CHAMPAIGN — Ink and quill hand-written weather records from nearly 200 years ago have proven to be accurate despite the primitive technology available at the time.
Jim Angel, a state climatologist with the Illinois State Water Survey, and Lauren Graham, a recent graduate of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, recently obtained original records from the 1820s and 1830s from the Rock Island Arsenal Museum.
Temperatures readings were taken three times daily by reading glass thermometers located on the porch of the north side of what was then Fort Armstrong on Rock Island.
“Compared to the modern-day normal temperatures, the data were very reasonable,” Angel said. “When they’re in the same ballpark with today’s averages, you feel better about accuracy of the numbers.”
While Angel and Graham didn’t see temperatures that would break today’s records, they did find other interesting historical insights:
* On Feb. 8, 1931, the observer reported a temperature of -12 degrees at 7 a.m. and “30 inches of snow on the level.”
* On July 21, 1820, the records referred to a “violent hurricane.” Angel and Graham assume that likely referred to either a tornado or severe thunderstorm with strong winds.
The records also include comments, such as ducks flying south, the condition of crops and other events of everyday life.
“It was like reading someone’s diary,” Graham said.
The records are the oldest ever found in Illinois. The next oldest weather records are in Peoria that has continuous weather reports going back to 1856. The latest find still leaves a weather record gap between 1836 and 1856.
Images of the original records found in Rock Island can be found on the Water Survey website at http://www.isws.illinois.edu/atmos/statecli/Forts/forts.htm