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Department of Geography

Tracking the weather 100 years ago

Junior Lilian Hutchens spent last year tracking the weather -- in a small California town more than a century ago

Working on a project for Prof. Cary Mock of the University of South Carolina Geography Department, Lilian Hutchens combed through decades of diaries kept by Delia Hammond Locke, a frontierswoman who moved to California in 1855, looking for references to the weather. As well as chronicling the early history of Lockeford, the town she and her husband founded, and her 13 children, Locke wrote consistently about the weather, noting the temperature every morning and whether it had rained or not. The precipitation day counts were transcribed into spreadsheets, Hutchens says, and then supplemented with records from nearby newspapers to reveal extreme weather events.

The research was done online, accessing the manuscript archives at the University of the Pacific. Historical climatology, Hutchens says, is often done that way now that more and more material is digitized and online, and she is amazed at how ship logs, diaries, and old newspapers can be used to piece together past weather conditions.

Hutchens, an Honors College student, got involved with the project after taking an introductory weather and climate class as a freshman at South Carolina, but her interest in geography preceded her arrival at the university. An information technology course she took at her Myrtle Beach high school sold her on the promise of GIS, while the interdisciplinary nature of geography allowed to envision college work that would combine her love of science and of the human side of science.

The project has already taken Hutchens and fellow researcher Elaina Reck to Washington, DC, where they presented a poster on their findings at the national convention of the American Association of Geographers last April. The conference experience, she says, was exciting and opened her eyes to even more areas she could explore.

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