A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).

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BOM admits they got it wrong on “worst Queensland drought”

How much does the BOM care about misleading Australians? Not much apparently, unless they are caught doing it. Everyone makes mistakes, but what matters is what they do to correct it.

The BOM claimed (and the ABC broadcast) that this Queensland drought is the worst in 80 years, but Ken Stewart showed with their own graphs that it was only the worst for 9 years.  Stewart politely informed both groups  two weeks ago. The ABC excused themselves immediately because they always believe the BOM no matter what it says and never ask any hard questions (it’s not like they are paid to make sure Australians get the right information is it? what do you expect for $1bn?). The BOM took five days to fob the error off even though the “mistake” was obvious against the BOM’s own graphs.

But yesterday Maurice Newman mentioned the mythical 80 year drought in The Australian, lo, suddenly the BOM feel the urge to send another email to Ken and the ABC.

Dear Ken, Further to our correspondence we can confirm that media statements made to the ABC by a Bureau employee on 6 January 2014 did not accurately reflect the relative severity [...]

ABC got it wrong, BOM not concerned with Australian public being misinformed

In a followup to the post If the BOM was incompetent, the ABC would be the last to find out, Ken Stewart has a reply from the BOM.

The news story run by the ABC said the current Queensland drought was the worst in 80 years. When Ken pointed out that the BOM’s own graphs showed that the drought in 2003 was even worse, and the conditions were not that unusual, the ABC effectively said they were parroting BOM statements which, ahem, is all any public broadcaster could be expected to do, right? It’s not like we pay the 1.1 billion-dollar-ABC to ask our bureaucrats hard questions, is it?

Ken wrote to the BOM, who have now replied, and he’s posted it: “How not to admit a mistake”. The BOM blandly point him at their official drought statement which contradicts what their spokesman said:

The current drought in Queensland is comparable to the 2002–2003 drought, which was perhaps more severe in terms of rainfall deficiencies that occurred at times over a very large area. Historical data shows that the current drought is perhaps a one in ten or twenty year event over a significant part of inland eastern Australia [...]

If the BOM was incompetent, the ABC would be the last to find out

According to the ABC  the Bureau of Met tells us that Queensland has experienced “the worst drought in 80 years” and that “37.3% of the state was covered by the lowest rainfall on record”. (Watch it on iview if you can bear to).

These exacting facts are easy to check, and Ken Stewart did, but the 1.1-billion-dollar ABC did not.

Ken used the BOM’s own websites (Climate Maps and Climate Change and Variability) and shows that the current drought is the worst in 9 years, not 80, and even if it is very bad (heartbreaking for some) it’s not unusual.

Current low rain is not unusual.

The current drought is bad (see red blobs in Queensland):

NW Queensland has missed two wet seasons in a row

The Federation Drought, circa 1900, was much much worse:

(Federation Drought graphed only 1900 – 1902)

Ken wrote to the ABC, and Genevieve Hussey replied immediately — effectively saying the ABC repeat all BOM claims, no matter how hyperbolic, extraordinary, or repetitive they sound.

The information in our report was based on an interview with climatologist Mr Jeff Sabburg from the Bureau of Meteorology. He was also interviewed by [...]

Satellites show 2014 was NOT the hottest ever spring (or winter or summer or autumn) in Australia.

The headlines are burning around the nation: 2014 was the hottest ever spring! Except it wasn’t. The UAH satellite coverage sees all of Australia, day and night, and are not affected by urban heat, airport tarmacs, “gaps in the stations”, or inexplicable adjustments.

When will the Bureau of Meteorology discover satellites? How many years will it take to train the ABC journalists to ask the BOM if satellite measurements agree or disagree with their highly adjusted, altered, deleted, and homogenised ground stations?

I used exactly no tax dollars to email John Christy of UAH, get the latest data, and graph it to show that in Australia 2014 was not the hottest spring, and not the hottest winter, summer or autumn either. Why can’t the BOM or the $1.1 billion ABC do that?

The obsession with cherry picked, unscientific and irrelevant single season records that are not even records shows how unscientific the Bureau of Met is. By its actions we see a diligent PR and marketing agency. If the BOM served the public, they would make sure the public knew that these records depend entirely on their choice of dataset and on their mysterious homogenization procedures. If the BOM were [...]

Excuses Excuses! Neville Nicholls and the Stevenson screens that didn’t exist or did and were “cracked”?

Neville Nicholls and Sophie Lewis are striking back at George Christensen, MP, who accused the BOM of “wiping” the official records of heat waves in 1896 and demanded an inquiry. For some reason, despite their world class work, Nicholls and Lewis still don’t seem keen on having an inquiry — so they go to some length to explain why it’s “false” to say it was hotter in 1896 than it was in 2013. Oddly though, to come to this conclusion they don’t use BOM work, because the BOM concluded “it would be very difficult to compare the 19th-century temperature data with modern observations.” Instead that difficult task was done by Berkley. Nichols calls it “brave”, but a “fact” at the same time.

In their long article, what they don’t explain is why they almost never mention any of the hundreds of ultra hot historic temperatures in their press releases and national news. George was “wrong”, and that’s a “fact” we’re told, but most of their article  on The Conversation explains why we don’t know what the temperature was in 1896. Try not to get confused.

That old data is dodgy see — I’ll paraphrase: Satellites agree with the BOM.  (Seriously, this [...]

George Christensen, Australian MP, calls for an inquiry into the BOM: The media finally notices

Momentum is growing. In Federal Parliament this week George Christensen (Nationals party, Qld) gave an excellent summary of questions Jennifer Marohasy and I have been raising about the Bureau of Meteorology, and announced he would be calling for an inquiry.

It’s long past time. Why does the BOM have so little curiosity about the burning Australian heat before 1910? Why do older thermometers seem to need correction 90 years later for reading “too warm”? Why do so many hot or dry empirical measurements remain invisible in our national conversation about the climate? And with so many questions, why do the Bureau insist they are 95% certain they know what they are talking about?

The Transcript from Quadrant — Wanted: Straight Answers from the BoM.

“I rise to paint a picture of climate change — a picture where Camden, just to the south-west of Sydney, is sweltering in 50-degree heat. Over in the west it is 51 degrees in the shade at Geraldton. Perth is 44, Geelong is 43, Wilcannia 48, Carnarvon 49½ and Southern Cross is 50 degrees. The death rate is 12 in 100,000 from heat-associated deaths—435 dead over the summer!

This is not a Greens [...]

Australian summer maximums “warmed” by 200%

Which causes more summer heatwaves: carbon dioxide or Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) adjustments?

Ken Stewart has analyzed the adjustments used to create the all-new ACORN wonder dataset and compared them with another BOM dataset called AWAP, and finds, extraordinarily, that the trend in average summer maximums has been tripled by adjustments that the BOM imply are neutral.

Since summer maxima are the ones used to generate the most headlines in Australia, I ask again if the Bureau of Meteorology is a scientific agency or a PR group?  Increasing the trend in summer maxima would produce more headlines of hottest ever month, season, heatwave, and weekend.

In this graph Stewart splits the data into months, and compares the trends in maxima in the AWAP and ACORN datasets, across the entire nation. We see that most of the adjustments happen to data from the hottest months of the year, October to March. Even though the measured maxima in February and March are possibly cooler now than they were in the early 1900s, they have been adjusted to show warming trends.

When was the last time you heard the BOM tell you that their “hottest ever” February record depended on adjusting down the [...]

The Rutherglen Stoush on homogenisation — Bill Johnston bravely ventured onto “the Conversation”

Rutherglen is one of the seemingly best stations in Australia, apart from a break from 1955-1965. Bill Johnston looks closely at the raw data, finding that there is probably no trend — flat temperatures — rather than either cooling or warming. And that it’s difficult to fill in data from surrounding stations. He speculates that something fishy goes on in 1924. He also finds that rainfall probably drives a fifth of the temperature swings. He discusses his disappointment at the intellectual level of debate on The Conversation.

Because he knows the area, he also talks about the effect of wet years and dry years, and how that affects winter and summer temperatures. He has a dry wit, and lovely casual style.

I think that if we have to rely on statistical analysis to “know” whether data was shifted or moved when there is no documentation suggesting it was, all certainty is shot, and any definitive statement about temperature trends in Australia is a joke.  — Jo


The Rutherglen stoush

Guest post by Bill Johnston

The raw trend is very different from the HQ adjustments which are very different from the ACORN [...]

Another toothless review of the BOM?

In last week’s news we find — by golly — that the BOM are going to “rush” to set up an oversight panel that they were told to set up back in 2011 or 2012. Hey, it was going to take three years to set up the panel, but now they’re doing it in two! That’s what I call “action”.

So the BOM knows it’s in trouble, and they shift to Stage 2.  They’ve avoided the skeptical questions, the FOIA’s, and the request for explanations for as long as they possibly could. But now the mainstream media is involved, something has to change — because nothing is worse than playing out the questions and answers in an uncontrolled way in public. To pack away those contentious points, what better method than by appointing a committee, review panel, or some kind of “independent” assessment? The right committee can produce toothless recommendations, vague praise, and a weak slap on the wrist and it can take years to do it.

Thus and verily do Ministers sometimes palm off problems, and responsibility. All decision-making power seemingly goes to the “review” (unless it somehow produces an undesirable result). Should the review churn out the conclusion the [...]

Under pressure, Australian BOM puts up facade of “transparency” — too little, too late

Bottom line: The BOM has added a page listing “Adjustments”. It’s two years late, inadequate and incomplete. Skeptics shouldn’t have had to ask for it in the first place, and we still don’t have the algorithms and codes, or rational answers to most questions.  No one can replicate the mystery black box homogenisation methods of the BOM — and without replication, it isn’t science. There is still no explanation of why an excellent station like Rutherglen should change from cooling to warming, except for vague “statistics”, or why any station should be adjusted without documentary evidence, based on thermometers that might be 300 km away.

Lo and behold, the pressure from The Australian and independent analysts means the BOM has made a weak belated attempt to do what it has implied it always has done. When Michael Brown provided cover for the BOM he said the notion that scientists were hiding data was “pseudoscience”. The BOM, meanwhile, added a page called “Adjustments”, two years after launching “ACORN”, quietly admitting that the skeptics were right. They did not correct Brown’s baseless namecalling. Other apologists for their inexplicable anomalies, major adjustments or errors – like David Karoly — demand the skeptics [...]