Volunteer citizen scientists have recovered weather data collected more than 150 years ago by Vice-Admiral Robert Fitzroy, the founder of the UK Met Office, in a rescue mission expected to help scientists better understand changes in extreme weather.
A study published in Geoscience Data Journal describes the digitization and recovery of more than 570,000 historical weather observations from 1861-1875, fulfilling a vision first set out by Fitzroy to improve warnings to cargo ships and fishing fleets about extreme weather conditions. Professor Hawkins coordinated a team of more than 3,500 online Zooniverse.org platform volunteers to digitize the weather records from Fitzroy’s Daily Weather Reports. Extensive quality control work followed the crowdsourced transcription before public release. The open-access dataset is available for free public use.
Initial comparisons reveal Fitzroy’s recovered sea-level pressure measurements will improve existing reconstructions of past storms. The research team hopes integrating the observations into global databases will reveal new 19th-century climate insights that Fitzroy first sought.
Professor Ed Hawkins, who led the project, said, “Rescuing these observations enables us to reconstruct key historical storms and other extreme weather with greater accuracy, improving our understanding of the climate during this time. As climate change accelerates, maintaining weather records is more critical than ever for understanding how extreme weather is changing and so ensure more reliable predictions.”
After the Royal Charter ship sank in a violent storm in 1859, Fitzroy resolved to collect real-time weather measurements from stations across Britain’s telegraph network to make storm warnings. He collated measurements on pressure, temperature and rainfall from across Great Britain, Ireland and Europe.
Starting in 1860, observers telegraphed readings to Fitzroy in London, who handwrote them onto Daily Weather Report sheets, where they were used to make a ‘weather forecast’ – a term invented by Fitzroy for this endeavor. The first-ever public weather forecasts started on August 1, 1861, and were published daily in The Times newspaper. However, Fitzroy died in 1865, shortly after founding the UK Met Office, leaving his life’s work hidden undiscovered in archives.
Hawkins continued, “Vice-Admiral Robert Fitzroy pioneered weather forecasting and collected some of the earliest coordinated meteorological data starting in 1860. Inspired by the sinking of the Royal Charter ship in a severe storm in October 1859, his daily weather reports were the genesis of real-time weather prediction to warn the public of impending storms. Sadly, he did not live to see his vision fully realized. More than 150 years later, we have finally completed digitizing Fitzroy’s early weather records thanks to the efforts of volunteers.”
For more key data updates from the meteorological technology industry, click here.