We’re all red now, or does our blue dot on SFO persist?!

January 16, 2007 at 5:29 am | Posted in California, Climate, Climate challenge, Climate change, Climate preparedness, Environment, Global warming, IPCC, Maps, Middle School, Question, Record-breaking, San Francisco, Science, Science Education, Temperature, Visual Spatial, Weather | 2 Comments

Unravelling “The mystery of the blue dot on San Francisco“, the kids and I came across some intriguing temperature maps. We still have not solved the mystery. This is the tale of the path we have followed, so far …

Well, last week the NOAA provided a red-all-over map of America showing:

“The 2006 average annual temperature for the contiguous U.S. was the warmest on record”.

… and the 112 in the middle of the map indicates 2006 was the warmest year in the past 112 years of record-keeping.

NOAA reports 2006 was the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States 550

Per NOAA, “These values were calculated using a network of more than 1,200 U.S. Historical Climatology Network stations.”, and I suppose I should explain that this is the national map, showing how the average for this space compares with the average for the same space in previous years. So, whatever the national average, we know the entire map would be the same colour all over, according to the codes below. It is not a map showing the same uniform record temperature was recorded at all twelve hundred points across the region! It simply displays an average—a record average—for this particular space and this particular time.

Full NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) News Online story here, where you can find many more details and charts, including this NOAA graph of temperatures recorded in the past 112 years:


NOAA national (contiguous U.S.) temperature 1895-2006

More details on the year’s record-breaking temperatures are in the NCDC (National Climatic Data Center) Climate of 2006 in Historical Perspective Annual Report.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ press release on this topic includes this quote:

“No one should be surprised that 2006 is the hottest year on record for the U.S.,” said Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “When you look at temperatures across the globe, every single year since 1993 has fallen in the top 20 warmest years on record.”

After finding that all-over-red map, thanks to Darmok, we discovered this state-by-state map. It shows annual temperature rankings (compared with the past 112 years) for each state in 2006, and you can find it in context at the top of the NOAA 2006 Annual Climate Review U.S. Summary:

NOAA reports 2006 was the warmest year on record for many of the states in America

Seeing the 88/112 ranking for California (with temperatures Above Normal but noting that 24 years in the past 112 must have been hotter than 2006 was for CA) we were reminded of an older IPCC chart that had sparked our interest earlier this month. This is the IPCC global temperatures map that sparked “the mystery of the blue dot on San Francisco” (please click to see the original large copy):

1976 to 2000

Thanks to a contributor on tamino’s Open Mind blog, we have found another map, slightly more up-to-date, and on this NOAA map of Annual Temperature Trends 1979-2003, San Francisco’s blue dot has become, well, grey. Look:

NOAA map of Annual Temperature Trends 1979-2003

So, now, we are wondering:

How long will that lonely blue dot on North America persist? (There is another one if you look closely …) Or, if this IPCC map were updated with the latest readings, has our blue dot gone already?

In other words, has the annual temperature trend that shows the West Coast cooled by 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade at the end of the last century been reversed? Or is the cooling trend in that location continuing, even as most of the globe warms?

P.S. My youngest son simply remarks that it is like global warming makes most of us hotter and some of us colder, so we need to be prepared for extremes, whatever!

P.P.S. The entertainment value in these maps for kids relates, in part, to the fact that they coloured maps on their laps in front of the telly to show the red states and blue states as results were announced for the last presidential election … Now I am tempted to print off more of those map outlines, so we can colour code them for state-by-state annual temperatures instead. More interesting to me would be to colour states green to indicate their commitment to tackling global warming. I think California would be the first to be shaded green on that account …


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  1. Scary stuff… and there are still a bunch of people out there denying it’s happening (I just wrote an entry yesterday pointing out the flaws in one attempted global warming denier’s argument… but I often wonder why I bother.) It makes you wonder if they all live on a blue dot, or just think they’re going to find another planet to live on while this one roasts.

  2. Well, I see these maps as another wake-up call to action to combat the warming as best we can, in a considered, concerted and co-ordinated international effort. However, that does not mean we should go running around like headless chickens in a complete state of panic! At the other extreme, there is no point in scaring people into such a fatalistic state they sit-back and do nothing.

    My preferred way to communicate this is summed up in a BBC article entitled “Chaotic world of climate truth” and written by Mike Hulme, Director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research with more details here under the heading “Chaos is not the language of climate change“.

    The main message I take from this is “Act sensibly to tackle the climate challenge now, or regret it, and suffer the negative consequences of inaction”—which are more unpleasant the younger and poorer one is. Unfortunately, it tends to be the older, wealthier people who determine the actions governments take. But there is still hope and time to act.

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