California Climate

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Ever wonder if global warming is for real? I can tell you categorically from my own research of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies' publicly available data of surface station temperature records that... it all depends!

Taking on the entire world was too daunting, so I limited my analysis to the State of California, where I live.

I downloaded the complete monthly data sets for all 114 surface stations in California. Here is what the mean yearly temperature for that entire dataset looks like:


Notice that the trend over the 120 year period shows an increase for the annual mean temperature by just over one degree Celsius. Also notice that the number of active surface stations has dropped dramatically since 1995.

Some of the stations have been in service for quite some time, while others are relatively new. Any real change in climate is a process taking decades or longer. If we filter NASA's data so that the chart is restricted to stations in service for 100 years or longer our data set shrinks to 50 stations, but still scattered throughout California:


Notice that the trend slope has reduced by half, producing only a half a degree Celsius rise over the entire 120 year period. Also notice that the number of stations is much more stable over the 120 years, but still has a tragic reduction in the number of stations active since 1995.

One concern is that cities themselves may be largely responsible for observed temperature increases. If you walk from a grassy park to a tarmac parking lot on a warm day, you can feel the sharp difference in temperature between the two. When applied to cities, this is called the Urban Heat Island effect. Unfortunately, a large percentage of surface stations are located in cities and of those, a large percentage are located in the worst possible part of a city, i.e. black tops, roof tops, next to brick buildings, heat pumps, etc. If we limit our California list to just the stations where NASA records the surrounding population at 30,000 or less, we get a very different picture:


This reduces the number of stations included to just 26, but look what happens to the slope trend. It's actually slightly negative, which technically shows a cooling over the 120 year period for these rural surface stations. Many of the stations lost since 1995 were long term rural stations, and it is truly a travesty that they have been taken offline. It would have been nice to have a larger long-term rural data set to work with.

So is California experiencing global warming? As you can see it depends on what you look at. I'll say it's not exactly cut and dry. It's a shame that the leaders that are responsible for bankrupting our beautiful state never did their own analysis of these data before spending us into oblivion on global warming counter measures.

At a near point in the future I will be releasing the Excel based tool I developed to do this study. It is called StationLab.
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There are dangers of Data Driven Engineering(DDE), it forces people to put "gut feel" on the back seat...The Office 2007 effluent interface is a classic example.

No matter what the data tell us,we "KNOW" pollution does no good...and reducing it surely does no harm. Whether the world is heating or cooling is therefore not really relevant...

Hi, Sam.

I hear you. For me though, the cost is a major factor, and that certainly is relevant.

Hi Daniel,
As a species we have spent a lot of money screwing up the environment....the cleanup is therefore not likely to be cheap.

Daniel and others
I can recommend
Heaven and Earth - Ian Plimer
or Lord Munkton

You have strong allies

Sam said:

"No matter what the data tell us,we "KNOW" pollution does no good"

Plants love CO2. It is a fact that plant growth on the earth increases significantly with an incresed CO2 level. That is not bad. It is NOT a fact that CO2 causes golbal warming. Thus, the label of "pollution" placed on it by the EPA is simply political in nature.

"..and reducing it surely does no harm."

You emit CO2. Don't think for one minute that population control is not one of the hidden goals of this movement. Would you care to volunteer for reduction?

Now, from an Excel perspective, I await eagerly Daniel's latest creation! I believe that I (along with Stephen Bullen) was the first to create dynamic charts based on formulas, but the evolution of this technique in Daniel's hands is refreshing to see.

@David Hagar -

Thanks for the tremendous compliment. It means a lot, coming from you!

Kind regards,

Daniel Ferry

Hi there.

I suspect that this post might attract a lot of comments just because of the subject - global warming - and not for reasons associated with Excel.

I'll just say that it's at least conceivable that global warming could occur, and also that some individual locations could get cooler at the same time. If we accept that California is getting cooler (and I'm not sure we can accept that, based on this analysis), that doesn't in itself prove that global warming is not happening.

Like Daniel suggests, it's complicated.


I noticed that you have commented on a couple of posts now and I just wanted to say thanks and welcome!

Thanks for the references. I'm familiar with Monkton, but have not the other. I'll have a look.


Daniel Ferry

Just had another thought.

I understand why you focus on the stations that appear to be rural, and I accept that urban stations may tend to give artificially "warm" data.

But surely over the last 100 years, California has actually become much more urban. If global warming is happening, perhaps the process of urbanisation itself is one of the causes.

At a simplistic level, ignoring all the urban stations is a little like saying, "let's ignore all the stations that show a big temperature increase."
I know it's not really that simple, but I hope you get the point.

Like Daniel suggested, it's really really really complicated.

@Gerald -

Welcome back.

I certainly wasn't trying to suggest that the state is cooling. My own opinion is that the data is woefully deficient to know for sure. It is interesting however, that one can show quite easily that California rural temps are fairly stable over the last century. Also, in my own opinion, the urban areas are definitely heating up, which is what one would expect from the increasing density of modern city life.

Geological records tell us that the planet's climate has constantly changed throughout the 4.5 billion years of it's existence, and these have been enormous, unsurvivable (for humans) changes. There have also been an uncountable number of survivable changes. In fact the climate is always in a state of flux, but that is nature. It is an interesting question whether human activity which is a small thing compared to nature can alter nature's trajectory. I'll admit it's possible in a theoretical sense, but at the same time the system of climate is so complex that it's nothing short of hubris, in my opinion, to believe that we are in a position to know for sure.

I'm all for a clean environment. I enjoy fresh air. But I have a very difficult time accepting that CO2 is a pollutant. Without CO2 life ends. I'm very concerned about the EPA in America. It has officially declared CO2 a pollutant, and will thus begin altering our way of life through regulation, without authority from congress. Something so profound to society deserves representative guidance.

I'm happy that this post is more provocative, as I'd really like to develop a thriving community here, and a community requires active commenting. But at the same time, I do not want to turn anyone off by making it too political. I'm hoping to have this thread extend as far as people want to continue the discussion, but I also hope that everyone will respect the fact that each person's belief's are uniquely important.

My focus with ExcelHero as a whole will continue to be expanding readers' notions of what is possible in Excel, but I do love the fact that one of my posts is finally gaining comment traction!


Daniel Ferry

Hi Daniel, thanks for the response. I can only speak for myself, but I have been checking this blog pretty much every day since I first came across it, because what you're doing with Excel is amazing and inspirational. I would only change two things about the Excel side of this blog - more frequent posts from you please, and more examples in Excel 2003 :-)

It looks as if my own views on climate change are perhaps different from your's, and certainly different from some of your other readers. That's fine, everyone's entitled to their opinions on this subject, but debating climate change is not really why I come here. I am not a scientist myself, and on balance I tend to accept what seems to be a fairly broad consensus among scientists that some level of global warming is happening, that it is driven to some extent by human activities, and that these changes could have very unpleasant consequences for us. If you don't find that hypothesis convincing, fair enough. But I personally tend to find the arguments put forward by the opposing camp to be often very weak.
Your last post contained a few examples.
1) You say "...human a small thing compared to nature..."
Well, it is and it isn't. Without addressing the question of how small it has to be for it to not make any impact, I would accept that human activity a thousand years ago was relatively small compared to nature. But now, in the 21st Century, we're much bigger. Human activity has undeniably impacted on some aspects of nature on a global scale, such as the extinction of species, and the destruction of rainforests. I personally find it entirely plausible that humans could be producing enough CO2 to have an impact on the climate.
2) You say "...the system of climate is so complex that it's nothing short of hubris, in my opinion, to believe that we know for sure" [that human activity can alter nature's trajectory]. I hope you don't object to my paraphrasing. I would agree with this, and I would accept that we can't know for sure that global warming is happening. For exactly the same reason, we can't know for sure that global warming is not happening. So what should we do ? I think we should keep doing more research, and also, when the vast majority of that research suggests that warming is happening, then in my opinion the non-scientists among us should tend to accept that. By all means keep having the debate, but don't use the debate as a reason for not doing anything else about the subject.
3) You say "Without CO2 life ends." Of course this is true, but it's equally true to say "With too much CO2 life ends." And anyway, no-one is calling for the complete elimination of CO2 from the atmosphere. The real issue here is that CO2 levels at approximately their current levels are good for sustaining life. We can also be confident that changing those levels by too much in either direction will be bad for life.

I understand the point you're making about the EPA. I live in the UK, so I don't think it's right for me to comment on that aspect, which is essentially about internal US politics.

I think I'm going to duck out of this thread for a while now, although I'll keep reading it, and I will certainly be following the blog as a whole.

Keep up the great work !

Keep writing, I simply can't get enough. You're doing a standup job, and I thank you for it.

Love the Excel stuff, less than convinced by the climatology.

"I have a very difficult time accepting that CO2 is a pollutant. Without CO2 life ends." is, of course nonsensical and not worthy of the intellect you usually display. Too much CO2 is obviously bad: at sufficiently high (or low) levels we die. Google "hypercapnia" and "hypocapnia", for example. If we continue to pump CO2 into the atmosphere - and to reduce by deforestation the world's ability to absorb it then, even ignoring the warming issue, we (not the planet, which will most likely recover over a few tens of millions of year) are heading for extinction.

Oxygen, of course, in too-high concentrations, is similarly a pollutant. In short, with a few percent more O2 in the atmosphere, we burn. Literally.

California may well not be getting any warmer. Here in the UK we just had our coldest winter in 30 years. Other locations are seeing things differently:

@Mike Woodhouse -

Thanks for commenting! I'm glad you like my Excel crafting - that is the point of my blog.

I must say that I did not really anticipate where the California Climate post would lead. This is not a climate blog, but I thought the Excel charting behind my micro investigation into California Climate was relevant and interesting.

The problem with the climate subject in general is that it is so politically charged. I don't trust big government or big business, and I have a real problem with government funded science in areas that affect public policy. While the aim of these efforts are usually honorable, the temptation to build fiefdoms and to protect funding is enormous, which in my opinion demands extraordinary scrutiny of funded resultants. Unfortunately, it appears as if the opposite has occurred.

To be sure, climate is an extremely important study topic and deserves much attention. But I remain convinced that we know so little and so much of what we do "know" is controversial that we need to tread lightly on the public policy front, until our standing improves considerably.

I'll admit that the "Without CO2 life ends" comment was intended for shock value, simply because most people have never thought about that. I was referring to the fact that plant life is entirely dependent on the gas. Lower CO2 values means lower levels of plant life, which ultimately means less food for animals. The reverse is also true. More CO2 means more plant life. Obviously there needs to be a balance. Too little or too much CO2 is very bad. The question is what is the ideal range; and then after that what is the tolerable range; and finally where does Earth's current concentration fall within those ranges?

I'm not a scientist and do not know these answers. But I've read plenty on the climate subject and have found enough contrarians with impeccable credentials to raise doubt on CO2 in particular. Considering the price tag of programs such as Cap And Trade ($ trillions), prudence should demand that we know for sure. Just the other day I was reading a post on WUWT by a George E. Smith BSc (Physics, and Mathematics, and RadioPhysics, UofAuckland 1957), who is eminently more qualified than I to understand the science. Below is a small excerpt of what he wrote, but I ask you, with such qualified disagreement (and there's plenty more from others equally qualified) how should government proceed:

...I’m a Physicist; with 50 years of practising Physics in the search of a better world for all mankind. I work in industry, and I have never worked for any company that exploits any sort of natural resources; which our modern hi technology societies put to good use. I am not funded by any oil or gas or any such interests, and never have been; I help develop useful products; I would almost bet that you probably use something that I designed nearly every day, as a normal part of your existence. I do know that over a billion people worldwide do use a product that carries my work results.

I’m also an environmentalist; nobody on this planet cares more about the environment than I do; including you.

I’m not a global warming skeptic. In fact I am quite convinced, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that they have the “science” all wrong, and that carbon dioxide; which is essential to ALL life on earth, is not a pollutant, is not a cause of significant climate or global temperature change, and is not now and never will be any threat to either humans, or other global species, or the planet itself.

We currently live in an era where we have the lowest levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and the oceans, that have ever existed. Life on earth flourished in times with as much as 20 times present CO2 levels in the atmosphere; and during those times the temperature on planet earth never ever climbed to any level that was uncomfortable or hazardous to life.

Even today, on a typical northern summer day, temperatures ranging over almost 150 deg C from hot extremes in northern deserts (ground temperatures) to the coldest reaches of the Antarctic highlands; and that extreme temperature range could all be present simultaneously.

So earth is not a delicate fabric that is habitable only in a five deg C temperature range; life flourishes from over +60 deg C, and people survive in places that are (outside) at nearly -90 deg C.

What is missing from the science is the simple fact that earth’s comfort range of temperatures is maintained by a powerful feedback loop that depends almost entirely on the physical and chemical properties of the H2O molecule. Water is the ONLY “greenhouse” gas that exists permanently in the earth atmosphere in all three phases of ordinary matter, gas, liquid and solid, and in those last two phases water alone forms clouds that provide stron negative feedback cooling of the planet; by blocking sunlight from the ground, and reflecting a lot of it back into space.

So long as earth’s oceans exist, we couldn’t change the temperature of this planet; either up or down; even if we wanted to...

-->End of Excerpt

Now Mr. Smith's last point about the oceans is very interesting. Not only are they an enormous heat sink, they are the source of massive uncertainty in temperature. Only a minuscule area, mostly in shipping lanes, is monitored, a big problem since the majority of the planet's surface is water.

As Mizimi on SkepticalScience put it:

...The Earth has around 510 million sqkm in surface; 150 land and 360 water. The vast majority of stations are land based and with around 4,000 in use that works out to a station roughly every 38,000 sqkm. To try and model from that low level of distribution would be rejected by most reasonable people. The fact that most of these stations are actually concentrated in a much smaller area leaving HUGE areas un-monitored simply makes the data collected even more worthless for constructing any realistic model...

I think we need to do a much better job before draining our treasuries.

Daniel Ferry

THe very best climate change graph can be found at

Be sure to read the whole article. Very funny indeed.


"So is California experiencing global warming? As you can see it depends on what you look at. I'll say it's not exactly cut and dry. It's a shame that the leaders that are responsible for bankrupting our beautiful state never did their own analysis of these data before spending us into oblivion on global warming counter measures."

I can't agree with your conclusions from this analysis. Whether the climate in California is warming, cooling or staying the same is irrelevant to the question of whether action needs to be taken on climate change in California, just as it is irrelevant that the emissions from California, or Australia or any other small sub-set of the World's population do not have a significant effect on the total.

The question is not whether we are certain that continued increasing use of fossil fuels will have an adverse effect on the climate, the question is whether we are sufficiently sure that it will not. It seems to me that we are nowhere near sufficiently certain of that, and considerations of the uncertainty of climate records are certainly not a good reason for treating the most optimistic interpretation as the correct one.

Doug Jenkins,

Thanks for the comment.

Believe it or not, I totally understand your position. My perspective from being a native Californian is that the state is flat out broke. There is no money left to do anything. Teachers are being laid off at never before seen levels. Police forces are dwindling. State prisons are letting out convicted criminals. Roads are falling apart.

As of right now the California budget shortfall for this year is $26.3 billion. And California is one of the highest taxed states in the country.

For my four decades on this planet, California has been a prosperous and beautiful place, until very recently. It is mathematically impossible to return to health without some very difficult and painful choices in government spending - and that would be the case if we stopped all the bleeding right now and just concentrated on the healing. Unfortunately, the bleeding has not stopped and is in fact worsening.

With all that in mind and with basic services falling by the wayside, it is difficult to embrace new government policies, that will increase government spending and tax the population more.

My point from the original post was that California also has some of the strictest air standards and emission controls in the world and that these have contributed to the fiscal problems we are now facing.

So with less than no money left, what do we cut? It is really unbelievable...

your blog is great, thanks

Hi Daniel, I have to say this is the only objective study I read about global warming. I know you have probably spent a lot of time on it, but considering the budgets many universities, companies and government have, it is not difficult at all for them to carry out such studies. Instead everybody pulling from either side of the string. Clearly your work confirms that sky is not falling yet.

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This page contains a single entry by Daniel Ferry published on April 6, 2010 8:03 PM.

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