Perception versus Reality…it’s always good to analyze the facts, especially when one side is both politically and monetarily driven. Sometimes, you have to dig deep to find the reliability in the numbers.
According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA-NCEI, formerly the National Climatic Data Center, NOAA-NCDC), 2016 was the warmest year on record (since 1895) for Texas, by way of Average Daily Minimum Temperatures – a common data point used by Climate Change sympathizers.
The Average Daily Minimum Temperature is found by recording the lowest temperature every day of the month, then finding the average for the month, then averaging all of the monthly averages through the year together.
While 6 of the Lower 48 States were cited as encountering the “warmest average minimum temperatures on record”, I’ve only concentrated on Texas – the second largest state in America. The list also contained Montana, Nebraska, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Virginia. Alaska, the largest state in the nation, although not part of the Contiguous 48 States, also made the list.
As seen in the maps above, the NCEI appears to cover much of the state of Texas in “Record Warmest” average minimum daily temperatures throughout the calendar year of 2016 – with a statewide average of 55.2*F.
After doing some local studies on Del Rio, Texas, and finding that 2016 WAS NOT the warmest on record for the area, it intrigued me to dive a little bit deeper into the entire state of Texas. So, I analyzed 200 weather stations (I didn’t intend on 200, it just happened to be the amount of stations that made my list, by coincidence) with data from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service website itself.
The NCEI was very clear in it’s 2016 Annual Report that all temperature rankings referred to a 122-year period from 1895-2016, unless otherwise stated. Then, they highlighted Texas as “Record Warmest” by way of highest minimum temperatures, which, since it wasn’t specified, would be assumed to be on record from 1895-2016.
But, it’s not.
First of all, of the 200 weather stations that I analyzed (you can see all the data in the map above), only 10 stations actually contained 122 years worth of semi-reliable data. By semi-reliable, I mean that most of the monthly data through each year was recorded. Of those 10 stations, only 7 actually had complete data for all 12 months of all 122 years, and only one of those stations (El Paso), recorded record-high daily minimum temperatures in 2016 within the 122-year period of record.
El Paso. Not The Entire State of Texas. Only The Westernmost Metropolis In Texas.
Now, my research may have been done a little differently than the NCEI. For example, if I found unreliable data – as in data was missing – I didn’t use it. Originally, my list of locations was much larger, but I could only find 200 reliable weather stations. Why? Looking back in history, many years only had recorded temperatures across certain months of the year – not the entire year. Since we’re talking about an annual average, I need the entire year’s worth of data to be accurate.
For example, if in the old days, only winter months were recorded by Texas snowbirds, but after the introduction of air conditioning and year-round living, every summer month was recorded – it certainly would skew the average temperatures to appear on a rapid warming trend. I did my best to avoid that scenario by using reliability statistics – a degree of certainty that the data used was complete and accurate.
Reliability is key. It’s easy to skew numbers any which way if they are from an unreliable source. So, when I mention “reliable weather stations” and “reliable years”, I’ve simply only included monthly and annual data that did not have missing or obviously incorrect data. And, I didn’t change a single piece of data, as NOAA allegedly did.
Here’s some interesting discoveries:
As seen above, it doesn’t really appear that Texas was any record-breaker in 2016 – only one station – El Paso – reliably recorded a long-term, 122-year #1 average minimum temperature rank.
Any sharp-eye’d bird would use this opportunity to hit me here – when they look at 2016’s average minimum temperature across the state of Texas – either at 55.0*F which I determined in my study, or 55.2*F which NCEI determined – either which would still put Texas on top for the 122 years. Part of this may be due to the fact that my data traveled back to 1875 (142 years, although only accounted for a few locations), not 1895 like the NCEI did (122 years). But, this figure is not very substantiated regardless. As seen in the above numbers, there’s only an average of 52.2 years of reliable data, not 122 years as claimed by the NCEI. And, of the reliable data that we do have, the numbers come out to a 200-station average ranking of between #5 and #6 warmest on record, not #1.
So, the credibility of the claim of being the “warmest on record” simply by way of a state-average based on unreliable data spanning an average of not even half of the claimed time span is quite deceiving.
But, there were a number of record-setters in Texas in 2016. 74 altogether, about half of them being somewhat reliable. One-third (34%) of the 2016 record-breaking weather stations were placed in their locations within the last 20 years, while only 19 of the 74 (26%) record-breakers had been in place for more than 75 years – 47 years short of the 122-year time span. Only El Paso actually recorded a reliable, true, full-length record. Of the records – nearly 61% of the 33 reliable record broken occurred in and around large cities, such the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, where Urban Heat Islands are common.
So is Texas warming? Sure, 2016 was a hot year. 2012 was equally, if not more, hot depending on the metric you use. So, while there appears to be some unorganized warming trend in the most recent 20 years (likely caused by long-term climate fluctuations) – and there is plenty of reliable weather data to support that claim – significant and rapid large-scale climate change is in no way imminent – at least using the deceptive temperature statistics that the NCEI presents.
Now there could be a case based on recent temperature trends for microclimate change – largely human-driven urban heat island effects. Building more asphalt roads to absorb incoming heat and building more concrete skyscrapers to trap in radiation and pollutants could cause an increase in heating – or rather a decrease in cooling – through urban areas. That’s why 61% of 2016’s high-minimum temperature records were broken in large cities.
Meteorologist Dan Schreiber