the record rise and fall of the record rising and falling

In a story headlined "Global Warming 'dips this year'," I read something which caught my attention:

Global temperatures will drop slightly this year as a result of the cooling effect of the La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said.

The World Meteorological Organization's secretary-general, Michel Jarraud, told the BBC it was likely that La Nina would continue into the summer.

This would mean global temperatures have not risen since 1998, prompting some to question climate change theory.

But experts say we are still clearly in a long-term warming trend - and they forecast a new record high temperature within five years.

What I'd like to know is what is meant by the term "new record high temperature."

How long have these "records" been kept, and what is the reference point for determining normal? Suppose no one had ever kept records until today. Wouldn't that mean that on every day forward for the first year, each day's temperature would set a new record for that day?

In year two, each day would have either a higher or a lower temperature, right? So, on any given day, there would either be a record low temperature or a record high temperature. As time went by, there would necessarily be fewer and fewer record temperatures, and an "average" would emerge.

How long have these records been kept? What are the mathematical odds of a record high temperature in the next five years? For all we know, it might be abnormal not to have a record in five years.

I'm not a statistician, but I smell something odd going on.

Has anyone run the numbers?

UPDATE (04/06/08): Glenn Reynolds points out that the BBC has removed much of the text that I quoted above, which I would not have noticed had I not seen Glenn's post.

I guess I can't assume that what's in the news is really in the news!

Bear in mind that while I didn't find the BBC story at InstaPundit, Glenn originally linked and quoted it three hours before I did, but the text I copied and pasted was all there when I wrote this post.

The BBC must have found their report embarrassing! Either that, or they didn't enjoy seeing skeptics link it with approval, and decided to teach them a lesson along the lines of "We can take back anything we say, so don't think you can just quote us whenever you feel like it!"

(FWIW, the Google cache still reflects the original quote in question.)

I'm wondering. Where does the BBC find these "now you see it, now you don't" editors, anyway?

Does the former KGB run an employment service for the guys who used to make commissars disappear?

posted by Eric on 04.04.08 at 12:53 PM


If they mean a one-day record temp somewhere, then I would go them one better and say we'll have one every year - and a record low, too. I suspect they mean a global average greater than 1998, the highest recorded since records started being kept in the mid 1800's.

Of course, records weren't kept everywhere starting then - they aren't kept everywhere now. We have good numbers for NW Europe and NE US back over a century. Everything else is pretty sparse and suspect.

Assistant Village Idiot   ·  April 4, 2008 2:34 PM

You ask a great question that I would genuinely like to know the answer to--what is global temperature and how is it calculated. I've asked that question around Global Warming sites and have not gotten much of an answer.

The notion that we have any idea what average global temperatures were like before the advent of weather satellies is a joke.

The truth of the matter is that we have no idea if there is anything unusual about current weather patterns and, if there is, we have no evidence that human behavior contributes to it. And without that evidence, we cannot conclude that humans are capable of turning the "warming" around, and therefore no justification for incurring the devastating costs of fighting this "warming".

tim maguire   ·  April 4, 2008 5:31 PM

Maybe they're just going tomove more temperature recorders to urban rooftops next to AC equipment. That way they can be sure to have higher temperatures.

joated   ·  April 4, 2008 8:05 PM

The purpose of the "5 year" number is to stampede us into doing something now in case global temperatures (how ever they are measured) keep falling.

I think they believe the solar scientists who say that we are in the beginning of a Little Ice Age that will bottom around 2030.

M. Simon   ·  April 4, 2008 11:37 PM

When you are dealing with a data source as big as the earth, and over much time,the law of large numbers becomes less applicable. IOW, there is doubt regarding the temperature data sets being representative. All climate change theory comes down to SWAG, in my educated opinion.
I wonder how many of the vocal proponents of climate change, such as Al Gore, have ever heard of SWAG?

Gringo   ·  April 5, 2008 12:52 AM

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