16 historical weather images from the Adelaide region

What was Australia’s climate like before official weather records began in the early 1900s? How did the climate impact the lives of people living in the 1800s?

The team at Climate History Australia are finding the answers to these questions using historical records such as early newspapers, photographs, colonial paintings and old weather journals.

By extending Australia’s instrumental weather records back into the 19th century, scientists will be able to better understand Australia’s climate history. This kind of research can place recent weather extremes within a longer context, helping researchers to gain a better understanding of the range of climate extremes experienced in the past.

You too can discover more about the history of South Australia’s climate with these 16 images relating to the climate history of the Adelaide region. 

You might notice that eight of the 16 images are snow-related. Recent research by the team at Climate History Australia found that snow was once a regular feature of the southern Australian climate in the 1800s.

Our team has also just launched a citizen science project that aims to put some of the historical weather events depicted below into a longer context. Some of Australia’s oldest daily weather records, taken at the Surveyor General’s Offices in Adelaide from 1843 to 1861, are now being transcribed to add to historical climate datasets to create Australia’s longest daily weather record.

To become a volunteer so you can view and help transcribe these unique weather journals, sign up here, or visit: www.zooniverse.org/projects/caitlinhowlett/climate-history-australia.

A painting by J Hitchen depicting heavy snowfall on the Adelaide Hills from North Terrace, Adelaide, 1841. Source: B-7070 State Library of South Australia.
South Australia is the driest state in Australia. A painting by the 3rd Surveyor General of Adelaide, Edward Charles Frome, in 1843; ‘First view of the Salt Desert – called Lake Torrens’ (~420km north of Adelaide). Lake Torrens is a 5,745km² ephemeral salt ‘lake’ that only fills with water following very high rainfall. Source: Art Gallery of South Australia.
The cover of one of the Adelaide Surveyor General’s weather folios, starting in 1843, which is the focus of a current citizen science transcription project. Note the illustration of a bearded face, surrounded by wisps of wind or clouds, suggesting an ethereal deity or weather god – an unusually personal addition to a technical weather journal from the 1800s. This addition was perhaps because the Surveyor General at the time was Charles Frome, who was also an artist (see the Salt Desert painting above). Source: National Archives of Australia.
This photo of the recently recovered weather observations in Adelaide shows how the detailed weather observations were recorded. It also shows a reference on 10 August 1844 to a ‘Holiday taken in honour of Captain Sturt’s departure on his Exploring Expedition’. However during this journey, Sturt was stranded for some time by extreme heat. Source: National Archives of Australia.
Painting by S. T Gill of the celebration as Captain Charles Sturt leaves Adelaide on 10 August 1844, as noted in the aforementioned weather journal covering this year. Seeing this, it’s understandable why there were no instrumental measurements recorded in the weather journal that day, as it looks like quite the celebration! Source: Art Gallery of South Australia.
The weather observation site at the Adelaide Observatory in the 1880s; showing a thermometer house (middle gazebo-like structure), a Glaisher stand (rectangular raised box on the left) which was the main way temperature observations were taken prior to 1908, and a Stevenson screen (smaller square box on the right) which is the standardised, modern way that temperature observations are measured today. Source: B-23932, State Library of South Australia.
Sir Charles Todd was a true pioneer of Australian meteorology. He also established Australia’s telegraph system, which was key to establishing the world’s first integrated continental weather observation system. To learn more about Australia’s first weather observers in Adelaide, read our article; The engineers tasked with Adelaide’s first weather observations. Source: National Library of Australia.
Melrose township and snow on Mt. Remarkable, South Australia (260km north of Adelaide) ~1890. Source: B-12669 State Library of South Australia.
Flooding and damage shown in the main street of Angaston, South Australia, after a hail storm in 1894. Source: B-57371/14 State Library of South Australia.
The iron roof of a verandah punctured by heavy hail in 1894 in Angaston, South Australia. Source: B-57371/85 State Library of South Australia.
The iron roof of a verandah punctured by heavy hail in 1894 in Angaston, South Australia. Source: B-57371/85 State Library of South Australia.
Heavy snowfall in Lobethal, South Australia (35km from Adelaide) on July 28, 1901. This was one of the more widespread snowstorms recorded across South Australia. Source: B-35517 State Library of South Australia.
Aftermath of a snowstorm in Angaston, South Australia (90km north of Adelaide) on July 28, 1901. Source: B-26923 State Library of South Australia.
One of the heaviest snowfalls recorded at the foot of Mt Lofty, South Australia (about 10km from the heart of Adelaide) on August 29, 1905. Source: B-16393/18 State Library of South Australia.
Snowballing in front of Mount Lofty House on Summit Road in Crafers (13km from the heart of Adelaide) in 1905. Recent research by our team shows less ‘snowy days’ are occurring in the Adelaide region. Source: South Australian Snow.
Snow falling during the middle of the day at Crafers, South Australia (about 15km from Adelaide) on August 29, 1905. Source: B-24335 State Library of South Australia.

Get involved

You can become a citizen scientist to help scientists to better understand Australia’s past climate. You’ll be helping to create Australia’s longest daily weather record!

Sign up here, or visit: www.zooniverse.org/projects/caitlinhowlett/climate-history-australia