America’s First Climatologist: Thomas Jefferson


(WIAT) — July 1, 1776: A diary entry by Thomas Jefferson includes his exciting new purchase of a thermometer, and little did he know that, three days later, something bigger would be happening and his love for weather would be buried in the history books. What took the center stage would be Jefferson’s proposed document on freedom that would pave the way for a new country and new people. 

If it wasn’t for Thomas Jefferson and his love for weather and his belief in recording the weather for valuable purpose, entities like the National Weather Service and modern-day meteorologists may not exist. 

Jefferson recorded weather happenings daily. He rose early each morning and noted the morning temperature and record the temperature between 3 to 4 p.m. each afternoon. Subsequently recording the lowest and highest temperatures of the day (generally speaking). He also made sure to record precipitation (rain or snow) each day.

Thomas Jefferson, while known in history as one of our founding fathers, he was also the first to recognize weather as a valuable part of society and therefore, urged the government to designate deputies to be the official weather record keepers. He felt that understanding the pattern of weather would ultimately help farmers and sailors, and boy was he right. 

Jefferson would urge friends and even future presidents to join him on his quest for recording weather observations. This continued for years and is well documented throughout his life in his personal diary. Even in his later years, Jefferson felt that weather was still one of the least understood of all physical sciences. Calling it God-like and fantastical. 

Today, Jefferson would be happy to know that we collect daily weather data, not only in Virginia but world-wide. And here in the United States, we have one of the most robust collections of weather data in the world. 

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