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Science

114 Year Temperature Record Rare Indeed

One family has spent several generations maintaining a 114 year daily temperature record of the Mohonk Preserve.

[social_buttons]In a day and age where acquiring reliable and long weather records are a must for effective weather speculation, the Mohonk Preserve is a rarity. A weather station that has never missed a day of temperature recording, and has only missed 37 days of precipitation data is remarkable.

The station, has never been moved, never seen its surroundings change, never been tended by anyone but a short continuous line of family and friends, has used the same methods for 114 years, and has include decade’s worth of related environmental phenomena such as the first appearance of spring peepers, migratory birds and blooming plants.

The story of this particular weather station and its tenders has been recounted by researchers Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Mohonk in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology.

The station was founded in 1869 by the Smileys, the same family who runs the 7,200 acre property in the Shawangunk Mountains. In 1906, Albert’s half-brother, Daniel, took over the readings. In 1930, Daniel’s sons Bert and Doc followed. In 1937, Bert’s son Daniel Smiley Jr., picked up the job. In addition, Daniel Jr., an old-school amateur naturalist, started recording many other observations, including first spring sightings of various creatures, on some 15,000 index cards. In 1988, the year before Daniel Jr. passed away, he handed his duties to Paul Huth, a longtime friend and employee. Today Huth or one of his staff still walks up to the box at 4 pm every day.

The United States Weather Bureau, now called the National Weather Service, has provided replacement thermometers, log sheets and other materials. The thermometer has been kept in a box out of direct sunlight, while the brass rain gauge at the end of the boat dock is the1896 original.

“It is incredibly rare to have the level of continuity that we have at Mohonk,” said Benjamin Cook, a climate modeller at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory , who is part of another generational linkage to the Smileys. “Any one record cannot tell you anything definitively about climate globally or even regionally. But looking closely at sites like this can boost our confidence in the general trends that we see elsewhere, and in other records.”

At Mohonk, average annual temperatures from 1896-2006 went up 2.63 degrees Fahrenheit. Global measurements in the same time over both land and oceans put the rise at about 1.2 to 1.4 degrees; but land temperatures are rising faster than those over the oceans, and those at Mohonk track the expected land trend closely. As expected also, temperatures are up in all seasons, but increases have been especially evident in summer heat waves, and this has been accelerating in recent years. Prior to 1980, it was rare for the thermometer to surpass about 89 degrees more than 10 days a year; since then, such events have come to Mohonk on at least 10 days a year—and often, on more than 20 days. At the same time, the number of freezing days has been decreasing–about a day less every five years over the long term, but since the 1970s, at the accelerated rate of a day every two years. This also matches wide-scale observations in North America and elsewhere.

The only area that the Mohonk records fail to match wider trends is in the start of the growing season, the date on which freezing temperatures end. In many places this date has been steadily advancing, however in Mohonk the number of above-freezing days is growing instead, causing what has been described as a sort of intermittent false spring that exposes some early-flowering plants to frost damage.

“Pictures, anecdotes, and cursory glances of poorly sited or maintained sites and weather stations may suggest problems, but until the data is analyzed it is impossible to conclude that the record is compromised by cold or warm biases,” said Cook regarding sceptics who are questioning the accuracy of long term weather records based on their locations.

“The advantage to Mohonk is that we can revisit the record in detail, with minimal corrections. This helps confirm the large-scale trends, and it helps us identify stations with errors that need to be corrected.” And as for Cook’s impression on the long history behind the records: “We and the Smileys all just happened to be in the right place, at the right time.”

Adapted from material provided by The Earth Institute at Columbia University.




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