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Founding Fathers or First Weathermen?

When drafting the Declaration of Independence, the doctrine that would serve as the nation's most cherished symbol of freedom, our founding fathers probably had more on their mind than the weather . . . life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness perhaps? Actually, that's not entirely true. Thomas Jefferson was such a diligent observer that he took a thermometer with him on his trip to Philadelphia, where he recorded four weather observations on the day the document was signed.

Thomas Jefferson, 1743, 1826, reading rough draft of Declaration of Independence to Benjamin Franklin. 1897 Storm over a hilly landscape. 1940

On July 4, 1776, he observed temperatures of 68oF at 6 a.m., 72oF at 9 a.m., 76oF at 1 p.m. and 73 oF at 9 p.m. This weather record spanned from 1776-1818 and also included temperature observations at Monticello and his country retreat home Poplar Forest, along with notations on the direction and speed of the wind and the amount of precipitation. He shared his records with others, envisioning a Cooperative Weather Observation program. During the 40-year span, Jefferson established observers in every county of Virginia and in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York and North Carolina.

A renowned scientist, Benjamin Franklin was one of the first to observe that North American storms tend to move from west to east, and he predicted that a storm's course could be plotted. He even made some of the first-recorded weather forecasts in his Poor Richard's Almanac, a 25-year publication that Franklin first published in 1732 under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders.

In addition to his meteorological prowess, Franklin also published the first scientific chart of the North Atlantic's Gulf Stream. He hypothesized that the Gulf Stream is caused by trade winds driving warm waters into the Gulf of Mexico, where they exit by way of the Florida Strait. In 1775, on his way to England, Franklin lowered a thermometer into the Atlantic and found the Gulf Stream to be 6° F warmer than the surrounding sea; subsequently, he produced the first chart of the current.

Weathercasting is the subject of a Library webcast by Bob Ryan, chief meteorologist at NBC4 (WRC-TV). He discusses not only the history of meteorology but also the science and technology behind predicting the weather.

The Library's webcast site features many other webcasts on science and technology, including such subjects as neuroscience, nutrition, astronomy and gardening.

For more weather-related resources, the Library's Science, Technology and Business Division has taken the "search" out of research by providing several tools, including an Internet resource list; a Climatology, Meteorology and Weather Subject Guide; and Science Tracer Bullets on subjects such as earthquakes, global warming and snowflakes. Just search for "weather" or "meteorology" on the division's homepage to pull up a complete list of resources.

A. Thomas Jefferson, 1743, 1826, reading rough draft of Declaration of Independence to Benjamin Franklin. 1897. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-49950 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: Illus. in AP2.H32 1897 (Case Y) [P&P]

B. Summer storm / T.W. Nason. SUMMARY: Storm over a hilly landscape. 1940. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZC4-2693 (color film copy transparency), LC-USZ62-108079 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: FP - XX - N263, no. 13 (A size) [P&P]