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Official and Unofficial Weather Observations in Charlotte
Up to 1878
Prior to the official weather observations in 1878 newspapers only reported general observations of the weather of the season or unusual weather events. Actual temperatures were rarely mentioned and if so, the location of the thermometer would not be controlled to compare to a reading after official records started. For example, in one of the rare instances of temperatures mentioned, The Western Democrat on July 1, 1856 stated that the thermometer at sun rise was at 80 degrees and 96 in the afternoon, but these readings were from a “cool place in their office”. Amounts of rain were also absent from the newspaper reports. Snow events gave measurements of snow only occasionally. Following is an example of weather reporting from The Catawba Journal that enhanced its descriptions with quotations from an eighteenth-century English poem. (February 01, 1825)
The Season, thus far, has been uncommonly wet—we have had floods upon floods, until the roads have become almost impassable. – Winter delayed his approach so long, we became apprehensive, that “Thron’d in his palace of cerulean ice, “ he had forgotten his annual visit to this remote part of his dominions; but we were soon undeceived. On the evening of the 21st ultimo he came, “sullen and sad, with all his rising train; vapors and clouds, and storms.” The fields “put on their winter robe of purest white;” and the whole face of nature gave evidence of the reign of winter.
The article continues for two more paragraphs about the snow and mentions that the quantity of snow was greater than had fallen in many years. There is never any mention of how much rain had caused the floods or any measurement of the snows.
The Charlotte Observer showed a box titled “The Weather to-Day” most days starting in the mid 1870’s, but it was not specific for Charlotte. For example, here is “The Weather To-Day” for November 22, 1876: “For the South Atlantic States, rising barometer, South to West winds and warmer clear weather will prevail.”
1878 Onwards – Scientific Meteorology
A reporter for The Charlotte Observer visited the one-day old official weather recording station for Charlotte on October 7, 1878 and it was reported in a detailed article the next day. Officially called the Signal Service, the Charlotte station was located at the Traders’ National Bank building at 7 East Trade Street. Sergeant Dennis O’Donoghue was in charge of the weather measurements.
The Charlotte Observer (October 18, 1878) reported that “Beginning with Sunday morning The Observer will publish daily weather reports as furnished by the United Signal station in this city.” On Sunday, October 20, 1878 the newspaper began publishing daily high and low temperature, wind direction and velocity, and weather condition.
Official weather sites were at downtown locations until September 1, 1948. On September 1, 1948 the Charlotte Airport became the official site.
Official Records for Charlotte (as of 2018)
For purposes of comparison, the figures for the most extreme or unusual weather events in the era of official records (1878-present) are given below.
Snow, Sleet and Freezing Rain
- Most snow in one day: 14 inches on February 15, 1902
- Earliest trace of snow: October 31, 1887
- Earliest accumulated snow: November 11, 1968 with 1.7 inches
- Latest trace of snow: April 28, 1928
- Latest accumulated snow: April 20, 1904 with .8 inch
Floods and Heavy Rains
- The official record for one-day rainfall is 6.88 inches on July 23, 1997.
- 104 degrees Fahrenheit is the highest temperature recorded officially. It has occurred 6 times since 1878.
- Lowest temperature on record is -5 degrees which was recorded on January 21, 1985, December 30, 1880 and February 14, 1899. Actual temperatures were rarely reported in Charlotte newspapers prior to official records of October 1878.
- first and last day of frost is not recorded in weather records, although The occurrence of frost and its impact on the crops was often reported in the Charlotte newspapers.
- The North Carolina State Extension Service has calculated the average first autumn day of frost for the period 1951 to 1980 for selected North Carolina locations. Their average first day of frost for Charlotte is November 5.
- The chance of frost occurring before October 10th is only 2%. The same calculation for the last spring day of frost has been made by the North Carolina State Extension. The average last spring frost day is April 2.
- The official record for the longest streak with no measurable precipitation is 40 days from September 16, 1886 to October 26, 1886.