Weather Diaries

Provost Wolfgang Haller (1525-1601). Source: Zurich Central Library, Department of Prints and Drawings / Photo Archive.

Provost Wolfgang Haller (1525-1601) was responsible for the management of the chapter property in Zürich, i.e. for the redistribution of grain and wine by the authorities. He laid down daily weather observation in his almanach, a kind of early agenda, from 1545 to 1576. On 3rd January 1573 he wrote: "Grimly cold with fog in the morning, afterwards sunshine".

A warm and rainy spell on 5th January 1709 melting the snow on plain ground was followed by a cold snap during the following night. It snowed the following day until noon with growing cold. The following night was terribly cold. Excerpt from Johann Heinrich Fries’ Zurich Weather diary for January and February, 1709. Source: Zurich Central Library, MS B 186d, fol. 161r.

Johann Heinrich Fries was a theologian working from 1676 at the Collegium Humanitatis in Zurich as a lecturer for confirmation classes and later on for languages. From 1684 he taught rhetoric at the Carolinum, which at that time was the theological university of Canton Zurich. In the same year he began keeping a weather diary which he assiduously continued until his death in 1718. Therein he describes the sky, precipitation and thermic conditions drawing on a broad set of often overlapping terms combining his records with observed impacts on crops and the human condition. His careful observations about the formation and melting of snow on the ground allowed assessing the duration of snow cover and the impact of those weather conditions on society (Pfister 1977). An unknown hand continued the weather observations after his death until 1721.

The vine-grower family Peter in St. Blaise (Canton Neuchâtel) kept track of the main weather spells and of relevant phenological dates (vine-flowering and grape harvest) for 44 years (1702-1746). The “Receveur” (tithe accountant) Elie Peter (died 1724) covers the period 1702 to 1723. His son N.N., the “Greffier” (controlling clerk) (1700-1746) continued his father’s observations until 1728. His brother (?) Pierre (1705-1755) kept on laying down weather records until 1746. Elie and his son mainly described the main weather spells subsuming daily conditions during the same spell, for example “fine weather” from 12th to 16th April 1705. Noticeable days such as unseasonable frost and summer snowfalls on mount Chaumont (1180 m a.s.l.) are given in more detail by Pierre. The weather records from 1719 to 1746 were included in Euro-Climhist besides the vine-phenological observations (series 21).

Johann Bernhard Effinger, portrait by Emanuel Handmann, 1755. Wildegg Castle is shown in the background. Source: Swiss National Museum Zurich, COL-15414.

Johann Bernhard Effinger (1701-1772) originated from the landed gentry of the old Republic of Bern. He owned the castle and the domain of Wildegg (Canton Aargau) comprising 80 hectares of cultivated land and forest. 1735 he was elected in the Great Council of Bern where he managed the St. Vincent foundation in Bern, a secularized church property, from 1747 to 1753. Effinger included unsystematic weather observations in his diary, because he was mainly dedicated to keeping his domain. Often he subsumed daily conditions during a same weather spell under a general term such as “rainy and cold”. Quite regularly he gives the last and the first day of snow-cover. Longer periods of dry weather he characterizes with regard to water shortage (Schwarz-Zanetti, Pfister, Müller 1995) (see series 25).