Top three websites for researching historical weather data


07 January 2021
Wayne Shepheard shares his recommendations for the best websites to help you research UK weather data over the centuries, allowing you to see how weather patterns affected your ancestors.

Natural phenomena have significantly affected the lives and livelihoods of our ancestors. Such events, in many instances, were important in influencing decisions to relocate, perhaps even as much as factors such as:

  • religious persecution
  • cultural differences
  • economics
  • poverty
  • land ownership restrictions
  • war
  • politics

Finding information that demonstrates what events occurred and how they impacted people and communities is an important part of constructing complete family histories.

How did the weather affect our ancestors?

Until the early 18th century, most people were engaged in agricultural activities, so the health of crops and the size of harvests were important. Temperature and precipitation are, of course, major controlling factors in the size and quality of crops.

The United Kingdom has weather records that go back hundred of years. Here, we present three websites that can help you research how weather patterns might have affected your UK ancestor's life and work.

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Exploring historical weather data

Government offices, such as the Met Office, the United Kingdom’s national weather service, have substantial information online from across the country. Rainfall, temperature and other data are available in table (spreadsheet) form, in graphs and in written reports. Data can be looked at by year, month or broken down by season. From these historical presentations one can view any trends that might exist or specific periods of rapid change indicating environmental events.

1. Met Office Digital Library and Archive

Browse weather reports from over the decades at the Met Office Digital Library & Archive.

2. General historical UK climate

Met Office climate summaries over the years.

3. Rainfall records

Rainfall records for England and Wales dating back to 1766, the longest running such series in the world.

Article extracted from an in-depth guide to using records to explore how climate and epidemics affected the lives of our ancestors - in the February 2021 issue of Family Tree.

About the author

Wayne Shepheard is the author of ‘Surviving Mother Nature’s Tests: the effects of climate change and other natural phenomena have had on the lives of our ancestors (with examples from the British Isles)’ (2018).