Dealing with the deluge of historical weather data: the example of the TEMPEST database

Lucy Veale, Georgina H Endfield, Sarah Davies, Neil Macdonald, Simon Naylor, Marie-Jeanne Royer, James Bowen, Richard Tyler-Jones, Cerys Jones

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People have long been interested in the history of weather, particularly extremes, and chronologies of past events drawing on information from written records, have been compiled and published throughout history. In recent years, concern over current and future weather and climate has triggered a new level of interest in past weather events and their impacts. This interest, alongside the development of digital humanities research methods has resulted in a rapid growth in the number of online databases relating to historic weather and climate around the world. This paper reviews this expansion with reference to a range of examples, before documenting the design and creation of one such database, TEMPEST, an online repository for extreme weather history in the UK.

TEMPEST has been created as the major output of the AHRC funded project ‘Spaces of Experience and Horizons of Expectation: Extreme Weather in the UK, Past, Present and Future’ (2013-2016). Unlike the majority of existing databases that rely on published materials, TEMPEST’s records are drawn from primary research into original documentary sources held in archives around the UK. The c. 18,000 records that TEMPEST currently contains offer personalised and geo-referenced insights into the relationship between society and extreme weather in the UK spanning a period of over 400 years. We conclude this paper by outlining some potential applications for TEMPEST, and suggesting directions for future research and resources in historical weather. We also consider broader issues for the digital humanities.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00039
Number of pages16
JournalGeo: Geography and Environment
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2017


  • extreme weather
  • weather history
  • database
  • digital humanities
  • archive
  • UK


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