Seattle heat wave of 1870 puts 2009 to shame

Weather observation log of conditions in Seattle in the month of July, 1870. (Image courtesy: Mark Albright)

What if I told you that 144 years ago today (Monday, July 7) it was 100 degrees in Seattle?

And then what if I told you it wasn't even the hottest day of that week?

University of Washington research meteorologist Mark Albright has some of the very infant weather records from Seattle that began in 1870 and noted that it was quite a toasty July back then.

These early weather observations come courtesy of Seattle's first official weather observer, James E. Whitworth, who recorded the weather from his residence near what is now 3rd and Yesler, according to this study prepared by Glen Conner for NOAA's Midwestern Regional Climate Center.

Whitworth found on July 6th the temperature soared to 104 degrees, which is hotter than Seattle's current all-time official hottest temperature of 103 degrees set July 29, 2009. But get this, it might have been even hotter! Back then, the temperature was recorded at 7 a.m., 2 p.m., and 9 p.m. with obviously the warmest temperatures recorded at the 2 p.m. observation. However, we find today Seattle's warmest temperatures are regularly in the 4-6 p.m. time frame.

In fact, the first 12 days of July were quite toasty - shades of what we went through in late July of 2009. (OK, "shades" might have been a poor choice of words there...) Check out how the month began (and remember, these are 2 p.m. temperatures, not really a good gauge of maximum temperature).

July 1870 weather observations in Seattle:

July 1: 87
July 2: 84
July 3: 88
July 4: 100 (yowsa!)
July 5: 98
July 6: 104
July 7: 100
July 8: 92
July 9: 82
July 10: 94
July 11: 92
July 12: 82

(** Full size image of 1870 Seattle weather log**)

Then FINALLY the marine push came and it cooled to 72 on July 13. Oh, and on July 15th? It was only 60 degrees probably prompting many of the city's new residents to wonder what they just got themselves into.

Again, that was taken essentially in Downtown Seattle, even though the observation location states "Lake Washington" and today's records are kept at Sea-Tac Airport, which is nowhere near either location.

Plus, thermometers have become a bit better over time (although it's not like the modern day thermometers are without issues) and observations have become more standardized. So it's a little apples and oranges to compare that heat wave to ones of recent years (for the record, both Boeing Field and NOAA/Sand Point hit 105 degrees on July 29, 2009) but those lofty numbers likely meant that even at Sea-Tac, 1870 would have put 2009 to shame.