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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

Baseline Methods for Reconstructing United States Nineteenth Century Climatic Extremes from Historical Data

Copious and well-detailed weather accounts and early instrumental records were kept across the United States since the early nineteenth century. However, these data have not been systematically analyzed because of the time required for historical data extraction, and because of the lack of standard techniques to assess historical data quality and to integrate these data with the modern climate record.

This project will provide a methodological baseline for reconstructing large-scale historical climatic extremes for the United States and the adjacent oceans by integrating early instrumental and documentary climate data together. These methods, aided by calibration methods from modern hourly weather data, will be directly applicable to reconstructing the pre-modern climate for any year in the nineteenth century. The methods will be specifically applied to weather data from November 1848-November 1849 at the national scale; and the winter of 1861-1862 and the warm-season of 1860 for the far western U.S. and Great Plains respectively. The 1848-1849 period serves as an ideal example at the national scale, as large amounts of data are available from a variety of historical and proxy data sources, and because this extreme year occurred in the midst of busy westward migration to the California goldfields and a widespread cholera epidemic – events that were well chronicled.