Overview and brief history
Meteorological records commenced at Durham Observatory in 1841, but the earliest records have not survived; the first page of the earliest surviving register opens with the observation made at 9 a.m. on 23 July 1843. Observations have been made at the same site throughout the record, although the type and exposure of the instruments has varied over the years. Observations were made manually until October 1999, since when the record has been maintained by a Met Office automatic weather station, as shown in the photograph below.
The Durham Observatory meteorological station, photographed in July 2021. (Michele Allan)
The first page in the Durham Observatory meteorological logbook, starting with the 9 a.m. observation on 23 July 1843. Reproduced by permission of Durham University Library and Collections. The first two volumes, for 1843–47 and 1848–50, have been scanned and are available online through Durham University Library:
Volume 1 (M1, 1843–1847) at https://iiif.durham.ac.uk/index.html?manifest=t2m44558d54g and Volume 2 (M2, 1848–1850).
The Durham Observatory weather record is the third-longest continuous climate series in the United Kingdom (and by far the longest unbroken same-site series in northern England); only the records from the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford (dating from 1772) and Armagh Observatory (from 1795) are longer. Using estimates based on other contemporary measurements at other sites in northern and north-east England, monthly means of air temperature in Durham have been extended in an unbroken series back to 1795.
Records from sites such as Durham Observatory are of enormous value in analysing and understanding changes in climate over decades and centuries. Only a very few long-established stations can provide a link between the abundant weather records of recent decades and those of the Victorian era. For this reason, long unbroken single-site meteorological datasets become more valuable with every passing year, and the records of the Durham Observatory have both national and European importance.
Full details of the site, the instruments used, a detailed analysis of the climatological record to 2021 and a selection of accounts and photographs of notable weather events are given in a new book, LINK Durham Weather and Climate since 1841 by Stephen Burt and Tim Burt, published by Oxford University Press in May 2022.
Open Access datasets available
With the publication of Durham Weather and Climate since 1841, the Durham Observatory climate record has been published in full for the first time. Links to the complete series of monthly, seasonal and annual mean air temperatures, precipitation amounts, sunshine duration, monthly mean barometric pressures and daily observations records are available on this website, together with summaries of current weather which are updated monthly. If you use these series in a publication, please include the following citation:
Burt, Stephen and Burt, Tim, 2022. Durham Weather and Climate since 1841. Oxford University Press, 580 pp.