4 July 2011

Jefferson, His Thermometer and The 4th.

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Historians would rightfully caution against asking how Thomas Jefferson would react to today’s anti-science crowd in America. He lived in his time, and this one is far different, but on this 4th of July it is something I wonder about. What would he think about demands that science classes teach faith-based beliefs alongside subjects such as the age of the Earth, or death threats to scientists who work in the climate field by those who never took advantage of Americas promise to learn any science themselves.

JFK once told an assemblage of scientists at the White House that “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” Jefferson was without doubt our first scientist president, and he is a particular favorite of we meteorologists for his almost lifelong attention to detailed weather observations.

Thanks to him we know what the weather was like in Philadelphia on that cloudy, muggy, Thursday the 4th day of July 1776. Keep in mind that in those days the temperature was taken indoors, and it was probably a little cooler than it was outside in the afternoon. The image of his record for that day is in his handwriting.

Update 4 July 2016:
A friend at NASA (Sean Potter) informed me of a diary from Philadelphia resident Christopher Marshall, where more weather for the day was recorded. Marshall wrote of a sunny and warm morning, with a south breeze, but there was a brief afternoon thundershowers, with little rain but gusty winds. The evening was “clear with starlight”.