Saturday, July 23, 2011

A 19th century sampling of weather in July: the stuff of small talk: a hands on thing to do.

Charles Peirce religiously chronicled the weather in Philadelphia for 57 years from January, 1790 to January 1847. This was not the same, great American philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce who also had a keen interest in the weather, but an earlier, modest Peirce who started off as a bookseller and newspaper publisher in Portsmouth NH.
Google has digitalized  his vast ouevre of weather gleanings which was bequeathed to Harvard University shortly after he died - and it's online for all to read.
Below are but a few excerpts to give you a taste, which in our time, with the cloud of global warming hanging over us -  gives his or any work on weather, a special significance.

conté and compressed charcoal gesture  on newsprint 30"x36

July was always an iffy month - but when you look through his records you realize that all the months were potentially iffy and July could really give you a run for your money! 

1838 strikes a chord:
1838 The medium temperature of this month was 81 and it was the warmest month in this vicinity that we have on our record for several years On eighteen days during midday the mercury rose to 90 and above on two of these days it rose to 96 in the shade but being placed for thirty minutes in the full rays of the sun at mid day it rose to 143 A small quantity of rain fell on six days making in all two and a quarter inches but only in one instance was the atmosphere cooled after a thunder shower and in this instance it was cooler only for a few hours There were twenty one fair hot and dry days.

Let's try an earlier account from 1793:
1793 The medium temperature of this month was 81 and there was a great deal of excessively hot and dry weather All the rain that fell was during some violent thunder gusts The mercury was from 90 to 96 in the shade on ten days and from 84 to 89 on fifteen days Vegetation suffered very much for rain There was a great mortality among the flies .

compressed charcoal on kraft paper 30"x36"

Sometimes it rained:
1842 The medium temperature of this month was 74 This was indeed a month of thunder showers and great destruction by lightning and torrents of rain also by wind and hail The month commenced with the mercury at 90 From five to seven o clock PM on the first day there was one of the most awful thunder storms passed over this city and vicinity ever experienced by the present generation The peals of thunder were astounding and the lightning the most terrific ever beheld and the rain poured down in such torrents for two and a half hours that several of the streets in the eastern part of the city were covered to the depth of two feet and many basements and cellars completely filled and a great amount of goods destroyed During this shower nearly six inches of rain fell The lightning struck and consumed several barns in the vicinity of the city and several houses were struck in the city and liberties also several persons were stunned Some rain also fell on twelve other days principally in showers making in all which fell during the month twelve inches which is the greatest quantity in any one month we can find on record.

Let's end on a positive note!:
1817 The medium temperature of this month was 74 The weather during this month was a continuation of the splendid weather of the previous month The farmer rejoiced at having such a pleasant season for gathering in his early harvest which was very abundant Fertilizing showers and warm sunshines caused the earth to bring forth luxuriantly Indeed the earth and the trees were literally loaded with every good thing Thunder showers were very frequent and a healthier season thus far has not been experienced for many years.


  1. Your life drawings are always so expressive
    and a treat to look at. The use of blue and black
    on the bottom drawing is just beautiful. It's great
    the way the blue fades away at the top.
    The gesture drawing is amazing.
    You're inspiring & COOL!!!
    It's hot here ... heat index was 108 yesterday.

  2. I'll second DD; your drafting is very cool. I'll throw in the dictionary's third definition, "a current of cool air in a room".
    I'll bet there was a fair bit of moaning going on in 19th-century Philly, too.

  3. Luscious charcoal drawings here!! I'm in awe. Really.

    The weather data is very interesting. I often wonder how people managed before cooling systems. Surely they didn't wear all those layers of clothing, right?!

    What's strange to me is that New York was hotter than Tucson last week. It was downright balmy at 98 degrees compared to their temps and urban heating.

    Wishing you perfect summer weather--not too hot, not too cool!

  4. Cool post Marcia and wonderful drawings. Too bad you couldn't be here in Nova Scotia, where it has been warm, but you wouldn't venture out without both a sweater and a jacket in case. In case always comes at night fall. Cool, cool weather. What a boon that would be to the hot folks in Toronto and Hamilton.



  5. Hi Doug,
    I guess one virtue of waiting is that the weather has changed dramatically since that period of overpowering heat - we've had rain and cool, civilized evening breezes in the interim.
    I think my camera has been flattering to these old drawings but it's still nice of you to praise them and I wouldn't ever want to discourage that!
    Bless you!

  6. Hi Sam,
    Thank you v much for your comment! It's cool how you yield to a temptation to make a play on words - I like that!
    I don't know how the folk of Philly coped - probably as you suggest with a fair bit of moaning and groaning!

  7. Hi dear Melinda

    I think all those layers were a requisite demand of one's station in life and perhaps a certain amount of movement created a draft. I can only speculate and am thankful for the fashion revolution precipitated by Mary Quant in the latter third of the 20th century.
    It is interesting about New York. All that density of concrete and bodies holds the heat and creates something like a blast furnace. I spent a wonderful summer there in my early 20's and the person I stayed with taught me to counter sweltering heat with endless, tall glasses of iced coffee. I'm sure it helped.
    Now that you have petitioned Nature for more moderate temps, she has acquiesced!
    And thank you for your comment! - it is a soothing balm!!

    xo Marcia

  8. Hi Barbara,

    I wished we could have joined you and that we might also have met up with the lovely Flora and Larry. Whenever I thought of you I thirsted for the salt air and ocean.
    I am thrilled that you are having a whale of a time and producing beautiful water colors!

    love, Marcia