Legacy Electronics Botch Temperature Recordings Across Australia (Part 1)

From Jennifer Marohasy

 By jennifer

A few years ago, I reported that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology changed a minimum temperature at the official Goulburn weather station from a very chilly minus 10.4C to a chilly minus 10.0C on Sunday 2nd July 2017. After we protested, the Bureau removed the value altogether, and no value was recorded in the official archive as the minimum for that day for Goulburn. After we protested some more, what I incorrectly assumed was the real value of minus 10.4 was inserted into the online database. I now regret that value having been recorded in the official archive, because I now know it to be a fraud.

Then two weeks later, on Sunday 16th July 2017, I caught the Bureau doing the same thing at the Thredbo weather station in Australia’s snow fields – changing, then deleting, a very cold temperature.

I now know the temperature archive for Thredbo for July 2017 is also a lie – in fact it is a lie right back to May 2007 when an MSI1 card was installed limiting the temperature that could be recorded to minus 10.

For more than a decade, many weather stations across the Australian mainland and in Tasmania had limits set on how cold temperatures could be recorded. The archived data is what some of my friends now call Seinfeld data: when you see -10.0 or -10.4 in the Bureau archive or a blank during winter at any of the cold weather station, well the correct value could well have been -13.2 which is the temperature recorded at Thredbo on 28th August 2018, the winter after Lance and I had the cold day limit of minus 10.0 lifted.

Graham Lloyd first reported the story in The Australian newspaper, with a photograph of Lance Pidgeon and I making the front page, on 1st August 2017. That same evening I was on Sky TV with Alan Jones and eventually an internal ‘Review of the Bureau of Meteorology’s Automatic Weather Stations’ was called. A report by the same name was issued in September 2017, carefully worded, and so implying, everything was fine: that the Bureau was faithfully recording temperatures from its 695 Automatic Weather Stations spread across the land mass of Australia.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Bureau operates an error prone network of automatic weather stations (AWS) that have never met International Organisation for Standardization 17025 or ISO 9001 requirements, nor does the Bureau operate its network of automatic weather stations in accordance with World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) recommendations.

I’ve been discussing these issues with my friend and electronics’ specialist Lance Pidgeon over the last couple of weeks, and he has written a list of ten myths about the Bureau’s automatic weather system. I plan to detail these in this new series about legacy electronics at the Bureau.

Lance will quote extensively from email exchanges published as part of Freedom of Information document 30/6150 that includes email exchanges between members of the committee appointed to review the operations of the Automatic Weather Stations following the botched recording from Goulburn and Thredbo back in July 2017. The emails between senior Bureau staff and technicians from the New Zealand MetService are public because of a Freedom of Information request initiated by former Institute of Public Affairs colleague, Evan Mulholland. Despite the odds, Evan persisted with this FOI request, with the relevant documentation now public.

In a key email, Bruce Hartley the Systems Engineering Manager at the New Zealand Met Service explains:

The equipment wasn’t faulty. The purchase specification required operation down to -10 ˚C, so the words need to be carefully written.

Bruce Hartley is referring to the need to carefully word the final report ‘Review of the Bureau of Meteorology’s Automatic Weather Stations’ because most of what the Bureau had communicated to the Australian public about temperatures as recorded at Goulburn and Thredbo to that point in time was a big lie.

I use the word ‘lie’ deliberately, and perhaps as George from Seinfeld used it when he infamously advised Jerry: Just remember, it’s not a lie, if you believe it.

I have come to understand that Bureau staff, especially the director Andrew Johnson, spend a lot of time trying to convince themselves that even if they can’t forecast the weather, they have a system that can reliably record temperatures and that the subsequence need for homogenisation, is not proof of further fudging – even if it is.

This will become more obvious as Lance explains the electronics, the focus of future posts in this series. There are at least 9 myths to follow.

Myth 1. The Bureau does not set limits on how low a cold temperature can be measured.

The Bureau had set a limit of minus 10 Celsius across its Australian automatic weather station (AWS) network including at locations likely to record temperatures below this value. We know from page 53 of the Bureau’s carefully worded internal review, Review of the Bureau of Meteorology’s Automatic Weather Stations, that this limit was in place at Thredbo for some 10 years from May 2007 until July 2017 and at Goulburn Airport from November 2002 until July 2017.

On page 4 of the same document the Bureau acknowledges lifting these limits for the locations of Tuggeranong, Mount Baw Baw, Butlers Gorge and Fingal in October 2017 by removing the MSI1 card which had a particular equipment configuration that created the artificial limit of variously minus 10.0C and minus 10.4C.

The Bureau is yet to explain how long the minus 10.0C/10.4C limits was in place at those locations.

It is also yet to assure the Australian public that it has removed the MSI1 card that created the limit from the rest of the network.

To be clear, the original ‘full range’ design specification of the Almos MSI1, as per Technical Report A2671 was -10 to +55.

As Bruce Hartley of the New Zealand Metservice explained to the Bureau in 2017:

The equipment wasn’t faulty. The purchase specification required operation down to -10 ˚C, so the words need to be carefully written.

To be clear, temperatures may have reached much lower than minus 10.4C at Goulburn on 2nd July 2017 and at Thredbo on 16th July 2017. We will never know because the MSI1 cards limited recording of temperatures to 10.0C/10.4C.

It is the case that after the limits were lifted ‘temperatures plunged’ at Thredbo, to quote from an article by Graham Lloyd published in The Australian on August 4, 2017:

Recorded temperatures at the Bureau of Meteorology’s Thredbo Top automatic weather station have dropped below -10C in the past week, after action was taken to make the facility ‘fit for ­purpose’.

A record of the Thredbo Top station for 3am on Wednesday shows a temperature reading of -10.6C. This compares with the BoM’s monthly highlights for June and July, both showing a low of -9.6C.

The BoM said it had taken immediate action to replace the Thredbo station after concerns were raised that very low temperatures were not making it onto the official record. Controversy has dogged the bureau’s automatic weather station network since Goulburn man Lance Pigeon saw a -10.4C reading on the BoM’s website on July 2 automatically adjust to -10C, then disappear.

Later independent monitoring of the Thredbo Top station by scientist Jennifer Marohasy showed a recording of -10.6C vanish from the record.

BoM initially claimed the adjustments were part of its quality control procedures. But bureau chief executive Andrew Johnson later told Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg that investigations had found a number of cold weather stations were not “fit for purpose” and would be replaced.

The BoM has admitted that, in addition to Goulburn and Thredbo Top, stations at Tuggeranong in the ACT, Butlers Gorge and Fingal in Tasmania and Mount Baw Baw in Victoria would be replaced.

It angers me that we will never know how cold it really got at Goulburn on the morning of Sunday 2nd July 2017 or at Thredbo on morning of Sunday 16th July 2017 because the Bureau did indeed have limits set on how cold temperatures could be recorded. That information is lost forever.

In fact, the Bureau continues to operate a legacy system of outdated electronics and computing software developed in the 1990s with inherent biases, that mostly hype maximum temperatures. This combined with setting a cold limit of minus 10.0/10.4C means that university researchers relying on Bureau data have been able to claim that ‘record hot days are now 12 times more likely in Australia than days of record-breaking cold’ – Peter Hannam from the Sydney Morning Herald quoting Sophie Lewis and Andrew King from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. This fits the human-caused global warming narrative that is a reliable source of funding for academics, catastrophe stories for mainstream media, and government subsidies that prop-up renewable energy industries.

If the temperature recording system at the Bureau was overhauled, all of this would be put at risk.

Reliable temperature records would likely show only a modest increase in temperatures from the 1960s and that most of the record hot days occurred during the first half of the twentieth century. Furthermore, there would be no decline in cold days.

And until the Bureau reopens the Charlotte Pass weather station which holds the record of minus 23.0C for the lowest daily minimum temperature ever recorded in Australia, set on 29 June 1994, the chances of a new record minimum cold day are reduced. The Charlotte Pass weather station was closed on 31st March 2015. The Bureau would never close any of its hot weather stations, like Oodnadatta or Onslow. But it does have an aversion to new cold day records. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology is a disgrace.

It is all incredibly sad for those of us who care about the integrity of Australia’s historical temperate data and for accurately assessing climate variability and change.

Charlotte Pass village in summer. During a cold day in June 1994, blanketed in snow, temperatures here got down to -23.0. The weather station at Charlotte Pass has since been closed by the Bureau. This picture is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unproved license; attribution Pavel Špindler.

The feature image includes Lance Pidgeon and I at the Goulburn Airport on the morning of the 31st July 2017.

Eventually I get to discuss Goulburn and Thredbo in this interview with Alan Jones: