Ever wonder what the weather was like on your birthday? Or what caused that big arctic outbreak in 1950? Or just want to see how the field of meteorology has progressed over the past 141 years?
NOAA now has every day's surface weather chart available online -- back to 1871!!!
It's a great way to peek into the past and see not only how weather was observed back then, but can be a valuable learning tool as well.
The first thing I did with this was to go back and look up some of Seattle's historical snowstorms and sure enough, they all were born from a similar pattern: Arctic air in Canada being drawn into Western Washington by a storm going inland just to our south to provide moisture.
My first history lesson? When looking up the great snow of Jan. 5, 1880 in Seattle, it turns out the West was so sparse that they didn't have enough observations to fill out a isobar map -- and Seattle didn't even rate on their national cities list. So...1880's snow will remain a bit of a mystery.
I had better luck with the great blizzard of Feb. 2, 1916, which technically is still Seattle's great snow date with 21" of snow reported at the Downtown Federal Building:
Note the rain with high pressure (arctic air) up in B.C.
(Also note that someone back then figured out just how snowy it was up here. There's a notation on the official map -- not sure when it was written on there, 1916 or otherwise, -- that mentions it was Seattle and Portland's greatest snow ever:
Here's the largest snow in Sea-Tac history (Jan. 13, 1950 -- 20"):
And the next two are the Dec. 29, 1996 big snow and the most recent snow event of Jan. 18, 2012.
January 18, 2012:
Anyway, if you want to look up the storms -- or any other weather maps -- for yourself, you can just head to noaa.gov. Note that for the maps before 2002, you have to install a bit of free software code on your computer that will allow you to read the file type -- the link is provided on the NOAA site.
Most of the older maps not only have the weather chart, but have a list of the day's weather statistics (highs, lows, rainfall, etc.) for several cities across the nation, and many even have the neat charts on how to decode the old weather chart symbols like this:
You can find this full chart (interesting to frame! And budding meteorologists will like it) by looking at the charts around Jan. 1950. (Here is a direct link)
And if you need a guide to find snowy weather, Historylink.org has an indepth website showcasing all of Seattle's greatest snows.