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World’s weather records find home in ASU

October 08, 2007

Randy Cerveny has seen a lot of strange weather in his day, but lately the ASU President’s Professor is focusing on recording it in his role as the keeper of the world's weather anomalies.

In this new position as the world's Rapporteur on Climate Extremes, within the United Nations-affiliated World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Commission for Climatology, Cerveny will maintain the world’s extreme weather records, and he will be the person who decides if a new record is set or if it is just a bunch of smoke.

“In the heart of every meteorologist and climatologist beats the soul of a detective,” says Cerveny, a professor in ASU's School of Geographical Sciences. “We all appreciate a good mystery, and for those interested in weather, the elements of our atmosphere can often provide the most fascinating puzzles. How can we determine, after a major weather event, if the event was the hottest, coldest, wettest or windiest? Now we will have an official, unbiased list.”

The idea of the Rapporteur on Climate Extremes, Cerveny says, was something he proposed to the WMO and is based on a similar position in the U.S.

“There has never been anything like this for the world,” says Cerveny. “So I asked WMO about it for the world, and they said: ‘Great, you do it.’”

The inspiration for Cerveny’s record verifying and keeping duties came from a recent headline-grabbing weather event in the U.S.

“When I was watching hurricane Katrina coverage I heard several newscasters say ‘This is the worst natural disaster to hit the U.S.’ Well, it wasn’t,” says Cerveny. “It was not even close. I wanted to have an official record that says this is the worst hurricane we ever had. This is the worst tornado. This is the coldest temperature.”

As Rapporteur, Cerveny won’t be alone in checking to see if Aurora, Neb., really did have a hail stone measuring seven inches in diameter, or head off to little Reunion Island in the South Indian Ocean to verify it actually did get 72 inches of rain in a 24 hour period when a tropical cyclone hit this past February. Rather, he will call on a network of weather professionals spanning the globe to investigate new and strange weather phenomena.

Cerveny has set up procedures and for each record that comes in, he puts together a committee of experts from around the world to test it and see if it holds water.

“I’ll contact the national weather service for that country and then start to create an ad hoc committee to examine the record,” he explains.

“One of the members of the group will always be a regional member where the record was recorded. We’ll have an expert on that particular weather event, like a hurricane expert for hurricanes. We’ll also involve the head of the WMO’s climate group, the head of WMO’s climate monitoring group and myself.”

The committee will examine all aspects of the record, including the what, where, when and the how, and it will examine the types of equipment that were used to make the measurements, as well as their location during the event to verify its authenticity.

“The committee will make a recommendation, and I make the final determination as to whether we should put it in the archive,” he says.
Cerveny notes that in the nine months he’s been on the job, he has already investigated three possible records. One stuck, one was rejected and one is pending. Those that are officially verified records are archived in the World Weather/Climate Extremes Archive (, physically located at ASU.

The archive is starting off small, Cerveny says, focusing first on categories such as temperature, pressure, rainfall, hail and wind. Plans are to expand it at a later date.

While there is a lot at stake in determining the true weather records of our planet, keeping those records unbiased and archived for all to access feeds into a larger goal of Cerveny’s, to better understand the dynamics Earth is currently experiencing.

“In this position we can correlate information on climatology in the world and see what direction global warming is taking us,” says Cerveny.

“The longer the database is up and running, the more valuable it will become. As we get longer and longer records we can start to see validated trends and changes taking place.”