Fact check: Craig Kelly and record cold temperatures

Claim

On the weekend of 3-4 October, Craig Kelly posted three examples of record cold temperatures, in Northern Ireland, Georgia and New Jersey. In one post he mocked the idea of global warming by saying:

“And just think how colder it could have been if we’d listened to the children and sent billions more of our nation’s wealth off to China in exchange for solar panels – to take real action to stop global warming.”

Verdict

This is an example of cherry picking the data and shows a dangerous misunderstanding. Global warming is global, meaning the world is getting hotter overall, but not all the time in every place.

Assessment

The three weather facts reported by Mr Kelly are:

  • the lowest minimum temperature ever recorded in September in Northern Ireland;
  • the average high temperature for the second half of September in Atlanta, Georgia was the lowest it has been since 1979; and
  • Monmouth County, New Jersey experienced snow this year earlier than in any other year on record.

Mr Kelly seems to think that these three examples show that global warming is a mistaken idea.

This is a wrong understanding for two reasons.

1. Global warming is global

Global warming means that the world is getting hotter. It doesn’t mean that everywhere gets hotter all the time.

One of the predictions of climate science is that as the world gets hotter, the weather will become more dynamic, more unstable, with more extremes.

So we’d expect hotter weather more often than not, but sometimes colder weather too. In Australia we’d expect longer droughts, worse bushfires, more destructive coastal storms. But we would also expect that, sometimes, there’d be wet weather, floods and calm weather.

2. Data must be representative

If we want to draw conclusions from weather facts, those facts have to be representative of the global weather. But Mr Kelly’s facts are NOT representative.

He has cherry picked the data. That is, he has selected the small part of the information that favours his disbelief in global warming, and ignored the much larger amount of information that shows he is wrong.

This is the fallacy of confirmation bias.

I have selected (below) statistics that show that these cold weather records are not representative. The world really is getting hotter.

The world is getting hotter

The clearest evidence that the world is getting hotter are these facts (and I could quote many more!).

A clear warming trend

The years 2015 to 2019 are the five hottest years on record. The global trend is inexorably upwards (see graph)

Global temperature (NASA in Wikipedia)
2020 a record-breaking year
  • Indications are that 2020 will be the hottest or second hottest year on record. The first half of the year was the hottest ever in parts of the Asia, and much warmer than average almost everywhere.
  • The 2019/20 summer was the hottest ever recorded for the whole of Australia. Almost a hundred temperature records were broken around Australia.
  • Temperatures in Siberia were more than 5°C above average from January to June.
  • This was the warmest winter on record for Western Australia.
Warm months
Individual temperature readings
  • The Siberian town of Verkhoyansk reported 100.4 °F, the first time a temperature above 100°F has been recorded above the Arctic Circle. (The reading hasn’t yet been ratified by WMO.)
  • In August a temperature of 54.4°C was recorded in Death Valley California. If ratified, this will be the officially hottest temperature ever recorded on earth. (A 1909 recording, also at Death Valley, was hotter than this, but it isn’t considered reliable.)
  • Port Augusta in South Australia reached a record- breaking temperature of 49.5°C on January.
  • Parts of Greater Sydney experienced their hottest autumn maximum temperatures on record.
  • San Sebastian and Palma in Spain experienced the hottest temperatures ever recorded there in July.
  • July was the hottest month ever recorded in Phoenix, Arizona until August was even hotter.
  • Cooktown in Queensland had the hottest August in 146 years of record.
  • September saw the hottest day ever recorded in Jerusalem, Israel.

Conclusion

Despite the occasional colder weather, 2020 is one of the hottest years ever recorded, and continues the warming trend around the world.

Mr Kelly has cherry picked some of the few cooler measurements, and ignored the clear global trend and the great number of hotter temperatures.

Main graphic: Pexels. Fallacy icon: Information is beautiful.

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