Sunday, February 16, 2020

Les Henry: Weather, climate and actual data

The following article is reprinted from Grainews with the author's permission

Les Henry: Weather, climate and actual data
A look at changes in the 30-year average annual temperatures in Swift Current

Stock photo from Getty Images
In recent months there has been much press anxiety about the “Climate Crisis.” The general gist is that planet Earth is warming to the point where we will be scorching to death. Crops will be unable to survive the heat and drought. Climate Change (warming) is the top priority in the minds of many, but not all. The arguments are in two basic camps.

The “Global Warmers” have mathematical models that claim to predict that we are soon over the cliff and all doomed. The solution is to quickly kill coal and petroleum and we will all be saved.

The “Deniers” believe that the climate may be changing, but forces of nature are in charge and mankind have little to do with it.

To deny that climate is changing is to deny that we live on planet Earth. The planet we share is about 1.4 billion years old and climate has gone through many dramatic changes in that time. In more “recent” times of about one million years, we have seen glaciers come and go several times from almost all of the area we farm in Western Canada and as far south as northeast Kansas.

Weather and climate
One thing that all camps agree on is that weather is the day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year conditions that we experience. Climate is the 30-year average. Therefore, if we are talking about climate change, we must trace how the 30-year average is changing.

Climate data for Swift Current, Sask.
As a scientist, it is data that carries the day, not opinion. For the past decade, I have been attempting to assemble historic records long enough to allow temperature to be studied as climate, not weather. Accessible data from Environment Canada is very limited.
Thanks to a long line of dedicated scientists at the Swift Current Agricultural Research Station we now have a complete monthly record of temperature and precipitation from 1886 to present. The first scientists must have assembled existing information because the Swift Current Experimental Farm began in 1920. The data from 1886 on is accessible on the current Environment Canada website.

The three groups of graphs below show how the climate has changed. The 1915 data is the average of data from 1886 to 1915. The 2018 data is the average of 1989 to 2018 inclusive. The Y axis has a 5 C temperature range for all months except January which required 6 C. That allows easy visual comparison of the temperature range of different months.

Readers can study annual average temperature and temperatures for individual months and draw your own conclusions. Here are some observations I have made:

1. Winter months: The range of 30-year average temperature is large for January, February, and March. Those months show warming from 1915 to 1940, cooling from 1940-1980 and warming of several degrees from about 1980 to 2000. The latest episode of warming ended about the turn of the century. There is some indication of cooling in recent 30-year records but the time is too short to be sure.

The big range in January to March will drive the annual average as most other months have a much lower range of temperature.

2. April, May, June, and August: In April, May, June, and August, 30-year averages are little different now than they were in 1915.

3. July: July is actually cooling.

4. September: September has a sharp warming period near the end of the record. (see at bottom)
5. October, November, and December: October, November, and December show no clear long-term trend. December was warmer in 1886 to 1915 than the most recent 30-year average.

With this data and a few observations, I leave my readers to draw their own conclusions about what this all mean in terms of our ability to grow crops in a time of Climate Change.

Bad news and good news
Whenever I share this data with Climate Crisis folks they dismiss it as only one record and say it should be based on the whole Earth. But no one will say what thermometers they average to come up with the global temperature.
The bad news is that our current Environment Canada records make it very difficult to do similar analysis for many other sites.
The good news is I have recently learned how to access the huge U.S. long-term weather records to prepare graphs to compare with the Swift Current data.
Fargo, North Dakota also has data back to 1886. The parallels between the Swift Current and Fargo data are remarkable. We have data for Dodge City, Kansas, right back to the days of Wyatt Earp (1875). Readers long enough in the tooth will remember the Wyatt Earp black-and-white TV programs of the 1960s-70s. Young folk can Google Wyatt Earp, Dodge City to get the story.
In coming issues, I’ll report on many other sites in the Great Plains of the U.S.

Les Henry

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer, and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.

This article below
from The Western Producer has some interesting charts of temperature changes in the Saskatoon Saskatchewan area: 

Data from Sask. tells compelling climate story:


  1. Hmmm .... I'm inclined to think this gentleman is a Denier, but as the climate scientists say, how can you deny based on one dot in the world? We've lived in the same town here in Nova Scotia for over thirty years and our personal experience has been to see our winters go from a minimum of three straight weeks of -20C to -25C to winters that are predominantly open and mild, and our summers, which used to hit 30C for only three weeks at the end of July and the beginning of August, now start in June and end in September, with months of 30C instead. But neither set of data can be considered in isolation.

    What say you, Allen?

  2. jenny_o, whether Les Henry is a True-Believer or Evil-Heretic is irrelevant to his article. He simply charted a rolling 30-year monthly average temperature data from 1915 to 2018, using real data collected from 1885, and said draw your own conclusions. Did you look at the charts? What did you observe and what conclusions did you draw from it? Did you look at the charts on the other article I linked to? What did you observe and what conclusions did you draw from it?
    I disagree that one must only look at climate change from a big picture context. Climate change must, and invariably does, show up as weather pattern changes at our backdoors.

  3. Summarizing the Swift Current data, rolling 30-year average temperatures in Jan-March were substantially higher than the lows of the 1970s. April temperatures increased from the 1970s but did not reach those of the early 20th century. May, June, and July showed not much change, though July temps were actually cooler than the first half of the 20th century.
    Wittrock's data over only 55 years showed a sharp decline in the number of days below -30C and -35C. Both agree with your observation of warmer winters. Average July temperatures increased only slightly with higher night time temps but day time temps more or less unchanging.
    Observations in Ukraine are that winters are much milder than they were say 20 years ago and I can vouch for that. Summer rainfall is more variable. This past winter, temperatures in Eastern Europe and Western Siberia were 10-15C above normal. Of course, one winter does not a climate make and I have not looked at past data.

  4. I did indeed look at the charts, and drew the same conclusions as the author for the one point on the globe that he was analyzing data for. The idea I disagreed with was that climate change for the earth as a whole can be extrapolated from one point when there are many other points that show different results. I am genuinely perplexed as to why you (and he) think otherwise. Maybe you could explain that more?

    1. Not sure where you got that notion as neither Les or I said anything of the kind.

  5. It's fascinating to see the actual data laid out like that - many thanks to you and Les Henry for sharing it.

    These charts really help to explain why there's such a dichotomy between the two camps. It's so difficult to figure out what magnitude of change is statistically significant; especially since we know how variable our climate has been over its long history. Even though we conveniently define "climate" as a 30-year period, this 100+ years of data is only a tiny blip on the earth's timeline. I know a bit about statistical analysis and I also invest in the stock market, so I'm always cautious about declaring a macrotrend based on such a small subset of data.

    To me, the battle between 'changers' and 'deniers' is beside the point. We should all be working together to make the earth a healthier, less polluted place - there's no downside to that. After all, we (and our descendants) have to live here...

  6. Diane, I wholeheartedly agree we need to do everything we can to clean up and improve the environment, regardless of who is right.
    About the only conclusions one can draw from Dr. Henry's charts or Dr. Wittrock's charts is that in the time period measured the climate did change.

  7. you know?..even if there isn't climate change, we still need to clean up the damn environment.

  8. Jackiesue, I have been saying that all along. Oil and gas cause enough environmental damage without fighting over CO2 and renewable sources are getting cheaper all the time. We cannot totally eliminate hydrocarbons but we can sure cut back on them

  9. Something just occurred to me - maybe I've misunderstood the argument between the "changers" and the "deniers". I didn't think there was any argument over whether the climate is changing - that's what it does. After all, the Sahara Desert was once a lush tropic, and Canada was icebound. I thought the "changers" were arguing that our current climate trend is due to us polluting the environment while the "deniers" held that our current climate trend is within the bounds of normal climate change and relatively unaffected by human activity.

    Did I get that right? If not, then my earlier comment about statistical significance is probably irrelevant...

  10. Diane, You got me stumped. Never heard of 'changers'. I think most evil heretics aka deniers will admit the climate is changing but temper that by saying these changes are part of a cycle and that while human activity may play a part it is not the driving force. And many other variations along that theme.
    The true believers fall into two broad camps, too. Those who believe the sky is falling and we need to stop using all hydrocarbons immediately and revert to living in caves and lighting fires by rubbing sticks together because if we don't we'll end up living in caves and lighting fires by rubbing sticks together and those who believe, rightly so, we could be doing so much more than we are doing to reduce our carbon footprint.

  11. "...we need to ... revert to living in caves and lighting fires by rubbing sticks together because if we don't we'll end up living in caves and lighting fires by rubbing sticks together..." Bahahaha!!! Thanks for my belly laugh of the day.

  12. This is a shameful and dishonest piece of work from someone who really ought to have known better. The statistical work in particular is deceptive. A 30-year moving average over 100 years of data will bury all but the strongest trends. His choice of scale in graphs is also deceptive. No-one predicts warming of more than a few degrees, but that is enough. Even so, Prof. Lee's graphs show a clear rise in average temperature slightly outstripping the IPCC planetary average data. See, for instance, here: The pattern of warmer winters since 1980 is also clear in his graphs.

    What this means for climate in Saskatchewan we don't remotely know. Climate is not just temperature: rainfall will change, and storms have become more intense.

    Some of the people who believe we ought to go back to living in caves used to be my neighbors in Oregon, but they are a tiny minority. What is most distressing is that, despite over 25 years of warning, we have not even started the project of returning to a steady state climate.

    Back to Prof. Lee. He also shamefully spreads a collection of falsehoods, libeling the best researchers in the field.

    "No one will say what thermometers they average to come up with the global temperature." See, pages 194-200.

    "The 'Global Warmers' have mathematical models that claim to predict that we are soon over the cliff and all doomed."

    Data from ice cores, geological sources, and so on – "paleoclimate data" – is also used. See The mathematical models have been fairly accurate, but no mathematical model can account for what is not known, which is why physical data is gathered and intensely studied.

    And, "Over the last decades, global warming has led to widespread shrinking of the cryosphere, with mass loss from ice sheets and glaciers (very high confidence), reductions in snow cover (high confidence) and Arctic sea ice extent and thickness (very high confidence), and increased permafrost temperature." – IPCC, Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, We may already be past a tipping point.

  13. Raven, I'm not sure what you are all excited about. You say he should have known better - than to do what? Les Henry stated exactly what he did and why he did it. You seem to have made a great many assumptions from what? Of course, a 30-year average hides all but the strongest trends, which is why temperatures are compared to thirty-year averages. That is why he did it. What his data shows is climate temperature change in one location over a 120 year period. Nothing more nothing less. He is not trying to prove anything. Global warming (temperature) trends are calculated from thousands (I hope) of single points like this. All of those points will be different but together make up the maps we see with temperature gradients.
    If you go to the other link I provided you can find the 2019 summary from Dr. Wittrock. She has a much shorter time period (back to 1963 only at the SRC weather station) and uses 5-year rolling averages.

  14. "What his data shows is climate temperature change in one location over a 120 year period."

    No. It doesn't. It shows a 30 year moving average of temperature data, which is necessarily 15 years out of date since, after all, he cannot calculate a 30-year moving average for any year past 2005. That's a pretty big methodological error. On top of which, a moving average can be deceptive. Weather data is noisy, and, well, here's Wikipedia in lieu of a real stats book, "A major drawback of the SMA is that it lets through a significant amount of the signal shorter than the window length. Worse, it actually inverts it. This can lead to unexpected artifacts, such as peaks in the smoothed result appearing where there were troughs in the data." Moving averages are not to be trusted, at least not without additional checking, but only the grain futures analysts among the readers of Grainews stand a chance of knowing that. (It slipped past me save for a vague feeling of unease.) This should never have been published, really – if they'd had a science editor check it out it would not have gotten through.

    So now Prof. (emeritus - retired) Henry presents these graphs with a built-in 15-year lag and, perhaps some statistical artifacts and tells his readers to "to draw their own conclusions." On the way he makes some false and – I want to say offensive but that's not strong enough – calumnious statements about existing climate research and climate researchers.

    So that is why I'm angry. These sorts of mistakes and statements, published, in my brief days as a minor researcher, probably would have gotten me instantly fired.


Comments are encouraged. But if you include a commercial link, it will be deleted. If you comment anonymously, please use a name or something to identify yourself.