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HOW HOT? Weather Service Trying to Fix Faulty Thermometer at RDU



It was hot last summer, but not as hot as the National Weather Service reported at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The weather-service thermometer went a little haywire.

A study showed that the temperature recorded at RDU last summer was 2 or 3 degrees hotter than it really was.

Technicians replaced a faulty sensor at summer's end and will find out when this summer ends whether that fixed the problem.

''It wasn't a consistent problem, which is why we were puzzled,'' said Steve Harned, the head of the weather service's Raleigh office.

''On some days, it was actually reading a little lower, on many days it was right on, and other times it seemed hot, so until we did the study it was hard to guess what the problem was,'' he said.

Last summer, the weather service recorded 14 record highs, seven days of 100 degrees or higher in July and 23 consecutive days at or above 90 degrees. When local television forecasters questioned the readings, weather-service technicians checked the instrument, but couldn't find anything wrong.

RDU temperatures have been a regional yardstick since 1944 and are entered into a national database that helps scientists track climate change.

In 1996, the service replaced an older set of weather instruments at the airport with a $100,000 high-tech array that measures precipitation and temperature as well as cloud height, visibility and barometric pressure.

The new instruments seemed to be working fine until last summer.

To try to find the problem's cause, the weather service examined thousands of pieces of information from RDU and a dozen weather stations within a 50-mile radius from 1996 through September 1999.

Some meteorologists had theorized that wind blowing over the hot runway, or even wind-blown jet exhaust, might be to blame.

What emerged was strong evidence that in 1999 the temperature sensor went a little crazy.


-- (, June 14, 2000

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