Fact Sheet - The May Snowfall
Glen Conner
State Climatologist Emeritus for Kentucky
 
In 1818, Joseph Lovell, the Surgeon General of the United States Army, ordered each Army surgeon to "...keep a diary of the weather..." and to note "...everything of importance relating to the medical topography of his station, the climate, diseases prevalent in the vicinity..." (1). The assignment of this climate role to Army posts was logical. They could be directed to make observations at posts that were widely distributed, even into the frontiers of the time. It is clear from the Surgeon General's instructions that it was critical to learn about climate effects on disease.

n July 1825, the Army surgeon at Newport Barracks in Kentucky began to record the temperature at sunrise, 2:00 p.m., and sunset and daily precipitation in inches and tenths. Remarks were quite varied and included comments on frost, dew, fog, thunder, lightning, gusty winds, and rises in the Ohio River. The reports from 1851 contained comments like: "It blew a hurricane at 1 p.m. During the space of 20 minutes there falling hail stones the size of chestnuts" (2). Many were diary like entries: "Tolerable pleasant today with occasional showers" (3). Some were terse: "Chilly", "Rainy", or "Pleasant" (4). Some recorded unusual events: "The Ohio River frozen over. Crossing on the ice" (5).

Occasionally, the Newport Barracks remarks were necessarily long. In January 1855, the average temperature was reported as 18.33 � F. To that observation, these remarks were added: "The average mean temperature for the month of January for 18 years was 31 �. This has been the coldest month ever known here. On a few hours only during the month has the thermometer indicated a temperature above the freezing point. Snow has remained upon the ground since the 25th of December 1854 with frequent accumulations. The River has been firmly closed since January 6, 1855 and the heaviest loaded crossed in safety. The atmosphere has been dry, pure, and bracing. Not a case of pneumonia or other inflammatory disease has occurred at the fort" (6). From the data collected, the Army eventually came to understand that the influence of climate on disease was much more indirect than they had previously believed.

A copy of the first month of the Newport Barracks' report is reproduced on the following page. Note that both the daily observations and the signature are from the same hand, the acting Post Surgeon. That indicates the importance attached to these early observations.
 
Newport Barracks' report
Newport Barracks Report
 
References

Smart, Charles. 1894. "The Connection of the Army Medical Department With the Development of Meteorology in the United States," in Weather Bureau Bulletin 11, Washington,p. 209.

Surgeon, 1851. Surgeon General's Office, Meteorological Report for Newport Barracks, Kentucky, 14 May 1851.
Surgeon, 1852. Surgeon General's Office, Meteorological Report for Newport Barracks, Kentucky, 19 April 1852.
Surgeon, 1852. Surgeon General's Office, Meteorological Report of Newport Barracks, Kentucky, May 1852.
Surgeon, 1852. Surgeon General's Office, Meteorological Report of Newport Barracks, Kentucky, 20 January 1852.
Surgeon, 1855. Surgeon General's Office, Meteorological Report of Newport Barracks, Kentucky, January 1855.