Historic Weather Sources

The Snows of Yesteryear project has led to the digitisation of over 3,500 pages of manuscript and printed sources from the archival collections of the National Library of Wales. Have a look at how the weather influenced the work of each author, being a muse to their descriptive and creative writings.

Forecasting the Weather

  • September 10, 2012 - cerysjones

The work of the UK Met. Office enables us to have the most accurate weather forecasts possible, and technological advancements mean that we can view these forecasts at any time of day or night. But before the establishment of the Met. Office (1854, when an experimental government department which was later to become the Met. Office was set up) and weather forecasts in the media (1st August 1861 was the first issue of The Times to include a weather forecast), what did people do? How did they plan and prepare for tomorrow’s weather?

Almanacs hold a wealth of information and help for their readers on ‘all things meteorological’. Among them are lists of meteorological ‘signs’; signs of things to come. The three pages below contain lists under the headings ‘Signs of Fair Weather’, ‘Signs of Rain’ and ‘Signs of Wind and Storm’. Some are familiar; “4. When the Sun sets red, fair weather or frost” is similar to the popular saying ‘Red Sky at Night, Shepherd’s Delight’. Others are not so familiar; “14. Magpies screaming”, “23. Weary flies and midges” and “27. Arthritis in the elderly and corns on your toes” are all signs of rain.  Signs of stormy weather include “8. Fire burning dark and hissing”, “9. Ravens clapping their wings” and “11. Pigs crying more than usual”.

Weather Signs from John Harries’ Almanac (Carmarthen) for the year 1791, held at the National Library of Wales (all pages can be viewed at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/snowsofyesteryear/sets/72157631001153272/with/7752526604/).

 Even with today’s forecasting capabilities, do we still use ‘signs’ for the weather? Do we still take a glimpse at how bright the stars are shining (sign of frost), how quickly the clouds are moving (sign of wind) or how busy the spiders are (sign of rain)? In the same way, is it the weatherman that tells us about a period of extreme weather, or do we still see the signs? Surely we all knew of the extreme wetness of the 2012 summer before the Met. Office’s official announcement (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/archive/2012/second-wettest-summer)… but how? What were the signs?

I noticed how my raincoat never left my side, the fact that I barely had to water my garden plants, and that so many summer events had been cancelled – from horse races to agricultural shows. I didn’t, however, notice any of the signs of rain from the 1791 Almanac!

How did you know that we’ve just experienced the wettest summer since 1912?

Welsh Almanacs: Extreme Weather among History’s Extraordinary Events

  • August 14, 2012 - cerysjones

This is just one page which has been digitised by The Snows of Yesteryear project in order to research extreme weather in Wales.  The whole collection, which includes almanacs, diaries and various other manuscripts, can be viewed on Flickr (click on the right of your screen).

John Harris 1790 Almanac Carmarthen/Caerfyrddin (National Library of Wales / Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru)

This page, entitled ‘Register of various extraordinary events’, comes from an almanac for the year 1790 compiled by John Harris and printed in Carmarthen (from the National Library of Wales’ archives). The first extraordinary event listed is that it was 5894 years since God created the world which, from the year of printing (1790AD), sets the creation of the world at  4104BC. Among the following events, Harris included many natural phenomena:

4141 years since the water deluge [i.e. flood] [=2351BC]

170 years since there was an earthquake in Britain [=1620AD]

104 years since there was a large and terrible shooting star [=1686AD]

75 years since there was great darkness on the sun [i.e. a solar eclipse] at 9 in the morning [=1715AD]

74 years since the northern lights started [=1716AD]

71 years since there was light like a shaft [or column] of fire [=1719AD]

51 years since there was a great frost, which started on December 24 [=1739AD]

35 years since Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake [=1755AD]

21 years since a large shooting star appeared in the morning [=1769AD]

15 years since there was an earthquake in England and Wales [=1775AD]

The events in bold are indicative of heavy precipitation and low temperatures, considered to be meteorological events. However, the definition of ‘meteorology’ is:

1. The branch of science that deals with atmospheric phenomena and processes, esp. with a view to forecasting the weather.

2. The character of a particular region as regards weather, atmospheric phenomena, etc. (OED, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/117496?redirectedFrom=meteorology#footerWrapper).

Historically, this full definition was embraced to a greater extent than in more recent years. As such, all atmospheric phenomena on this list – the 1686AD and 1769AD shooting stars, 1715AD solar eclipse, 1716AD northern lights and the 1719AD shaft of fire – were considered to be ‘meteorological events’ at the time of printing this Almanac.