B-44 Forms

Russell S. Vose, David R. Easterling, Thomas R. Karl, and Michael Helfert, Comments on “Microclimate Exposures of Surface-Based Weather Stations”, BAMS, 2005 stated:

“Cooperative Station Reports (i.e., B-44 forms) are available online from the National Climatic Data Center.”

I spent quite a bit of time searching for B-rr forms. I tried Dale Kaiser of CDIAC, Russell Vose, neither of whom knew. They referred me to Cynthia Karl, who signed me on to the MMS system, which had information on stations but not the B-44 forms themselves. Eventually, I received the following response from Vernon Woldu, one of Karl’s employees. that the B-44 forms are not online after all:

Mr. McIntyre,

Your request for online access to NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) B44 station history forms was passed on to me by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center’s (NCDC) Director, Dr. Thomas R. Karl.

The best source for Cooperative station history information is the Multi-network Metadata System (MMS) at http://mi3.ncdc.noaa.gov/mi3qry/login.cfm, the URL previously provided to you by Ms. Cynthia Karl. Access to the system is free, and includes all the station information submitted to us by the NWS, except for observer information. MMS also includes an option to print the station details.

It is the NCDC’s policy to protect observer details, based upon Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Update, Vol. X, No. 2, 1989, which exempts the application of FOIA in certain cases and establishes privacy protection decisions in accordance with the Privacy Act of 1974 (2004 edition). This exemption applies when the personal privacy interest is greater than any qualifying public interest for disclosure.

Prior to January 2001, the NWS submitted paper B44 forms to the NCDC. After January 2001, Cooperative station history information was submitted to the NCDC electronically rather than via paper form. For station history submitted after January 2001, MMS is the only delivery option.

The NWS B44 forms are not accessible online by the general public because they contain personally identifiable information such as observer name, address, phone number and gender. The cooperative observers are volunteers who donate their time in the interests of the public good with a reasonable expectation that their personal information will remain private.

You may obtain copies of B44s submitted prior to January 2001, with the personally identifiable information obliterated, at the NCDC’s cost of reproduction. This will be the same information accessible to you for free via MMS.

If you choose to order paper copies, offline, we will need to know the stations for which you need the forms and if you only want the latest forms available for each station.

You may e-mail me directly with the details and a Customer Services Representative will be assigned to research the availability of the information you request and contact you regarding the cost.

Vernon Woldu

All of which is fine and reasonable, but, if the B-44 forms are not online, then Karl should issue a Corrigendum at BAMS, which should be linked to the article online, so that bystanders don’t assume that the statement in the article is correct. I wrote back to Vose, Karl and Woldu suggesting that as follows:

Thank you for your prompt response. I understand the tradeoffs involved in this sort of situation. However, given that Russell S. Vose, David R. Easterling, Thomas R. Karl, and Michael Helfert, Comments on “Microclimate Exposures of Surface-Based Weather Stations”, BAMS, 2005 specifically provided different information,

“Cooperative Station Reports (i.e., B-44 forms) are available online from the National Climatic Data Center.”

May I suggest that you issue a Corrigendum and request that the Corrigendum be noted in the online search so that people relying on the accuracy of this statement do not spend time searching online for something that isn’t there. Regards, Steve McIntyre

13 Comments

  1. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Jun 12, 2007 at 2:57 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Vernon Woldu writes

    You may obtain copies of B44s submitted prior to January 2001, with the personally identifiable information obliterated, at the NCDC’s cost of reproduction. This will be the same information accessible to you for free via MMS.

    I wonder if this is strictly true? For example, in tracking down the changes of a local station (COOP # 457458), I’ve run into records in the MMS like the following: (this from Updates) Reason: 02. CLOSE STATION. SEE REMARKS
    and then a blank “Remarks” line. I would hope that a copy of the paper B44 would show what the “Remarks” actually were.

    Are you allowed to share Vernon Woldu’s email address?

  2. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jun 12, 2007 at 3:03 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Vernell.M.Woldu at noaa.gov

  3. Pat Frank
    Posted Jun 12, 2007 at 4:32 PM | Permalink | Reply

    You’re being too kind, as usual, Steve. Vose, et al. offered that sentence as a kind of reassurance that all was relatively well at USHCN; a status that could be verified by checking the readily-available B-44 forms.

    Here’s what they say in a more complete context. I’ve bolded your introductory quote: “We agree that some USHCN stations in eastern Colorado (and probably elsewhere) have inappropriate exposures for monitoring climate. It is also likely that the land’€”use/use’€”cover metadata do not adequately depict current site exposures at some USHCN stations (e.g., because the original land-use survey was flawed or because land’€”use conditions changed after 1990). Consequently, the USHCN database could definitely benefit from improved site exposure documentation. Under ideal conditions, this new documentation would meet the high standards set forth by Davey and Pielke (2005). Until such metadata become available, however, we encourage the users of USHCN’€”particularly those interested in relatively small study areas, such as eastern Colorado’€”to review Cooperative Station Reports (i.e., B-44 forms), which are available online from the National Climatic Data Center. Although most station histories no longer contain site sketches, these forms still contain a plethora of information about each station, including numerical values of azimuth, range, and elevation (which with some effort could be used to create pseudosketches of site exposure).”

    It is typical practice in the sciences to validate facts with citations, or at least by checking. That’s especially true when the given fact bears centrally on the issue at hand, namely the credibility of the US surface temperature record. Vose, et al., offered the B-44 forms as assurance and encouraged their inspection. Now we find out that they’re not on-line at all because they contain personal information — which could be blanked out. We also discover that for data prior to 2001 one must get paper forms from each individual site, making acquisition, inspection, and collation a laborious process.

    If Karl didn’t know all that before the BAMS comment was written, he was seriously remiss in his responsibility as an author. As senior author, maybe he was relying on his subordinates to get it right. But someone seriously dropped the ball. Of course, if he did know all of that prior to publication then the assurance about B-44 forms was disingenuous.

    I’m put in mind of Major Major Major Major from Catch-22. He never accepted visitors when he was in his office, and so you couldn’t see him then. And when he was out of his office, well, you were asked to come back during office hours. So it is for B-44 forms. They’re there for inspection, but you can’t see them.

  4. John Baltutis
    Posted Jun 12, 2007 at 4:48 PM | Permalink | Reply

    After January 2001, Cooperative station history information was submitted to the NCDC electronically rather than via paper form. For station history submitted after January 2001, MMS is the only delivery option.

    The NWS B44 forms are not accessible online by the general public because they contain personally identifiable information such as observer name, address, phone number and gender. The cooperative observers are volunteers who donate their time in the interests of the public good with a reasonable expectation that their personal information will remain private.

    Since the data is submitted electronically, it should be simple matter to create an online source file, sans the personally identifiable information such as observer name, address, phone number and gender.

    Just another barrier erected to keep the data hidden from public view.

  5. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Jun 12, 2007 at 6:39 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re: #3
    Pat, Vernon’s statement above suggests a reasonable explanation of the situation. Station history information (on paper) from 2001 and earlier seems to have been keyed-in to the database as part of the “SHIPS conversion” relatively recently (the initial conversion dates I’ve seen have been in Jan 2004). It seems that an effort has been made to convert “descriptive” reasons into codes as part of this effort; presumably some erroneous omissions will have been made as well.
    I suspect that the intent of the conversion *was* to capture all the information from B44 forms into the database, and thus that Karl et al believe in good faith that “This will be the same information accessible to you for free via MMS.” Of course, one would have hoped for spot-auditing before such a statement was made, but such an omission seems to be par for the course.

  6. Posted Jun 12, 2007 at 8:07 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I see this as a classic case of what I warn about re the Jones et al papers, “do not accept what they say, checkout what they do”.

  7. Pat Frank
    Posted Jun 12, 2007 at 8:19 PM | Permalink | Reply

    #5 — Agreed, Armand. VW’s explanation is fine and an honest accounting of the situation. The point for me, though, is that Vose ea. should have been so reassuring about the availability of B-44 forms for inspection, when in fact getting to the forms ranges between difficult and very difficult.

  8. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jun 12, 2007 at 8:51 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The cooperative observers are volunteers who donate their time in the interests of the public good with a reasonable expectation that their personal information will remain private.

    If the observations are being done by a municipal institution such as a fire station or power station or experimental farm, why should this apply?

  9. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jun 12, 2007 at 9:47 PM | Permalink | Reply

    You can get to the Driving Directions line of the B-44 form at MI3, but then:

    Driving Directions: “Insufficient Privileges To View Directions.”

    Here’s the routing:
    Access http://mi3.ncdc.noaa.gov/mi3qry/login.cfm
    Click: Guest Login
    Name contains “marysville” Click
    Choose: Marysville producing popup.
    Click Location tab: http://mi3.ncdc.noaa.gov/mi3qry/locationGrid.cfm?fid=2982&stnId=2982
    This yields popup with history of station locations:
    39.145830 (39°08’44″N) -121.585280 (121°35’07″W)
    Description: FIRE STATION WITHIN & 0.5 MI NNE OF PO AT MARYSVILLE, CA
    Location Description: 828-8TH STREET WITHIN AND 0.3 MI WSW OFPO AT ORLAND, CA
    Click hyperlink “Begin Data 1998-04-01″ yielding new popup with more details. including information on obstructions.
    Click hyperlink “primary location” for new popup that contains information on location accuracy (GPS here) and Driving Directions: “Insufficient Privileges To View Directions.”

  10. Ron Cram
    Posted Jun 13, 2007 at 4:05 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve,
    I just followed your directions and found the same line “Insufficient Privileges To View Directions.” That is surprising to me since they provide GPS coordinates and a street address that anyone can mapquest. Do you think it is significant?

    Okay, I just looked at a few other sites in Kansas and Montana and they have the same line so this is definitely a policy of NCDC, not an anomaly. Also, not all of these sites have a street address. Perhaps they only want uninvited visitors who also happen to own a GPS unit?

  11. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jun 13, 2007 at 9:02 AM | Permalink | Reply

    #9. The access described in #9 has stopped working (temporarily?)

  12. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Jun 13, 2007 at 1:48 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re:#11
    It worked fine for me both a few hours ago and again now.

  13. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Jun 14, 2007 at 7:50 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re: #11,12
    Just this evening, I’ve been getting server not responding messages; we’ll see if it’s just some maintenance work, or if they think I’m a bot.

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