Narrative Reports of (Unusual) Weather Events

Renward Cysat (1545-1613), a pioneer of Alpine weather observation. Source: Engelberg Abbey Archives.

Renward Cysat (1545-1613), became the most influential Swiss politician working in favour of the catholic Counter-Reformation. At the same time he was a dedicated natural scientist. From 1588 until his death he describes the course of the weather and its impact in Lucerne and on the surrounding mountains (Pilatus, Rigi) by using quantitative terms. Like Wolfgang Haller he laid down his daily weather observations in almanachs, which have, however, not survived. Nevertheless, he made summaries of his daily observations in many of his calendars (Wetter, Pfister 2013). In his main work entitled Collectanea pro Chronica Lucernensi et Helvetiae (A collection for a chronicle of Lucerne and of Switzerland) he writes, for example, about the humid and cool month of May 1613: "1613 [May] […] had 25 rainy days among them 9 quite abundant often persisting day and night. Cool, wet, unpleasant and melancholic time from May 14th till the end of the month. The remaining days were pleasant, […] including some cool mornings. Very hot for 2 days, moderately warm during the three remaining ones". Cysat was well aware that the climate cooled down in the outgoing sixteenth century not knowing the term of “climate” or even “climatic change” (Pfister 2013). 

A page of the chronicle by Gaspar Bérody, August 1621. Source: Gregor Zenhäusern, Brig / Archives de l’Abbaye de St-Maurice, Div 13/0/1.

Gaspar Bérody (1585-1646), canon in the St. Maurice Abbey (Canton Valais, Switzerland), kept track on weather anomalies in Lower Valais between 1610 and 1642. In the second half of July 1621 deep snow fell on the Alpine pastures. Many cattle starved to death or had to be fed with hay. On 15th August a procession for warm and sunny weather was organized in St. Maurice. Years “without a summer” like 1621 are conclusive for the “Little Ice Age” (1300 to late 19th century).

Excerpt from the Einsiedeln monastery diary by Josef Dietrich, November 1676. Source: Einsiedeln Abbey Archives.

Father Joseph Dietrich (1645-1704), a Benedictine monk in the monastery of Einsiedeln (Canton Schwyz), was in charge of keeping the monastery diary from 1670 to 1704. Up to the mid 1680s, he laid down extreme weather anomalies such as the Siberian cold in November, 1676: “During this month and the following there was a persistent, grim so far not experienced cold freezing leading almost all fountains to water shortage. Lake Zurich covered with ice down to the town. In many places mills came to a standstill driving flour prices somewhat up”. His narratives, quite frequently comprising several lines, became more detailed and extensive from the mid-1680s. They frequently comprise several lines and astound through the manifold precise observations. Dietrich already distinguished several forms of clouds (Pfister 1984). His diaries preserved in the archives of the monastery have been digitalized by two thirds right now (and will be completely digitalized until summer 2016).

Currently a project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and several other foundations aims to provide a full digital and annotated edition of this diary including the integration of Dietrich’s weather observations in Euro-Climhist (module Switzerland).