Newspaper Reports in Romania – What Do They Tell Us about Extreme Meteorological Events of the Early 19th Century?

by Aritina Haliuc

Sources of information

Extreme meteorological events, such as droughts or floods, are expected to increase in many parts of the globe under predicted climate changes of the next decades (Fig. 1). Yet, the forecasted frequency, intensity and occurrence of extreme meteorological events include large uncertainties as they depend upon location and season. These events are of particular interest for society as they can cause important human, economic and environmental losses.

Fig. 1 Artistic depiction of a flood as an example of an extreme meteorological event, which is described as short-lived and unexpected weather condition in a given location.
Art credit: Thomas Hart Benson.

To better understand extreme meteorological events and to improve future meteorological forecasts, we rely on information extracted from natural archives such as tree rings, peat bogs, lakes and fluvial deposits (associated with rivers and streams). Natural archives provide information over hundreds and thousands of years back in time and are complemented by historical and instrumental data in the more recent past spanning few centuries. 

Fig. 2 Newspaper article describing the hail storm       
(300 grams’ weight) in Closani (Romania), which
killed animals and hurt several people (26th June
1886, Gazeta de Transilvania)
Historical data include chronicles, monastery documents, ship logs, personal and narrative documents, early instrumental observations, and newspapers, all of which provide information useful for high-resolution climate reconstructions. Historical data are provided in a very descriptive manner and might serve as evidence for the severity of an extreme meteorological event. In South-Eastern Europe, such information is at present much underexploited. Although not as homogenous and continuous as natural records, historical data can complement past reconstructions based on natural archives and represent valuable information about human perceptions, reactions and responses to historic extreme events.

Early 19th century extreme meteorological events

Together with Prof. Dr Sorin Cheval and Dr Bogdan Antonescu, we are collecting information about extreme meteorological events of the early 19th century using newspaper reports from Romania. Our main aim is to provide evidence for the potential utility of such unexplored resources, mainly newspaper reports.

We focus on meteorological events of the early 19th century because i) newspapers are available from different cities, increasing the spatial availability of reported events and providing cross-validation for specific events; and ii) few meteorological stations are available to validate the reported events. Considering the sparse meteorological network of the early 19th century, we will test if these reports will increase the availability of data across Romania and if these data could be used to refine meteorological studies.

What information do we look for?

We are collecting information reported in Romanian newspapers about meteorological extreme events like extreme precipitation and temperatures, snow, hailstorm (Fig. 2), wind storms (Fig. 3), thunder, lightning, floods, and droughts. Weather information was issued on a daily and weekly schedule, and the events reported have a precise location and a daily or weekly-to-annual resolution. The events are then analysed for frequency, seasonality, spatial and temporal extension, and compared with the closest meteorological station and other natural archive evidence. Once cross-checked, the collected events are stored in a database which will be soon available to the public.

Fig. 3 Newspaper article reporting the effects            
of strong wind Brasov, 4th-5th  December 1886,            
Gazeta de Transilvania)             
The database includes also information about other events like earthquakes,  landslides, insect outbreaks, famine, disease (cholera, plague), and loss of agricultural productivity. Although we do not investigate these events, they might support future interpretations and might be connected with other researchers’ work.

These newspapers might be an important source of information for other researchers interested in historical societal aspects including health (type of disease, location, reports on the number of people affected), cultural aspects (theatre, music), education (reports on schools and scholars number), and politics (a detailed description of the local and regional political scene).

How far back can we go?

Once the database will be released, we intend to extend our work further in time and space, compiling information from older newspapers and other historical sources from the nearby regions. However, as we move further from the more recent past, the clarity, resolution, and details of extreme events might decrease. We believe this work is a necessity as it will complement the available reconstruction based on natural archives from Romania.

We invite researchers who are interested in this subject to contact us to discuss potential future collaborations.

Aritina Haliuc, PhD 

(with support from S. Cheval1,2,3 and B. Antonescu4)
Research Institute of the University of Bucharest, University of Bucharest

(1) “Henri Coanda” Air Force Academy, Brașov, Romania (2) National Meteorological Administration, Bucharest, Romania (3) Research Institute of the University of Bucharest (4) National Institute for Research and Development in Optoelectronics, Bucharest, Romania

If you have questions or comments concerning Aritina's post, please leave a comment below, or send her an email.


[1] Seneviratne, S.I., N. Nicholls, D. Easterling, C.M. Goodess, S. Kanae, J. Kossin, Y. Luo, J. Marengo, K. McInnes, M. Rahimi, M. Reichstein, A. Sorteberg, C. Vera, and X. Zhang, 2012: Changes in climate extremes and their impacts on the natural physical environment. In: Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation [Field, C.B., V. Barros, T.F. Stocker, D. Qin, D.J. Dokken, K.L. Ebi, M.D. Mastrandrea, K.J. Mach, G.-K. Plattner, S.K. Allen, M. Tignor, and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY, USA, pp. 109-230.


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