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Sydney “hottest ever” mistake generates fake news

The BOM announced it was the hottest ever day in Sydney today, then realized it had it wrong, but not before headlines spread across the country. For a million dollars a day you’d think the BOM would check their own “high quality” database. A scientific agency would take great care before announcing “historic all time records”for a city of five million people. A shameless PR agency might see that sort of mistake as an advantage.

It’s careless, piled on rank neglect

Even if the day had been “a record”, the temperatures are often artificially inflated due to site changes, thermometer changes, and the one-second-record effect thanks to the introduction of electronic thermometers, all of which are a product of careless BOM management and analysis. And even over and above that, past temperatures have been adjusted or homogenised downwards — often years after they are recorded — and by secret methods that the BOM will not disclose. I’ll have more information soon on changes at Sydney Observatory, that the BOM don’t make any allowance for.

Looks like another one second record?

The BOM announced the record after Penrith hit 47.1 at 1:55pm, the BOM tweet wrongly claimed it had “broken the all time maximum temperature record for … the Sydney Metropolitan area”. Later, they updated that Penrith was 47.3 at 3:25pm. They did not mention that the observations showed that five minutes after the first “record” at 2pm it was only 46.0, so temperatures fell as much as 1.1C in five minutes. Again, five minutes after the second at 3:30, temperatures fell to 46.5. How long did the 47.3 record last? It might have been just one single second.

Electronic equipment picks up one second noise (like the two stars on the graph below) which the BOM unscientifically converts into tweets and headlines. Other countries average electronic readings over one to five minutes so they can be compared to the older records.

Penrith Lakes Temperature, Observations, Graph, Bureau of Meteorology, Jan, 2018.

The half hourly readings are marked in red. The “one second records” that the BOM uses for historic data and newspaper headlines are marked as stars.

Penrith Lakes Temperature Observations, Bureau of Meteorology.

From 1859 until 1990, mercury and alcohol thermometers could not possibly produce “one second records”. For 130 years, they missed all this noise. The BOM may be only scientific institute in the world that doesn’t seem to know the difference between electronic buzz and slowly expanding liquids in glass. And they appear to be working to keep it that way — the comparison data that would show the difference between old thermometers is being destroyed as routine practice.

“All time” is deceptive, misleading erasing history

How many Australians now think today was the Hottest Ever Day in Sydney, making the 1939 heatwave a bit more invisible?

The Penrith Lakes station only started recording in 1995, so this “all-time” record was not necessarily a record for anyone in Penrith over the age of 22. The Sydney Morning Herald claimed it went back to 1859, because that’s when records started at Sydney Observatory.

But there was no official BOM station in Penrith in 1939 or 1896, two notoriously hot years, when it might have been hotter. In 1896 in Kiama, south of Sydney on the coast it was 117F (47.2C). In Camden, 45km south of Penrith they recorded 125F. That’s 50.5C! Naturally, these are not recognised by the BOM — like the scores of other records across Australia that recorded 120 plus in the shade. Were they all wrong?

Even a tweet can fit the phrase “since records began in 1995”. Heck, the BOM could probably find the money for a double tweet if it had to.  Shouldn’t all records be reported accurately? Normally the media and twitt-o-sphere adds the baseless hype, not the scientific institutions.

The Fake News Headlines

Sydney Morning Herald

Sydney sizzles through its hottest day on record

Penrith has sweltered to the highest temperature ever recorded in the Greater Sydney region, on a day of baking heat that saw international tennis cancelled and residents flock to the beach in droves.

The Penrith observation station reached 47.1 degrees just before 2pm, with the Bureau of Meteorology confirming it was the highest reading ever recorded at the station.

That makes it the highest temperature ever recorded in the Greater Sydney region, in records stretching back to 1859.

The SMH and ABC both changed the headline and text after the BOM realized they made a mistake.

The original ABC Headline appears to have been and may have stood for three hours (hard to tell):

Sydney Hits Highest Temperature Ever Recorded

The original link (which contains the headline) now redirects to the newer story.

Sydney hits its highest temperature recorded since 1939 with Penrith reaching 47.3C

In a mass syndicated snafu, the news that  “Sydney sizzles through its hottest day on record” was shared by the MSN.com site, the SMH Facebook page, The Daily Advertiser, The HeraldThe West Australian, The LaTrobe Valley Express, The Port Lincoln Times, the Northern Daily Leader, The Penrith City Gazette, The Bendigo Advertiser, and so on and on to scores more outlets… Many of these publications have back edited or altered the stories post hoc sometimes leaving the headline in contradiction to the first line of the story. None of these news outlets did a google search, or a trove hunt for past hottest headlines. The mass of different mastheads gives the appearance of a free press, but all of them speak as one voice when it comes to the BOM.

h/t to Dave B, Andrew, Pat, Scott and Brett.

The B.O.M. with their temperature ‘fact’,
Care not if it isn’t exact,
So long as it spreads,
Through the media heads,
They can later attempt to retract.


Blackouts affect 7000 households in NSW

Hidden among the hottest headlines was a quiet mention:

As temperatures soared across the state, thousands of people were left without power, according to electricity provider Ausgrid.

Power outages across the NSW Central Coast affected more than 4000 properties, while almost 3000 properties were left without power throughout Sydney.

An Ausgrid spokeswoman said while additional load on the network from the high temperatures had contributed to some of the outages, there were several other factors at play.

Ah, the mysterious case of the “other factors”?

 For the record, The BOM tweets:

#SydneyHeat According to preliminary data #Penrith has broken the all time maximum temperature record for both this station and the Sydney Metropolitan area with 47.1 degrees at 1:55pm. Previous record 47.0 on 11/2/2017. Latest observations: http://ow.ly/7JPd30hCG2o .

Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales‏@BOM_NSW 7h7 hours

To clarify: Previous #SydneyHeat record of 47.0 degrees on 11/2/2017 was at Richmond. Penrith reached 46.9 degrees on the same day.


Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales‏Verified account @BOM_NSW 6h6 hours

#SydneyHeat: Sorry, in our earlier checks we missed a 47.8 degrees C temperature recorded at an old #Richmond station (now closed) in 1939.  47.3 today still beats the previous #Penrith record.


This blogger went hunting for the Richmond Record in 1939 that the BOM had missed, but the Climate Online Database doesn’t include it. Data is incomplete at the old Richmond RAAF.

BACKGROUND — Scandal after scandal

Book, Climate Change: The Facts 2017, IPA.This information and other oddities of Australian temperature records was discussed in my chapter “Mysterious Revisions to Australia’s Long Hot History” in the new book Climate Change: The Facts 2017. Co-authors include Clive James, Matt Ridley, Willie Soon, Roy Spencer, and Anthony Watts. Pre-order your copy now, the first edition, released last week, has sold out.  Also available as Ebook on Amazon.




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