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Historical weather info

Okay, so The Legal Genealogist is a little distracted today.

The forecast is for more than a foot of snow, maybe more than two feet of snow throughout the northeastern states, even here in Central New Jersey.

The Nor-Beaster!


Man In Snow StormBleah.

I hate winter.

Loathe it.

Hate snow. Hate cold. Hate the hassles, the headaches, the worrying about whether the power will stay on. (Did you know there’s no way to bypass the electronic ignition switch on modern gas furnaces? Which means no power, no heat. Did I say “bleah” yet?)

So I’m spending the morning scurrying around making sure the hatches are battened down, and you, dear reader, can spend the day looking at historical weather reports and sending sympathy towards all of us here in the northeast.

A wonderful resource for folks in New Jersey is the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist. That site has historical snowfall information recorded for more than 50 different locations as far back as the 1890s in some cases. The numbers used come from the National Weather Service, now part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). You can get a history of the National Weather Service at its website.

NOAA itself has a number of interesting offerings. It has its top weather, water and climate events list for the 20th century that you can review online or download as a PDF file. The NOAA News reports things like the 1899 arctic blast that paralyzed the eastern United States and carried ice down to the Gulf of Mexico.

And NOAA’s National Climatic Data Centeroffers a large number of options including maps showing temperature (current and historical conditions), snowfall, precipitation and more.

And there are a whole host of alternatives to these official sources:

• The Weather Base has some 33 years of weather records for New York City and at least some data for more than 29,250 other cities worldwide.

• The Weather Warehouse has Historical Monthly Weather Data “for over 18,000+ current and former United States weather stations for every year that each station reported” — which means, for example, for Central Park in New York City you can get data back to 1900, or for Decatur in Wise County, Texas, back to 1904.

WeatherForYou has a daily bit of weather history (for yesterday, the key events were an overnight freeze in 1777 that helped George Washington and his troops flank the British to get to winter quarters and, sigh… some record highs in 1989).

• There’s still an Old Farmer’s Almanac, with historical weather data by zip code, accessing weather archives for more than 1,300 stations across United States and Canada, going back to 1960, but more detailed customized access to historical weather info requires a subscription.

You can find out all kinds of information about weather disasters on GenDisasters — the website setting out “Events That Touched Our Ancestors’ Lives.” These include floods, hurricanes, ice and snow, storms and lightning, and tornadoes.

• Try WolframAlpha for weather information too. You can enter, say, “weather January 3, 1975 New York City” as a search term and get an amazingly detailed weather report. The data doesn’t go back all that far — but as far as it goes, it’s dynamite.

For the kinds of weather information we might want to add to our family histories, we might want to look at the official records of the government. By far, the bulk of the National Weather Service and Weather Bureau records are at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. More than 90% of all the records held by NARA at there, with the National Archives branch in Seattle, Washington, coming in a very distant second. These include:

• Meteorological Records of the Surgeon General’s Office 1819-1916
• Records of the Smithsonian Meteorological Project 1848-91
• Records of Signal Corps Meteorological Work 1859-97
• Records of the Weather Bureau 1792-1965
• Records of Field Operations 1735-1979
• Textual Records (General) 1876-1972
• Cartographic Records (General) 1873-1960
• Motion Pictures (General)
• till Pictures (General) 1880-19501

Some additional newer records are in the NOAA collection, record group 370.2

And, don’t forget, the weather has always been a hot topic (you’ll forgive the reference here in the midst of the snows of January) in the pages of our local newspapers.

Now excuse me, please, I have some more electronics to get fully charged… just in case…


  1. See generally “Records of the Weather Bureau (Record Group 27),” Guide to Federal Records, National Archives ( : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
  2. See ibid., “Records of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (Record Group 370).”
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