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Historical Climatology, Weather Experiences, and 1849 Overland Trail Emigrants in the Rocky Mountains

Authors: Cary Mock*, University of South Carolina
Topics: Climatology and Meteorology, Historical Geography, Physical Geography
Keywords: Historical climatology, Overland Trail, 1849, Rocky Mountains
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This study analyzed weather descriptions that include data from over 270 Overland Trail diaries in the Rocky Mountain states of Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico during the peak Gold Rush travel and expedition parties of 1849. Themes of 1849 Rocky Mountain weather include 1) an abnormally cold summer that include unprecedented frost extremes, 2) lower snowlines most of the year that include unusual snowstorms and continued visibility of perpetual snows, and 3) potential linkages of abnormal weather events with Late Little Ice Age climate, direct weather impacts on emigrants, and climate myths of the Western USA prevalent at the time. Other historical weather data, extending from the Eastern USA, Mexico, to the Western Arctic from whaling and naval ship logs, personal diaries, Hudson’s Bay Company records, and early instrumental records, were assessed for determining synoptic-scale weather patterns during the 1849 weather extremes. Results suggest that Late Little Ice Age type patterns and severe cold waves from the Western Arctic occasionally traversed southward into the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. These climate conditions were generally confirmed using synoptic reconstructions from the 20th Century Reanalysis Project Version 3 and conducting comparisons with dendroclimate reconstructions.

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