Regional weather records gain international recognition for accuracy

Published 30 September 2019

The historical weather diaries of Australian grazier Algernon Belfield have been internationally recognised for their high quality in a new publication from the UK’s Royal Meteorological Society.

Between 1877 and 1922, Algernon Belfield took weather measurements every day at his rural property Eversleigh near Armidale, NSW.

His diaries survived for many years in an attic until his grandson, Richard Belfield of Armidale, discovered them in a box in 2009 and donated them to the University of New England where they became part of the collection managed by University Archivist, William Oates.

Weather and historical researchers from UNE, the University of Newcastle and Melbourne University then began the process of evaluating the measurements.

“It is very unusual to find a 45-year-long historical weather record like Algernon’s from a rural location in Australia”, said the publication’s lead author Associate Professor Howard Bridgman from the University of Newcastle.

“Belfield’s diaries are also valuable because of the number of variables he recorded. He diligently documented temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind speed, rainfall, even the amount of cloud. It’s a real find.”

The research team first had to scan the diaries, and then transcribe the observations into spreadsheets. Volunteers helped with this step, with citizen scientists from Australia and overseas pitching in to type up the pages.

Once this process was complete, the researchers rigorously examined the data set for quality.

“We considered things like the location of Algernon’s weather instruments”, said Dr Linden Ashcroft, a co-author of the study from The University of Melbourne.

“Did he move his equipment at all during that 45-year period? Did he round up or down when reading the thermometer? These small things can have a big impact on the accuracy of a data set, so we had to be real detectives.”

The results — published this week in the Royal Meteorological Society’s Geoscience Data Journal — found that the Eversleigh records are on par with official observations from the Bureau of Meteorology.

“Now we’re confident that most of Algernon’s record is scientifically sound, we can explore what his observations tell us about the past, present and future climate”, said Dr Ashcroft.

“Given the current drought, it’s vital that we learn more about our droughts of the past. Algernon’s diaries will certainly help with that.”

Tuesday, 1 October 2019, marks 10 years since the Belfield Project began.

The published article “Meteorological Observations for Eversleigh Station, near Armidale, New South Wales, Australia: 1877-1922.” Howard Bridgman, Linden Ashcroft, Ken Thornton, Gionni Di Gravio, William Oates, can be found at:

In this story: