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Hell and High Histogramming – Mastering an Interesting Heat Wave Puzzle

July 25, 2012

Reposted fromWatts Up With That?

Posted on July 10, 2012 by

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Anthony Watts, Lucia Liljegren , and Michael Tobis have all done a good job blogging about Jeff Masters’ egregious math error. His error was that he claimed that a run of high US temperatures had only a chance of 1 in 1.6 million of being a natural occurrence. Here’s his claim:

U.S. heat over the past 13 months: a one in 1.6 million event

Each of the 13 months from June 2011 through June 2012 ranked among the warmest third of their historical distribution for the first time in the 1895 – present record. According to NCDC, the odds of this occurring randomly during any particular month are 1 in 1,594,323. Thus, we should only see one more 13-month period so warm between now and 124,652 AD–assuming the climate is staying the same as it did during the past 118 years. These are ridiculously long odds, and it is highly unlikely that the extremity of the heat during the past 13 months could have occurred without a warming climate.

All of the other commenters pointed out reasons why he was wrong … but they didn’t get to what is right.

Let me propose a different way of analyzing the situation … the old-fashioned way, by actually looking at the observations themselves. There are a couple of oddities to be found there. To analyze this, I calculated, for each year of the record, how many of the months from June to June inclusive were in the top third of the historical record. Figure 1 shows the histogram of that data, that is to say, it shows how many June-to-June periods had one month in the top third, two months in the top third, and so on.

Figure 1. Histogram of the number of June-to-June months with temperatures in the top third (tercile) of the historical record, for each of the past 116 years. Red line shows the expected number if they have a Poisson distribution with lambda = 5.206, and N (number of 13-month intervals) = 116. The value of lambda has been fit to give the best results. Photo Source.

But, it gets even better – read the surprising conclusion  at the source

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