Thursday, February 23, 2012

SA hotter in 1960-ABC wrong again

Map showing weather stations in South Australia with continuous records from at least 1960 through 2012. Red stars indicate stations with average maximum temperature for January 1 and 2 1960 greater than January 1 and 2 2012, grey stars indicate the opposite. Note the extent of the red stars where ave max temp Jan1+2 for 1960 is greater than the same days in 2012. Data from BOM-see text below for methodology.

In our post Extreme weather misinformation at the ABC we took ABC to task for their claim  "South Australia is sweltering with the hottest start to the year in more than a century." We pointed the ABC to the Bureau of Meteorology website that indicated a number of warmer periods over the course of the last 100 years or so and suggested ABC had it wrong. Indeed BOM's description of heatwaves in South Australa included this passage:
"A similar heatwave in January 1960 was not so sustained, because cool  changes brought relief, but temperatures exceeded 45°C in the north of the State from 31 December to 3 January. On 2 January, Oodnadatta reached a state record - and arguably an Australian record - of 50.7°C. The minimum that day was 34.6°C. The temperature again reached the low 40s on 6-8 January, and on the 10th. There were several deaths in the 1960 heat wave: five babies and eight adults died, including five found dead beside an outback road. Other victims were admitted to hospital with heat exhaustion, including 18 in Broken Hill. 
However hospitals would have provided little relief, because few were air-conditioned at that time.

ABC's Alan Sunderland (Head of Policy & Staff Development, ABC News) has now replied to our complaint of a factual error and offers this explanation:
Received Tue, Feb 21, 2012 
Dear Mr Hendrickx

It appears that you have mis-heard or mis-read what the ABC reported.
We did not say "South Australia's biggest heat wave" or the "hottest day in a century".  We said it was the state's hottest start to the year in more than a century. 
Our story went to air at 8am on the 3rd of January.  This means we were asserting that the first two days of 2012 were hotter than any other previous 1st and 2nd January days in the preceding century. 
Since receiving your complaint, we have double checked weather data for the state's most populous centre, Adelaide. 
Using figures from West Terrace from 1900 to 1977, and then from 1977 from Kent St, the hottest recorded temperatures for Adelaide for 1st and 2nd of January were in 1900 itself, with 43.1 and 42.1 degrees. This year Kent St recorded 41.6 and 40.6. There have been hotter days over this period but no other record of 2 days in excess of 40 degrees in a row.
Parafield Airport which has records back to 1929 has also never recorded two 40 degree days over the beginning of January until this year with 42.0 and 41.7.
The ABC does not profess to have investigated all weather data for all South Australian sites going back to 1912. However, we believe our report was accurate and appropriate, given the main focus of the story was on the electrical supply and fire safety consequences of record hot weather in South Australia.  It was most definitely not an attempt to mislead the Australian public.
Yours sincerely

Alan Sunderland Head of Policy & Staff DevelopmentABC News

From ABC NEWS WATCH to Alan Sunderland, sent Wed, Feb 22, 2012
Thanks Alan,
It seems your researchers are not doing their job properly. Again a quick search of the internet finds higher extremes across South Australia in January 1960. Indeed the temperature at Oodnadatta in SA for the second of January 1960 remains an Australian record. It's 50.7 degree celcius.

The top 4 records for South Australia are as follows (note the date):
Official records for South Australia in January
Records valid as of 31 January 2012 Rank Value
1 50.7 02 January 1960 Oodnadatta Airport 17043 117 -27.56 135.45
2 50.3 03 January 1960 Oodnadatta Airport 17043 117 -27.56 135.45
3 49.4 02 January 1960 Marree 17031 50 -29.65 138.06
3 49.4 02 January 1960 Whyalla (Norrie) 18103 13 -33.03 137.53

On the first of January it was 49.2 at Oodnadtta Airport.

By contrast in 2012 for the 1st and 2nd of January Oodnadatta recorded 43.2 degrees C for each day.

BOM provide maps showing Australian daily maximum temperature extreme area. The map for 1st of January and 2nd of January area attached and these do not show much in the way of extremes for the state.

Your cherry picking of weather records for Adelaide says nothing about temperatures across the state. There is no basis to the claims made by ABC news that "it was the state's hottest start to the year in more than a century."
This is pure speculation on the part of ABC. Once again I ask you to clarify the record.
Perhaps ABC News could simply return to reporting to the facts without adding the unnecessary factually inaccurate hyperbole.
Marc Hendrickx

We noted that "ABC does not profess to have investigated all weather data for all South Australian sites going back to 1912. "
Neither did we. We spent about an hour on the BOM website and we only went back as far as January 1960, and we only looked at stations with continuous records over than time. We took the average of the maximum temperature for January 1 and 2 for the years 1960 and 2012 and plotted them on a map, producing the figure at the head of this post. Clearly a larger proportion of the state was hotter in 1960, than 2012. It seems the SE corner of SA was hotter in 2012, compared to 1960. This prompted the following additional email to Alan Sutherland.

Sent Wed, Feb 22, 2012
Alan, Further to my email of earlier today please find attached a map (ed-the map at the start of this post) based on BOM data that compares Max temps for Jan 1+2, 1960 to Jan 1+2 2012. This is for stations that include readings for both dates. Stations that do not include readings for both years were omitted. The distribution of temperatures indicates that a higher proportion of the state experienced higher temperatures in 1960 compared to 2012. This contradicts ABC's assertion made in its January report. BOM data is provided below, please feel free to check it.

Once again I request you correct the record.

Marc Hendrickx

Method. BOMs climate database was searched for stations with max. temp records from Jan 1-2, 1960 and Jan 1-2 2012. Max. temps were averaged over the two days.

TownStation NumberLatitudeLongitudeAve temp 1960Ave temp 2012difference
Adelaide Airport23034-34.94138.533739.8-2.8
Streaky Bay18079-32.8134.2241.136.34.8
Mt Barker23733-35.06138.8534.238.9-4.7
Mt Gambier26021-37.75140.7726.239-12.8

ABC News: write the story, then they check the facts, and still they make mistakes. Is that value for money?

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