Climate Scavenger Hunt (No Climate Expertise Required)

Anthony Watts is offering an opportunity to help out climate science and participate in something of a climate scavenger hunt.  What is considered the most "trustworthy" temperature history of the US comes from a series of temperature measurement points called the US Historical Climate Network (USHCN).  There are perhaps 20-25 such measurement points in each state, usually in smaller towns and more remote spots.  Some of these stations are well-located, while others are not - having been encroached by urban heat islands of growing towns or having been placed carelessly (see here and here for examples of  inexcusably bad installations that are currently part of the US historical temperature record).

Historically, climate scientists have applied statistical corrections to try to take into account these biasing effects.  Unfortunately, these statistical methods are blind to installation quality.  Watt is trying to correct that, by creating a photo database of these installations, with comments by reviewers about the installation and potential local biases. 

He has created an online database at surfacestations.org, which he explains here.  Your faithful blogger Coyote actually contributed one of the early entries, and it was fun  -- a lot like geocaching but with more of a sense of accomplishment, because it was contributing to science.

So why is it a scavenger hunt?  Well, my son had a double header in Prescott, AZ, which I saw was near the Prescott USHCN station.  Here is what I began with, from the official listing: 

PRESCOTT (34.57°N, 112.44°W; 1586 m)

That looks easy -- latitude and longitude.  Well, I stuck it in Google maps and found this.  Turns out on satellite view that there is nothing there.  So I then asked around to the state climatologist's office - do you know the address of this station.  Nope.  So I zoomed out a bit, and started doing some local business searches in Google maps around the original Lat/Long.  I was looking for government property - fire stations, ranger stations, airports, etc.  These are typically the location of such stations.  The municipal water treatment plant to the east looked good.  So we drove by, and found it in about ten minutes and took our pictures.  My entry is here.

Not only was it fun, but this is important work.  In trying to find some stations in several states, I actually called the offices of the local state climatologist (most states have one).  I have yet to find one that had any idea where these installations were beyond the lat-long points in the data base.  If we are going to make trillion dollar political choices based on the output of this network, it is probably a good idea to understand it better.

  • Craig

    There's one in my Utah city. I'll go find it.

  • Greg

    Also remember that at every electrical power generating station they carefully monitor weather conditions....and in Oklahoma they have a MESONET system that records various weather data including soil temperature, cloud cover and soil humidity for wheat farming. This MESONET data is public, but requires some digging to find, or nominal fee to acquire in digital format.