The technical achievements of Lewis and Clark have been celebrated in fields ranging from cartography to zoology. As America commemorates the bicentennial of their historic journey across the continent, this paper shows that their meteorological data and personal weather-related observations also are worthy of celebration. While the primary goal of the mission, as described by then-President Jefferson to the Congress, was economic and strategic, both Jefferson and cocaptains Lewis and Clark showed an interest in and capacity for scientific understanding of the meteorology of the then-unknown West. The seasonal evolution and variability of temperatures recorded for the first time by Lewis and Clark on the High Plains can now be shown to be quite close to average, thanks to many decades of collection of modern data by the U.S. Cooperative Observer Network stations along their route. While the diets, lives, and experiences of these early explorers and their men were profoundly different from those of modern Americans, the climate that they documented for the first time with care and accuracy remains familiar to us today.

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Footnotes

NOAA/Aeronomy Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado