This guide is designed to help you when you want to know what the weather was like for a particular date or time in history in a particular location. There are several resources available on the Internet and in print to help you with your research. Not every resource will have the information you are looking for, but some of these may be good places to start your search.
Some Places To Begin Your Research
- The Climate Resources page (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/ol/climate/climateresources.html) from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) (http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/ncdc.html).
- This page contains links to all of the NCDC’s information about historical weather data. If you choose the “Get/View Online Climate Data” link, the site will offer you several options for what type of data you want to look at. If you choose the “Surface Data: Daily” link, the site will give you several options of datasets to choose from. Make sure you choose the dataset which includes the time period and location of the information you are looking for. For example, you can choose the
U.S. Surface Data — “Select by Station”
link if you are interested in information on a U.S. city between 1948 and the present. (There are also data sets for non-U.S. cities.) Then, the site will take you to a page offering several options on how to display the data. Once you have chosen one, the site will walk you through the rest of the process of choosing the location and time period for it to display the particular information you want.
- The Midwestern Climate Center(http://mcc.sws.uiuc.edu/index.html)
- The Midwestern Climate Center provides historical climate datasets for a region covering Illionois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. All of the MICIS datasets, unfortunately, are restricted to paid subscribers to the service. They do provide free access to Historical Climate Summaries which you can use to get a general idea about what the average temperature and precipition figures are for a city in the Midwest for a particular month.
- The Western Regional Climate Center(http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/)
- The Western Regional Climate Center does not offer much free-of-charge in the lines of historical weather data, although it does have a dataset on daily average weather conditions. It covers Alaska, Arizona, N. California, S. California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming. You may also want to check its SNOTEL dataset, which has unrestricted access to the regions’ daily weather data (snowfall, precipitation, temperature highs and lows) from 1993 to the present, for its SNOTEL station locations.
The High Plains Climate Center (http://www.hprcc.unl.edu/),
The Northeast Regional Climate Center (http://www.nrcc.cornell.edu/), and The Southern Regional Climate Center (http://www.srcc.lsu.edu)
- These climate centers all have restricted, fee-based access to their on-line datasets of historical weather data. They do also offer fee-based personal research services if that type of access is of interest.
One obvious place to start your search for the weather for a particular day is to look it up in a newspaper. Many newspapers, large and small, (at least in the U.S) will publish a listing of weather data for the previous day in cities around the country and the world. The data will usually include the high and low temperatures for that day, as well as measurements of precipitation.
Many public and academic libraries retain copies of old local newspapers, and old national newspapers such as the New York Times, often in microfilm format. Librarians and other staff at a library can help you locate and access any holdings they have of old newspapers. Contacting the newspaper publisher directly may also be a way to access old issues of newspapers.
If you are looking for weather information for the past few years, some newspapers now offer web sites through you which you can access current and recent issues. Check out the IPL’s Online Newspapers Collection (/div/news/) to see if the newspaper you are interested in has a web site.
Finally, you may want to check if your library has access to magazines that often include articles on recent weather events and weather events of the past. These include The American Weather Observer (Belvidere Daily Republican), a monthly publication aimed at amateur and professional weather observers, and Weatherwise (Heldref Publications), a bimonthly publication aimed at the general weather enthusiast.
Books are good sources for narrative information of the weather on a particular day in history. Most of the following books provide descriptions of famous weather events such as blizzards or droughts. Some also have narratives of the weather on a historical day, such as presidential election days or the first flight of an airplane. Browse through the list below to see whether one of these books might have the information you are looking for.
- American Weather Stories (Patrick Hughes; U.S. Department of Commerce, 1976).
- It says that its stories “trace the American weather experience from the hurricanes that threatened Coumbus and colonial settlers to the peculiar run of bad weather that has plagued American presidents on Inauguration Day; from American who documented the weather and climate of the Revolutionary and Civil War eras to those who suffered through the ‘year without a summer,’ the Blizzard of ’88, and the dust bowl drought of the 1930’s.”
- The Weather Factor (David M. Ludlum; Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984).
- This book includes a section on weather events during the colonial period; one on the weather on the battlefields during the Revoutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War; one on the weather during presidential election and inauguration days; one on the weather during American sporting events; and one on the weather the weather during American advancements in flight.
- The History of American Weather Series, which includes Early American Hurricanes 1492-1870 and Early American Winters 1604-1820 (David M. Ludlum, American Meteorological Society, 1963 and 1966).
- Detailed accounts of weather events and general weather conditions, pulled from journals and other original documents from the times. Includes exact dates and locations when that information is available.
- Climates of the States, The Weather Almanac, and Weather of U.S. Cities (Gale Research Company).
- These titles, which are published periodically to include recent data, are generally found in a library’s reference collection. Their coverage mostly focuses on U.S. cities, although the Weather Almanac series has some coverage of world cities. Their weather data includes mean temperature and precipitation data for each month of the year, so they are not particularly useful for finding the figure for one day in one year. They do, however, have exact dates for weather extremes, if you are looking for that information.
This pathfinder was created by Patricia Memmott
You may also wish to see
IPL: Meteorology/Climatology Resources