KIMBALL – In the globalized world of 21st Century humanity, few items are more reported on than climate change. The prevailing narrative is that debate over climate change has ended, and many media outlets -- including the New York Times and the UK’s Guardian -- have stated that they will no longer publish news stories or opinions which question the so-called consensus of proven science on climate change.
The New York Times has long been a leader in reporting on climate change. Since the late 1980’s the “Newspaper of Record” has consistently reported that climate change is real, that it’s caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide, and that it poses a deadly threat to the planet. According to this popular narrative a 97 percent consensus of the best climate scientists in the world agree that skyrocketing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are causing an unprecedented increase in global air temperatures, and that the warming is causing polar ice to melt and sea levels to rise. If left unchecked, the Times and most other major media providers predict world-wide ecological disaster by the end of the present century.
Recently the Times produced an online app to help people grasp the magnitude of global warming. The introduction to the app states, “As the world warms because of human-induced climate change, most of us can expect to see more days when temperatures hit 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher. See how your hometown has changed so far and how much hotter it may get.” To use the app, you simply enter your hometown in one box and the year of your birth in another box. A clever algorithm will then query a data set and produce a graph showing the increasing number of hot days in your hometown over the span of your lifetime.
When Steve Goddard, a longtime scientist and electrical engineer from Boulder, Colorado, tried the app, he entered his hometown -- Mt. Vernon, Illinois -- and his birth year -- 1957. The app noted that the data it was using only goes back to 1960. The results showed that in 1960 Mt. Vernon had 30 days above 90 degrees, while in 2017 that number had climbed to 41. The graph accompanying these numbers showed a steady annual increase in 90 degree days between 1960 and 2017, and predicted that the number would reach more than 70 by the year 2089.
Goddard, who has worked on climate and weather models for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, compared the NYT app results to the official temperature record kept by the U.S. Historical Climate Network (USHCN), which has a temperature record for Mt. Vernon going back to 1895.
Interestingly, the USHCN record for Mt. Vernon counted 40 days above 90 degrees in 1960, or 10 more than the NYT app. Since 1960 at Mt. Vernon, the average number of 90 degree or warmer days has been steadily falling, and in 2017 there were only 16 days at or above 90. Through September 2 of this year, Mt. Vernon has had only 14 days above 90 degrees, with the last one happening on Aug. 8.
To recap, the NYT app claimed 30 days at 90 or above in 1960, and 41 days at 90 or above in 2017. The actual temperature record shows 40 days at or above 90 in 1960, and only 16 days at or above 90 in 2017.
Why the discrepancy? It’s a good question. As the official record shows – and the USHCN record includes more than 1,200 locations all across the nation going back to at least 1895 – that temperatures across the nation were at a peak in the 1930’s – the dust bowl, depression era – and have been dropping steadily ever since.
There was a brief warming period from about 1988 to 2000, but that warming was cooler than the peak period in the 1930’s, and temperatures across the nation have continued to slowly cool since about 2003.
With easily available temperature records going back more than 120 years, why does the NYT data go back only 58 years? And with a demonstrated cooling record over the last 80-90 years, why does the app show warming and predict increasing warming? Again, these are good questions.
Your correspondent’s hometown is Kimball, Nebraska, and he was born in 1960. With this information entered in the NYT app, the results are also at odds with the official temperature record.
“When you were born,” the app says, “the Kimball area could expect about 22 days per year to reach at least 90 degrees. Today the Kimball area can expect 27 days at or above 90 degrees, on average.” The accompanying graph shows a definite trend upward. From the evidence presented by the app, one would have to agree that it’s getting hotter in the Kimball area. So what does the official temperature record for Kimball show?
In 1960 there were 41 days at or above 90 degrees. In 2017 there were 36 days at or above 90. Thus far in 2018 there have been 26 days at or above 90.
Again, why the discrepancy? There were many more hot days in 1960 than the NYT app shows, and the number of hot days per year are getting fewer rather than more as we move ahead in time as the app suggests. Why?
It’s a good question, and as with many things, the answer is likely to be complex. In one sense, the “why” question doesn’t really matter. The actual measured data simply show that the NYT app is in error, and that’s an important thing to know.
It’s probably worth keeping in mind that media reports can be in error, just as scientific predictions can be in error. Fortunately, it’s not very difficult at all to check facts in the 21st century.