How Not To Measure Temperature: Los Angeles, the City

By | March 27, 2008


For the Full Report in PDF Form, please click here.

[Illustrations, footnotes and references available in PDF version]

[Anthony Watts is not affiliated with SPPI]

How not to Measure Temperature, Part 54:
Los Angeles, the City

This is the city. Los Angeles, California. I study weather stations here. I carry a thermometer. My name’s Anthony. The story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The day was Monday, March 24th, four days after the vernal equinox. It started out like any other day, with a bad cup of coffee and a stack of reports on scumbags your normally wouldn’t give the time of day to. But then, just as I was about to down that last gulp of coffee, a tip came in on the email hotline. It was Goetz, and his side kick Foutch.  They said there has been a heist of a weather station on the southeast side. It had been moved, and then it mysteriously showed up on the campus of USC.

9:15AM Goetz and Foutch told me they had picked up the trail of the weather station the night before. They knew it had been bagged, and that some g-men were hopping mad about it. The g-men had written a report  on the crime. In it, they claimed that because of the heist, which had been orchestrated by some other g-men at NOAA, the great City of Los Angeles had been denied it’s due: A new rainfall record year of 2004-2005. Worse than that, the temperature of the city was going down.

I’d heard about this station. It was ugly, it was dirty, it was perched on a rooftop, and it was on the wrong side of town, out by the City Department of Water and Power , just south of the Santa Ana freeway. It hung out with utility trucks and those little red street racers the punks around here drive. There was only one single photo of it . It wasn’t the kind of pristine weather station you’d take home to introduce to your mother.

10:05 AM I knew this was going to be a tough case to crack without hard as nails proof, so I decided to setup surveillance. I called in a favor from a chopper pilot named Barney that I used to share a beat with. I asked him to get aerial photos, lots of them. He asked why. I told him it was because nobody would believe that a City of Los Angeles official weather station had been on a rooftop of a parking garage and now was a shell of it’s former self sitting over at the USC campus.
I told him that when they moved it to a cool park at USC, they killed the heart and soul of the city’s temperature record with it. And worse, they not only moved the station, but they replaced the man who had sweated and toiled on the rooftop in the hot LA smog and sun to get that weather data with one of those sissy robot contraptions . They call it an ASOS, and it has a sleek look about it, but it could never do a man’s job.

12:01 PM So Barney sets me up with the aerial surveillance from this morning. He sends the photos. I took them down to the lunch counter of the corner drugstore to develop them on my laptop. I had a cup of coffee while I did that. It cost 25 cents, and included pie.

The first aerial photo was a little fuzzy, it was hard to make out the station:
But I found it, and marked it with an arrow. It wasn’t a pretty sight, right in the middle of acres of blacktop and automobiles. I kept reminding myself I’d seen worse, like in Tucson , and down the street from that Ace hardware store parking lot in Lampasas, Texas . But still, it ate at me.

12:15 PM I finished the pie, and asked for refill on the coffee. The waitress looked at the first photo and just shook her head. Barney had made several passes from several angles, and he snapped one good photo of it that hit me between the eyes like the butt end of a .38 special. There it was, our beloved City of Angels Weather Station. It made me sick just to look at it. What kind of people would do something like this?

But that wasn’t all, Barney got a picture from another angle out of the archives, and it showed the station even closer looking east. It was even uglier than the other photo. Just thinking about the albedo of the parking lot in the hot LA summer made my skin crawl.

1:05 PM Barney said he had other photos, but he couldn’t get them to me now. So he put them in a file, on something called a web server. And gave me something called a link. He said any citizen of our fair city who wanted to see the terrible place where they put the City of Angels weather station could click the link  and look at the photos from all angles. Good man that Barney.

The photos were good, but not good enough. I knew that these photos would eventually be seen by Judge Rabett. Rabett has told us before that pictures don’t matter in his court, so I knew this wouldn’t be enough. I had to prove the connection to the single photo taken by the g-men for their report.

2:15 PM I had figured out a way to show that the single picture taken by the g-men in their report matched the aerial photos Barney took. To do that, I used the photo lab. The guy there is named Gimp, he walks with a limp from an old command line of fire injury. But he does good work. With Gimp’s help I was able to match the camera angle of the single land photo taken by the g-men with one of the aerial photos:

3:03 PM I’d finished up the aerial surveillance work of the original scene of the crime, but I still had to get photos of the place where the body of the weather station had been dumped in the park. All I had to go on was the single photo of the park taken by the g-men  for their report. It sure looked like a nice cool park and final resting place. It had a little wrought iron fence around it and reminded me of a cemetery – a cemetery where the weather goes to die. It looked good, too good. I had a hunch it wasn’t as good as it looked.

3:05 PM I called up Barney, and asked about the aerial photos where they dumped the weather station; he said he had it covered. He said to check the file he left on the webserver for the street address where the park was.

3:15 PM I was running out of time, I had to get this wrapped up today. The webserver was slow, some punks were using it for a joyride. But I finally managed to open the file. and get the street address. It was out on South Vermont Avenue.

3:30 PM The aerial photos of the campus of USC where they had dumped the weather station proved my hunch was right. The picture the g-men took made it look like a perfect little park-like setting but in reality, it was just another cruddy location surrounded by acres of concrete and asphalt. The place where they dumped the station was only a few yards from the street:

The little bit of grass and the fact that it was closer to the beach made it a little cooler. The tennis courts probably didn’t help either.

Barney also left links for the close up aerial surveillance photos  he’d done. When I pulled up the one looking West, it hit me. I knew why they had dumped the weather station there. There was a parking garage just across the street. It must have felt like home.
4:00 PM It was getting late, I had figured out where the original crime had occurred, and where they dumped the body of the weather station. Now all I had to do was find it’s data and I was ready to close this case.

4:15 PM I found the data in a webserver called GISTEMP. Somebody had already plotted it. Sure enough, there it was, the smoking gun. The temperature had dropped about 1.5°C when they pulled this caper in 1999. The continuity of the record had been ruined and there was now a big step function in the data that hadn’t been removed by the g-men at NCDC.

No wonder the g-men who wrote the original report  were so hopping mad about it.
Since I couldn’t undo the plot, I called in Gimp again. With his help I was able to separate the time-line into red and blue segments to show where in the time-line the data had been taken from:

5:00 PM Quitting time. I had wrapped up this investigation into the sordid story of crime against temperature in the City of Angels and gotten all the documentation together to present for the court of public opinion. I’m feeling good, I’ve served the public interest. Thats’ my job. I think I’m going to go blow another quarter on pie and coffee.

9:30 AM Tuesday Foutch reports that he’s located the entire history of the station, which can be viewed here:

The story you have just seen is true; the names were changed to protect the incompetent.