Archive for January, 2019

How Reliable is the Bureau’s Heatwave Service?

January 24, 2019

The Bureau of Meteorology presents heatwave assessments and forecasts in the interest of public health and safety.  Their heatwave definition is not based on any arbitrary absolute temperature, but uses a straightforward algorithm to calculate “excess heat factors”.  From their FAQs:

“Heatwaves are calculated using the forecast maximum and minimum temperatures over the next three days, comparing this to actual temperatures over the previous thirty days, and then comparing these same three days to the ‘normal’ temperatures expected for that particular location. Using this calculation takes into account people’s ability to adapt to the heat. For example, the same high temperature will be felt differently by residents in Perth compared to those in Hobart, who are not used to the higher range of temperatures experienced in Perth.

This means that in any one location, temperatures that meet the criteria for a heatwave at the end of summer will generally be hotter, than the temperatures that meet the criteria for a heatwave at the beginning of summer.


The bulk of heatwaves at each location are of low intensity, with most people expected to have adequate capacity to cope with this level of heat.”

Back in 2015 I showed how this algorithm works perfectly for Melbourne, but fails to detect heatwaves in Marble Bar and instead finds heatwaves at Mawson in the Antarctic.  In light of the long period of very hot weather across most of western Queensland, what does the Heatwave Service show?

Here is their assessment of conditions in Queensland over the last three days….

Fig. 1: Heatwave assessment for 21-23 January 2019

heatwave assessment

Most of inland Queensland has been in a “Low-Intensity Heatwave”, with a couple of small areas near the southern border of “Severe Heatwave”.

And here is their forecast for the next three days..

Fig. 2:  Heatwave forecast for 24-26 January 2019

heatwave forecast

Much the same, with a bit more Severe Heatwave coming.

So what were temperatures really like in the previous three days? Here’s the map for the middle of that period, Tuesday 22nd:

Fig. 3:  Maximum temperatures for 22 January

max 22 jan 1 day

About half the state was above 39 degrees C, a large area was above 42C, and there were smaller areas of above 45C.

And in the past week:

Fig. 4:  Maximum temperatures for 7 days to 23 January

max 22 jan 1 week

Average maxima for roughly the same areas were the same, except there was a larger area averaging over 45C!

This follows December when a large slab of the state averaged from 39C to 42C for the month.

Fig. 5:  Maximum temperatures for December 2018

max 22 jan 1 month

I’m focusing on Birdsville, circled on the map below (and indicated on the maps above.)

Fig. 6:  Queensland forecast towns- Birdsville indicated

qld map

Here are the maxima for Birdsville for January:

Fig. 7:  Birdsville Maxima for January

birdsville jan max

And here’s the forecast for the next 7 days:

Fig. 7:  Birdsville 7 Day Forecast

birdsville forecast

Apart from the 6th, when it was a cool 38.8C, since Christmas Eve the temperature has been above 40C every day, and is forecast to stay above 40C until next Tuesday (and above 45C until Sunday).  Minima have been above 25C on all but three days since Christmas.

And that’s a “Low Intensity” heatwave, with “most people expected to have adequate capacity to cope with this level of heat.”

The Bureau’s unspoken message?  It might be a bit hot, but you’re supposed to be used to it.  Harden up!

Western Queensland residents are pretty tough, but surely a month of such heat deserves a higher level of description than “Low Intensity”- especially for the vulnerable like babies, old people, and visitors.

This is worse than laughable.  The Bureau’s heatwave service is a crock.  As I said in my 2015 post, a methodology that fails to detect heatwaves at Marble Bar (or Birdsville!), and creates them in Antarctica, is worse than useless- it is dangerous.


Another Inconvenient Pause

January 15, 2019

The Pause in global temperatures may be past, but here is another, longer Pause, and one that is much more difficult to explain: at ideal Australian sites, increasing greenhouse gas concentrations have led to a decrease in downwelling longwave radiation- the very opposite of expectations.

Basically, the theory behind the enhanced greenhouse effect is that the increase in concentrations of anthropogenic greenhouse gases leads to an increase in downwelling infra-red (IR) radiation, which causes surface warming.

Is there evidence for increasing downwelling IR in recent years, as atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has been rapidly rising?

The authors of Skeptical Science think so:

Surface measurements of downward longwave radiation

A compilation of surface measurements of downward longwave radiation from 1973 to 2008 find an increasing trend of more longwave radiation returning to earth, attributed to increases in air temperature, humidity and atmospheric carbon dioxide (Wang 2009). More regional studies such as an examination of downward longwave radiation over the central Alps find that downward longwave radiation is increasing due to an enhanced greenhouse effect (Philipona 2004).

Time for a reality check.

The links in the above quote do not work for me, so I use data available for Australia.

Greenhouse gas concentrations are measured at Cape Grim in north-west Tasmania.  According to the CSIRO,

The Cape Grim station is positioned just south of the isolated north-west tip (Woolnorth Point) of Tasmania. It is in an important site, as the air sampled arrives at Cape Grim after long trajectories over the Southern Ocean, under conditions described as ‘baseline’. This baseline air is representative of a large area of the Southern Hemisphere, unaffected by regional pollution sources (there are no nearby cities or industry that would contaminate the air quality).

Fig. 1:  Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station (looking almost directly south)

c grim photo

Fig. 2:  CO2 concentration, Cape Grim.

co2 c grim

Fig. 3:  Methane concentration, Cape Grim.

ch4 graph

Fig. 4:  Nitrous oxide concentration, Cape Grim.

n2o graph

There is no doubt that concentrations of greenhouse gases have been increasing.  We should therefore expect to see some increase in downwelling longwave radiation.

Downwelling IR data are available from the Bureau of Meteorology which maintains a database of monthly 1 minute solar data from a network of stations around Australia, including Cape Grim.

What better location than Cape Grim to study the effects of greenhouse gas concentrations from month to month on readings of downwelling IR.  The instruments are within metres of each other under “baseline” conditions at a pristine site.

The data include 1 minute terrestrial irradiance (i.e. downwelling IR striking a horizontal surface) from which I calculated mean daily IR for each month.  To remove the seasonal signal, I calculate anomalies from monthly means.

Fig. 5:  Downwelling longwave radiation anomalies, Cape Grim.

ir over time capegrim

Oops! IR has been decreasing for the full length of the record, 20 years (May 1998 to June 2018).   And monthly IR anomalies plotted against monthly CO2 anomalies show a similar story:

Fig. 6:  Downwelling longwave radiation anomalies, Cape Grim.

ir vs co2 cgrim

In the most suitable location in Australia, from May 1998 to June 2018 there has been no increase in downwelling infra-red radiation, despite an increase of 41.556 ppm atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, 104.15 ppb of methane, and 14.472 ppb of nitrous oxide.

So what factors do influence downwelling IR and thus surface warming or cooling?  Together with solar radiation, that other greenhouse gas, H2O.  Gaseous H2O (humidity) and clouds formed of liquid and ice H2O are by far the major players in returning heat to the surface.

We see this in a plot of downwelling IR against cloudiness (from nearby Marrawa).

Fig. 7:  Downwelling IR anomalies vs Cloudiness, Cape Grim.

ir vs cloud capegrim

Daytime cloudiness (an average of observations at 9.00 a.m. and 3.00 p.m.) increases downwelling IR.  We have no data for night time cloudiness unfortunately.

To illustrate the irrelevance of carbon dioxide, here is a plot of anomalies of solar radiation (global irradiance), downwelling infra-red radiation, daytime cloudiness, and carbon dioxide concentration at Cape Grim over the past 20 years.

Fig. 8:  Anomalies of IR, Global Irradiance, CO2, and Daytime Cloud at Cape Grim 1998-2018

98 to 18 full range capegrim ir global co2 cloud anoms

And zooming in on 2008 to 2010:

Fig. 9:  Anomalies of IR, Global Irradiance, CO2, and Daytime Cloud at Cape Grim 2008-2010

98 to 18 2008 2010 capegrim ir global co2 cloud anoms

There is a feedback mechanism: cloudiness inhibits daytime temperature and increases IR and nighttime temperature; decreased cloudiness means decreased IR; but less cloud and higher daytime temperature will increase IR as well if sustained; and higher IR also increases daytime temperature.  Further, sustained decrease in global radiation due to increased cloud cools the surface, thus decreasing IR.

Carbon dioxide concentration changes have no detectable effect.

A desert location, where humidity is typically very low and rain and cloudiness very infrequent, would also be ideal for checking on downwelling IR from carbon dioxide.  Alice Springs in the central desert is such a location with available irradiance data.

At Alice Springs as well, since March 1995 downwelling IR has been decreasing.

Fig. 10:  Downwelling longwave radiation anomalies, Alice Springs.

ir over time alice

The relationship between cloud and IR is even more evident.

Fig. 11:  Anomalies of IR, Global Irradiance, CO2, and Daytime Cloud at Alice Springs 2008-2010

2008 2010 alice ir global co2 cloud anoms

Fig. 12:  Downwelling IR anomalies vs Cloudiness, Alice Springs.

alice ir v cloud

Cloudiness has an even greater influence on IR in desert than maritime locations.

TAKE AWAY FACT:-  For over 20 years, at what are arguably the most suitable sites in Australia, increasing greenhouse gas concentrations have had no detectable effect on downwelling longwave radiation.  Natural factors including cloudiness changes have vastly overwhelmed any such effect and have instead led to a decrease in downwelling longwave radiation.

That is indeed a most inconvenient pause.





To replicate these findings:

Go to

You will need to register with a username and password.  Then click on an irradiance observation station.  Select year and month.  Download the zip file, and open in your preferred application.  (I use Excel).  IR data are in Column W- the values are wattminutes of IR striking a horizontal surface of area one square metre.

My method:  Order the data in ascending order to remove null values.  Count the minutes of valid data and calculate the percentage valid of all possible minutes in that month.  (I discard months with less than 80% valid data.)   Divide the total minutes by 1,440 to convert to days.  Sum the valid data and divide by 60,000 to find kilowatthours; divide by the number of days to find the mean daily value; then multiply by 3.6 to convert to Megajoules.  Plot monthly values against time or carbon dioxide concentration.