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Climate-trivia headlines and the BoM’s unscientific obession with “hottest ever” records

Posted By Joanne Nova On April 22, 2014 @ 7:37 pm In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

Bob Fernley Jones takes a close look at Australian temperature records, and finds that while the BoM can fish out records that are technically true, those “records” can also be paradoxically irrelevant and largely meaningless at the same time. Not so long back weren’t these same people telling us that only long term climate trends mattered, and that one hot or cold year, or bad storm was cherry picking and unscientific?

Dare I suggest the obsession with headline records is more a PR stunt than a scientific measure?

Its true, that 2013 was probably the warmest year in Australia averaged over the whole land mass and the whole year, at least since we started recording temperatures  (a microsecond ago in geological time). But even so, for individual Australians it didn’t necessarily mean anything much at all. Nor has it got any scientific meaning; one hot summer over 5% of the surface of the world doesn’t tell us anything about cause and effect and CO2. But who would know that from reading a BoM release? But from BoM data we can tell that:

  • All seven states and territories of Australia have had significantly warmer summers in past years. (So, except for toddlers and young children, almost all Australians have lived through hotter summers before.)
  • January 2013 was not the absolute hottest January in any state or territory.
  • Spring 2013 – not the hottest spring anywhere except in Queensland.
  • South Australia had the hottest ever year, but none of its seasons was a hottest ever season.

In the end, Australian temperature records are only 100 years old (according to the BoM anyway). Parts of Australia are 4,000 million years old. Wouldn’t impartial scientific advisors also point out the bigger perspective on how scientifically meaningless these records are?

– Jo


Guest Post by Bob Fernley-Jones

 More Naughties From The Australian Bureau of Meteorology et al.

Now that temperature data for last summer (Dec – Feb) are out, let’s review some scary authoritative pronouncements from the past year.

The Climate Commission, made much of dramatizing the earlier summer of 2012/2013 with labels like “angry” and unprecedented. (Then they were dismissed by the incoming LNP government [A] ).  On 3 January 2014, Dr David Jones, a senior scientist at the BoM [B] appeared all over the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) with the message that 2013 was the hottest year for Australia on record, and he also emphasised:

“The Year [2013] started with an exceptionally hot January, the hottest month on record at least since 1910” …and… “We had the hottest summer on record”

Furthermore, the BoM has a recent report entitled Annual Climate Report 2013 on its website, from which there is this extract:

“2013 was Australia’s warmest year since national records began in 1910…   …Summer 2012–13 and spring 2013 were the warmest on record, with mean temperatures 1.11 °C and 1.57 °C above average, respectively…  …January was Australia’s warmest month on record in absolute terms, with a mean temperature of 29.67 °C. Temperatures were above average over nearly all of the continent.”


Summer in this hot dry land [C] is arguably more important than whole year average temperatures, so let’s firstly take a closer look at the BoM data for summer.

Fig. 1 below comes from two BoM time-series graphics for all of Australia, that include the latest 2013/4 summer data.  The pink bars highlight the 2012/3 “angry summer”, and notice that the surrounding six or more years are much cooler (including unannounced below “average” blue) in both cases.  Words like “excessive noise”, “outlier” and “significance” could be used.


Figure 1


I’ve added green horizontal lines showing two alternative comparative averages over the last seven and twelve-years, (based on the so-called raw data in both cases).  Those high peaks may be mere noisy outliers.

Nevertheless, the so-called “Climate Council” [D] which was reincarnated from the sacked tax payer funded “Climate Commission” has issued another report calling the 2014 summer as another angry summer with even more records broken than 2013.

Strangely, global average temperatures (which include Australia?) from various other authorities start from 1850 or 1880, not 1910 (when BoM records start).  Furthermore, the period 1850 -1910, according to some sources, included extremely hot times in Australia (like in 1896); since discarded by the BoM.

According to the Fig. 1 data, the 2012/3 summer for the whole of Oz was prima facie unprecedentedly warm.  However, there is a paradox to be found in the more detailed BoM data following next.

Summer of 2013 was not a record in any state or territory

When Australian State and Territories are examined, a very different picture emerges for the whole of Australia:


Figure 2

In short, ALL seven divisions of Australia have records of significantly warmer summers in past years. It is  possible that when each state had its “hottest” ever year, the other states had cooler years so the net total average across the nation was smaller in those years. But nonetheless the claim that it was therefore an unprecedentedly hot 2012/3 summer is a potentially misleading claim.  Most people in all the states of Australia have lived through hotter summers, and one hot summer in one part of the world doesn’t tell us anything about cause  and effect and CO2.

And, what of Dr Jones’ claim for January 2013?

“The Year started with an exceptionally hot January, the hottest month on record at least since 1910”

January 2013 was not the absolute hottest January in any state or territory

Fig. 3 below gives relevant BoM data for January in all seven divisions of the country, and from those data, again, it is misleading to imply that January 2013 was unprecedentedly hot.


Figure 3

Incidentally, if you prefer to look at only maximum temperatures in January or whatever, a starting link is here.  Then use the drop-down menu. The outcome you would find is somewhat similar.

Spring 2013 – not the hottest, except in Queensland

Returning to the current BoM report for 2013, they asserted, (with my bold emphasis):

…Summer 2012–13 and spring 2013 were the warmest on record, with mean temperatures 1.11 °C and 1.57 °C above average, respectively…

So, let’s take a look at their records for spring, even as far back as 1910 in Fig. 4:


Figure 4


The hottest whole year?

Now let’s return to Dr Jones’ ABC multi-broadcasts that the whole of the year 2013 was the hottest on record, and which the media around the world eagerly repeated. [E]  The relevant BoM time-series graphics are available here. See the analysis by region in Fig. 5:


Figure 5

According to this BoM data, four of the seven regions were cooler in 2013 and only one (South Australia) was significantly warmer, (although again, the SA four-year 2010 to 2013 average was much cooler).   Thus, the following claims by Dr Jones on ABC’s AM gave misleading perspectives:

“So 2013 was by far Australia’s hottest year on record.”

“We know last year for example, every single case that we’ve recorded temperatures was above average. We know every place across Australia is getting hotter, and very similarly almost every place on this planet”.

But, the BOM records show that only South Australia was significantly warmer in 2013.   It may be that this ambiguity of data arises from the major “noise” alluded above being in random annual and regional distribution?  Thus, usually whilst there may be a big high in one region at a particular time, in others it is generally simultaneously low, such that their average is depressed.   Study of the time-series in Fig 5 reveals that the significant high in South Australia atypically coincided with modest highs in all the other six regions in 2013 such that their combined average was a high number without any significance trend-wise.

A disturbing aspect of this is that statistical matters are a part of the work requirements of the BoM and yet a relevant senior representative (Dr Jones) does not point out how relatively insignificant many of these “records” are.

South Australia had the hottest ever year, but none of its seasons was a hottest ever season

Another interesting consideration WRT the hottest year on record is the seasonal distribution.  So let’s see in Fig. 6 what happened seasonally for the standout hottest State of SA:


Figure 6

Strangely, although the record for the whole year was hotter, all of its four seasons were simultaneously cooler.

Anyway, since the BoM 30-year average for winter varies from 19.00 C for Northern Territory to 6.40 C for Tasmania it would seem to be good news if it were warmer in winter?  Incidentally, NT has a noisy but strong cooling trend in winter since 1995.


[A] In September 2013 one of the first things done by the new Liberal-National Party government, was to dismiss the Climate Commission headed by Prof Tim Flannery.  They reincarnated themselves with crowd-funding allegedly to a million dollars.  A sympathetic Wikipedia article is here.

[B]  Dr David Jones is Head of Climate Analysis, National Climate Centre, BoM.

[C]  There is an iconic poem by Dorothea Mackellar first published in England in 1908 when she was feeling homesick about her sunburnt Australia, (despite the cattle dying etcetera).  Australian version of 1911 is here.

[D]  The Climate Council report does not stack-up with Fig. 2 above and this article entitled “Lies of the Climate Commission/Council: Part 18” is somewhat indicative of its reliability.

[E]  In an advanced Google.au search on 3/Feb for all of words and phrase:    2013 australia “hottest year”   restricted to the past month there were about 7,600 hits globally. This picks-up the start of the Dr Jones affair on 3/Jan.  (Screen shot is available upon request)

Bob Fernley-Jones


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