Climate variability and global change studies are increasingly focused on understanding and predicting regional changes of daily weather statistics. Assessing the evidence for such variations over the last 100 yr requires a daily tropospheric circulation dataset. The only dataset available for the early twentieth century consists of error-ridden hand-drawn analyses of the mean sea level pressure field over the Northern Hemisphere. Modern data assimilation systems have the potential to improve upon these maps, but prior to 1948, few digitized upper-air sounding observations are available for such a “reanalysis.” We investigate the possibility that the additional number of newly recovered surface pressure observations is sufficient to generate useful weather maps of the lower-tropospheric extratropical circulation back to 1890 over the Northern Hemisphere, and back to 1930 over the Southern Hemisphere. Surprisingly, we find that by using an advanced data assimilation system based on an ensemble Kalman filter, it would be feasible to produce high-quality maps of even the upper troposphere using only surface pressure observations. For the beginning of the twentieth century, the errors of such upper-air circulation maps over the Northern Hemisphere in winter would be comparable to the 2-3-day errors of modern weather forecasts.

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NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory and CIRES Climate Diagnostics Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado