Determining Regional Weather and Climate Patterns and Anomalies from a Historical Diary

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015: 4:15 PM
128AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Jase E. Bernhardt, Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park, PA

Prior to the 20th century, there was a dearth of official local weather and climate observations for much of the United States outside of major cities. Useful information can be gleaned, however, from primary accounts, such as historical diaries kept by farmers and others whose interests were tied to the land. Herman Smith-- a farmer in west-central New York State-- kept a detailed record of daily life, including weather characteristics such as temperature, precipitation, and wind direction, for his farm near Covert during the late 1800s. Two full years of his diary, 1884 and 1886, were recently published, and selected for study. Although typically not numeric data, the lexicon used in the diary to describe relative heat and cold allow Smith's observations to be analyzed semi-quantitatively in order to determine the weather experienced that year including factors affecting the growing season, as well as significant weather and climatic events. Moreover, these notable events (e.g. extreme temperature and precipitation), can be compared to the synoptic weather patterns. My analysis demonstrates that for Covert-- located in an area of topographic variability and proximal to the Finger Lakes-- microclimatic effects occasionally dominated over the synoptic circulation, particularly under conditions of north-westerly flow and lake effect snow. This finding was further reinforced by comparison of Smith's 1886 records with those of a nearby farmer. Moreover, Smith's accounts establish an inextricable link between his agricultural practices and the weather and climate patterns he observed. These findings underscore the value of acquiring climatic data from non-conventional sources for places where or times when reliable data are sparse or non-existent, in order to better understand how climate, and its impacts on agriculture and the environment, have varied over time, and on micro- to meso- scales.