Were this week’s “all-time high” temperatures legitimate? Here is how it is determined

This week scorching heat exceeded high temperatures in the northwest. The headlines, TV news and Twitter feeds of the past week have been full of daily statements on setting new records and, in some cases, “bursts. “

But for now, these all-time heat records are preliminary.

It will take a committee, more measurements and tests before these numbers can be officially entered in the record books.

Washington State climatologist Nick Bond says “weather nerds” take these record breaking events very seriously. The data should be as accurate as possible, especially for the highest temperature on record in the state.

“We want to know if these extreme events are a big problem, and we want to know if they are more extreme than before,” says Bond.

In Spokane, the weather has been continuously monitored since 1881, which “tells the story of how the climate has changed in a particular area – and this type of information is used on everything from crops that farmers plant to pruning. of a culvert a city engineer should set up, or how a sewage treatment plant operator should do his job, ”says Mark Turner, observing program manager with the National Weather Service in Spokane.

The temperature to beat in Washington was 118 degrees Fahrenheit – set in 1928 at Wahluke and tied in 1964 near the Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River near the Tri-Cities. Several locations may have matched or broken those records on Tuesday.

Oregon has broke his city records during this heat wave. It may not have beaten the state’s previous all-time high temperature of 119 degrees Fahrenheit, first recorded at Prineville in 1898 and tied at Pendleton a few weeks later. Oregon will also form an extreme climate committee to investigate the statewide records.

It is likely that this week’s temperatures hit 118 in Dallesport, Wash., and Hermiston, Oregon.

The verification process

To verify any potential records, the agencies that took these times are forming an extreme climate committee to investigate the readings and equipment.

First question: does reading make sense? It should be similar to the surrounding temperatures, and not suggest, for example, that Ephrata is hotter than the Earth’s inner core.

“A lot of this is just, in layman’s terms, the buddy system – where you look at the surrounding sightings and ask yourself, does this one stick out like a sore thumb or not? Could there be something awesome about this? Bond said.

If this is true, investigators will go to the sensor and look at the location. It shouldn’t be right next to a parking lot, for example. Nothing within 200 feet of the gauge should affect the reading, says Turner. And it can easily happen.

“If you are driving on the freeway and you come across a tall tower, with a camera and weather station on top, it’s a traffic information system managed by the Department of Transportation (of the State ). These are usually very close to viaducts or roads. All of these things can have a bias effect on the sensor itself, ”Turner explains.

This is one of the reasons the National Weather Service measures temperatures at airports. The sensors can be placed in the middle of fields that are not near obstacles or anything that can produce excess heat.

The location of equipment is often the biggest issue in checking all-time records, says Turner.

For example, until 1941, the Spokane Weather Station measured the temperature of a building on one of the city’s main thoroughfares, Riverside Avenue in the downtown area. Now this equipment is at the airport.

“You can’t accurately measure temperatures on Riverside Avenue these days,” says Turner.

The committee will also likely test the equipment.

To test the accuracy, Turner says he saw a sensor that detected an extreme temperature removed and sent to a lab.

Even though technology has changed a lot since temperatures were first recorded in the late 19th century, that doesn’t mean the record comparisons are apples and oranges, Turner says.

He says the equipment used in 1881 would have been a liquid and glass thermometer.

“These are very specific. They suffer (from the fact that) an eyeball has to look at it. Whether it’s 117.4 or 117.5 is a bit subjective, but they’re very, very specific, ”says Turner.

In fact, he says, a state committee on climate extremes in Colorado used a liquid and gas thermometer to check the furnace the lab was using to test its equipment.

Temperature measurement today

Today, the National Weather Service primarily uses an automated surface observation system, which electronically measures temperatures and five-minute averages.

“It tends to moderate a peak in some way that could negatively impact a temperature record. So it’s probably a little harder to set all-time record temperatures these days than it would have been in 1881, ”says Turner.

Bond says that with automation now, user error is less likely. In 1913, the high air temperature in the United States was recorded at 134 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley. It’s called into question recently.

“It seems the operator was at least partially at fault. This guy was working there at the time and was proud that he got to kill him in Death Valley this summer, ”Bond said. “I don’t know if he necessarily fabricated the temperatures, but maybe he knew something was a bit unusual and used it anyway.”

It’s hard to go back in time and re-investigate, Bond says.

“With an extreme like that for the whole country and maybe the whole world, you want to get it right,” he says.

Getting it right is the goal of this next extreme climate committee. The official verification can take from a few weeks to a month.

Related Stories: Copyright 2021 Northwest Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Northwestern Public Broadcasting.

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