Where are the snows of yesteryear?
Right here in the records. On the night of December 10, 1802, we had our first taste of winter in Washington. So notes President Thomas Jefferson: “the 1st snow fell last night, just covers the ground.”
Jefferson began keeping daily observations of the weather when he was in Philadelphia attending the Second Continental Congress in July 1776. He maintained these manuscript records, with some gaps, until June 1826, a few days before his death. Over 50 years, he made more than 18,500 local weather observations at locations from his home of Monticello in central Virginia, his stay in Paris, and Washington, D.C.
In addition to noting the temperature and general weather conditions, Jefferson at times included details on barometric pressure, air moisture, wind direction and force, and amounts of rainfall or snow. The register also contains occasional notes relating to ecology and seasons, such as the the return of the birds in spring or the first peas or strawberries of summer.
With support from the NHPRC the Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton University and the Center for Digital Editing at the University of Virginia have published a new digital resource of the Jefferson Weather & Climate Records (https://jefferson-weather-records.org).
This new digital resource provides a full transcription of Jefferson’s handwritten records. Visitors to the website can view the transcription in parallel with images of the original manuscript pages, from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the New-York Historical Society, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
In making available essential source material for climate history, ecological and environmental history, history of science, economic history, agricultural history and social history, this site will significantly contribute to our understanding of weather in the early national period of the United States and the history of North American climate over the last 250 years.
The Jefferson Weather and Climate Records, along with comparable projects of the Center for Digital Scholarship at the American Philosophical Society, are pilot components of a planned Early American Weather Records online platform that will serve as a portal and search engine for transcribed American meteorological records from before 1850.