Tom Sawyer famously tricked his pals into whitewashing the fence his Aunt Polly had instructed him to paint himself. In no time at all, the fence had a bright coat of fresh whitewash.
White is a great reflector of sunlight and the National Weather Service has traditionally used whitewash to paint the boxes used to house thermometers and other weather equipment. The whitewash provides a reflective coating so temperatures could be accurately recorded without unnecessary influence from solar heating.
A meteorologist named Anthony Watts noticed that in 1979, the NWS began painting the boxes with white semi-gloss latex paint. He decided to see if this made a difference in the recorded temperature. It did. Through an experiment reported by principia-scientific.org, the latex covered box recorded a high temperature of .3 degrees Fahrenheit above the whitewash box and a low of .8 degrees above the whitewashed box.
Is it possible this change is skewing official temperatures higher, leading to incorrectly higher temperature readings?
It’s something to think about as we discuss climate change and a hotter Earth.
If the Weather Service needs help in going back to whitewash, perhaps they can take a lesson from Tom Sawyer and get some pals to help.
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