambler is using the Ken Ham approach to weather/climate of “Were you there?”.
    After all,I’m pretty sure that the world did not exist before I was born,or I would have noticed it.

  14. michael sweet

    I had a similar exchange with a denier at Skeptical Science a few weeks ago on this topic. He insisted that since it had been the fifth coldest January in Alabama (all other states were hotter), that was equivalent to March 2012 when 25 states set a record for hottest month.

    The mass media widely reported last winter as “record setting cold”. When you read the articles it was the coldest since 1986 or the coldest since 1994. Last winter would have been a normal winter in 1930. California never got a mention for having it’s hottest winter ever.

    Why does normal cold get a headline and record heat no mention?

  15. John Hughes.

    So, in attempting to deny warming – “It’s damn cold” – he’s just proved it. “It feels damn cold because it’s been so warm recently”.

  16. I am looking at the “screen shot” tables posted above and the data for Boston says 1872 to present, while Hartford says 1905 to present. I don’t know where Ambler’s regional anomalies come from, but this issue should be further clarified.

  17. Wow, sometimes they have some really hardcord “derp” moments at WUWT. Rather embarrassing.

  18. Oh, this is just too precious. Ambler has updated his original post twice, once after reading this very post of tamino’s, and he *still* apparently doesn’t get the different baseline thing. He’s all defiant in the updates and comments, practically demanding that every place that holds climate data use the same baseline period. You can’t make this stuff up! Going out for some popcorn…

    • Reminds me of the doofus I used to encounter lots who claimed that the early part of the UAH temperature record couldn’t possibly show any warming because it was below the baseline–it was just ‘recovery’…

  19. I own about 50 books that I keep on shelves where I forbid science books to go lest they be contaminated by proximity.

    Here’s his book Don’t Sell Your Coat: Surprising Truths About Climate Change,which averaged 4.6 stars out of 5:
    5: 31
    4: 6
    3: 1
    2: 0
    1: 2

    Of the 2 1-star reviews, one was by Godo Stoyke, to which I added some very detailed comments in multiple posts, Ambler’s arguments may offer insight into what to expect.

  20. Are we formally still waiting for Tony Watt’s “game changing” paper, what, about 2 years after he and Pielke Sr. announced it? Pielke Sr. closed his blog about the same time so I’m assuming he’s still trying to help Tony get it ready for prime time (and least while he’s not praising Bob Tisdale in his retirement).

    Tony has to do something waiting for Roger to pull thru so maybe mucking with baselines is as good as anything. Perhaps a reprint of ‘Steve Goddard’ peddling Venus is hot not because of CO2 but because PV=nRT ?

    “What we’re up against” is what we’ve always been up against… they simply do the best they can with what they’ve got and the audience is predictably consistent. That’s not gonna change.

  21. Horatio Algeranon

    WUWT the Pitiful (by Mathy T. Bates)

    O fanciful for specious lies,
    For Ambler waves of brain,
    For purple fountain mathturguys
    Above the stupid plain!
    Wattsupwiththat?! Wattsupwiththat?!
    Blog shed disgrace on thee
    And crowned thy mood with stupidhood
    From sea to rising sea!

    • David B. Benson



    • ROFLMAO, H.A.! That was one of your best.

    • Horatio Algeranon

      O pitiful the Fourier feat
      Whose mathturbating stress
      A thoroughfare of cycles beat
      Across the Wattserness!
      Wattsupwiththat?! Wattsupwiththat?!
      Blog trends toward every flaw,
      Conforms its soul to climate-troll,
      By Libertarian law!

    • golly! Wonderful, going to memorize that …

    • Horatio Algeranon

      O pitiful the theories “proved”
      With Libertarian jive
      Who Randian ideology loved
      And money more than life!
      Wattsupwiththat?! Wattsupwiththat?!
      May Goddard thy mold refine
      Till all success be Ignobelness
      And every “fact” divined!

      O pitiful denier dream
      That stalls beyond the years
      Thine mathturbaster theories gleam
      Undimmed by human tears!
      Wattsupwiththat?! Wattsupwiththat?!
      Lord* shed disgrace on thee
      And crowned thy mood with stupidhood
      From sea to rising sea!

      *Mocktman, who else?

  22. Harold Ambler is a troll. He was trolling the AAAS’s Science Today blog for a while ham-handedly promoting his writings. Haven’t seen him in a while, unless he’s morphed into some new troll, like “Aitor” or “Uncle Al”.

  23. An actual climate question – doesn’t the snow cover reinforce the cold and extend its duration by albedo feedback? So that once you have an unusual snow cover on the ground it tends to stick around for the rest of the season??

  24. Jbar: snow-albedo feedback: yes, at least locally, as most skiers would notice. Towards end of season, one can sometimes see striking effects where a ski resort on one side of a road has been spreading snow to keep bare areas covered at the base, and across the road, there is no snow left, and the temperature difference is noticeable, even at the same altitude.

    Likewise, one would expect the most visible effects of (changes in CO2, aerosols, solar insolation) to manifest themselves in geographies where snow-albedo feedback matters, i.e., where snow can happen, but is not permanent, like N, Europe during the LIA. (~9ppm drop CO2 from 1525 to 1600AD, plus volcanoes plus Maunder Minimum): One would expect more temperature fluctutation there than at the Equator or over the oceans.

  25. Another climate question for you Tamino,
    Between Earth’s perihelion in early January and aphelion in early July, the insolation reaching the Earth should vary by about 6% peak to peak.
    That’s a very strong forcing signal, so why don’t we see a corresponding annual variation in Earth’s global temperature? Do the Hadley Center and GISS, etc. make a seasonal adjustment to the final result to zero it out, and if so where can we find the unadjusted data? (You know, just to play around with it)

    [Response: Although earth receives more insolation during southern-hemisphere summer (it's closer to the sun), it is warmer during northern-hemisphere summer because the southern hemisphere is dominated by ocean (with its much larger thermal inertia).

    Anomalies in GISS and HadCRU data are relative to the given month, so they do not reveal the annual cycle (although they allow detection of *changes* in the annual cycle). For absolute temperature, try a reanalysis data set like the NCAR/NCEP data (http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/cgi-bin/data/timeseries/timeseries1.pl).]

    • Jbar, I believe its a common misconception that the earths atmospheric temperatures is mainly controlled by the amount of sunlight hitting the surface. If that was the case the part of earth not getting any sun in nighttime should seriously freeze over. You have to acknowledge the importance of earths atmosphere, the amount of greenhouse gases and the fact that 90% of the energy coming in is actually absorbed in the oceans first. If you look at neighboring planets you will at least see how important e.g. a CO2 rich atmosphere is to retain temperatures. Venus has an atmosphere of 96% CO2 and is isothermal (at +462C) so it retains the same temperatures during day as well as night, even towards the poles. Compare this to Mercury which varies between -220C (−364.0 °F) and +420C (788 °F) even though Mercury is closer to the sun. Mercury has practically no atmosphere.

      Now neither of these have oceans and for Earths climate its really the oceans that control the amount of heat going into the atmosphere, that is why ENSO can have such a big impact on average temperatures. The ocean acts like a big battery (and as Tamino say the size of the northern and southern “battery” is different).

      Now in addition the Earths amount of greenhouse gases is growing steadily these days from fossil fuel burning, and affects the amount of energy re-radiated back to earth. As long as there is more heat entering the system than the energy leaving we will have a gradual warming of the atmosphere as well since they system is trying to get to an equilibrium with the new level of CO2 (and other long lived gases). With the extra heat we also get more moisture in the air (both from oceans and land), and moist atmosphere also holds more heat. And water vapor is indeed the most important greenhouse gas although it turns around quickly so it doesn’t have the long term effect that CO2 does. Try spending a night in a desert with a clear sky compared to one that is cloudy to appreciate the difference.

      To see waters fantastic ability to absorb heat I recommend people to check some of the youtube videos of physics experiment where they hold a balloon with some water in over a candle. The fact that many think they are watching a magic trick should perhaps say something about the general misconception of how effective the ocean is as an energy battery for our planets climate system. And hence we should also appreciate that a good measure of global warming has generally been ocean heat content, and the sea level rise we get from thermal expansion (although it is now increasingly affected by land ice melt and can have serious variation from rainfall patterns over land).

  26. Pete Dunkelberg

    Here you can try different baselines but New England is not warm either way.

  27. @JCL from 3/21, 7:22 am:
    This is an excellent summary. While Petty agrees with the water vapor as most important GHG, Pierrehumbert decidedly does not. The difference is a matter of some definitions and emphasis, but I find Pierrehumbert’s argument compelling, and I have read Petty.

  28. The phrase “most important greenhouse gas” should be stricken from the language..

  29. What are we up against? I think this interview by George Marshall gives more insight:

    As a taster, following an exceptional series of storms in SW England earlier this year, including the coastal railway line being washed away at Dawlish in Cornwall, this:

    “I went to Dawlish the other day, where the railway line was washed into the sea recently, and the town took a complete pasting. I met an old man there who’d lived in Dawlish for many years and we sat and looked out over the town together and I asked him about the storm. He said, “it’s the worst storm I’ve ever seen, I’ve never seen anything like it.” I said “so do you make any link between what you saw that night and climate change?” He said, “oh I don’t believe in climate change.” He said, “do you?” and I said “I do, very much so.” He said, “well I do believe that since the beginning of the industrial revolution we’ve poured huge amounts of gases and pollutants into the atmosphere and that that has changed the climate, but I don’t believe in climate change.”

    What we are up against is that which is contained within the ‘hollow round of our skulls’, and sometimes I am tempted to despair.

  30. Monckton has another go (WUWT /2014/03/26/coldest-u-s-winter-in-a-century/), now he is declaring the October to March average to be the “coldest interequinoctial winter” in the US. He pushes a graph by CFACT, but it turns out it’s based on Goddard’s work (part of it can be seen at (sg@wp /2014/02/15/a-good-visualization-of-us-temperature-fraud/). The plot looks very different from the NCDC plot
    I have no idea, whether he just used the raw data or if he just averaged all stations without appropriate area weighting and anomaly calculations or a mixture of all of the above.

    [Response: All of the above.

    Plus, when he published his "October through March" graph, March wasn't over yet.]

    • Well, since Goddard believes (or at least asserts) that all adjustments are fraudulent, I guess it’s consistent that he uses just the raw data.