Update: About Those Recent Temperature Records

Well, Dr. Davidson, your comment on the previous blurt has spurred me. And here’s what I’ve discovered. These data are from the NOAA (odd that it could be pronounced Noah, since we’re talking about sea level rise and the concomitant effect on human populations).

Record-breaking daily high temperatures for the month of June in the US as a percentage of the total number of observations. Data taken from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/extremes/records/.

This scatter, minus the usual eye-controlling regression line, is a portrait of the US June record-high temperatures since 1906.
     I’ve chosen to represent the data as percentages of stations reporting. It’s clear from the raw data that the reason we’re hearing alarming absolute numbers of record-breaking temperatures has more to do with the absolute increase in numbers of stations reporting to NOAA than with any real intensification of temperature records. In 1906 there were just 15 stations for which there were observations. By 1953 there were 75,399 stations reporting in June. In 2012 there were 171,442. 
     I’m a little bemused by these data. 
     The HUGE spike is 1933, the year that saw the beginning of the Dust Bowl on the North American prairies. No surprise there. Those record highs parched the plains and the wind took care of the rest. The more recent spike in 1988, coincidentally [or maybe not] was the year Dr. James E. Hansen of NASA first testified to Congress [in June of that year] that global temperatures had risen beyond the range of natural variability.
     But consider this: before the post-WWII era of the automobile there was much stochastic variability in the new record temperatures each year. Since about 1950 the world’s consumption of fossil fuels has grown more than 400 percent, yet the graph above shows what seems to me to be a remarkable quiescence. Anyone with an idea as to why that would be is welcome to weigh in.   

It’s said that records were made to be broken. Perhaps that’s true. Don’t be buoyed by the idea. Despite the near absence of unusually high numbers of June temperature records since the 1950s, what we’re seeing in these data is evidence of a steady [and inexorable] advance in the maximum daily temperatures in the US and its territories. In a world that was metastable climatologically, you’d expect data such as these to hover around zero–some years positive, some neutral (since you wouldn’t record lower temperatures if you’re tracking higher temps).
    I see nothing hopeful in these data.
    Thanks to Iain Davidson for forcing me to look more closely at the data on record-high temperatures. It’s much clearer to me now that we’re in real trouble. And, from the slope of the trend line, we’re nowhere near equilibrating the world’s climate. It’s gonna be really bad down the road.
     As I said previously, wish us luck. 

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More than 1,000 temperature records broken in a week!

Call it what you will. ‘Global weirding’ seems the best fit of the data (a term that my daughter picked up in her high-school chemistry class). Taken together, and regardless of how you interpret the extreme weather, there seems no doubt that our world’s climate is behaving badly.
     In all, 251 high temperature records were broken in the US on one day last week. Fergawdsakes, it was hotter in Kansas than in Death Valley! Some records were broken by several degrees fahrenheit. Nothing incremental about 3 degrees in excess of history when you’re talking about numbers in the vicinity of 100. Three percent! That’s an enormous jump. That’s wrath of God type stuff [if you’re into that sort of explanation]. It’s happening on a grand scale. Well… ‘grand’ if you’re into weather records, tornadoes, train wrecks, and such. Not so grand if you’re talking about the biosphere.
     There is an archaeological side to global warming. And you don’t have to be a subversive to appreciate it. Everywhere there’s a delta or an estuary, the flora and fauna will be affected first and worst there. As sea levels rise, and rise with increasing speed, our world will become a laboratory for what the human world looked like on the continental shelf at the end of the last ice age. The words ‘human misery’ will pale in the coming decades as metre by metre the sea encroaches on the most fertile, most densely populated regions in the world.
     Wish us luck. I think we’re gonna need it.

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