I am a winemaker and grape-grower with a strong interest in climate. In the early 1990s I set out to discover the common thermal characteristics that are seen in great vineyard locations. This involved a lot of work with hourly temperature data from sites around the world.
I became interested in climate change when I noticed the growing season temperature falling in my part of the world, the south west of Western Australia. That set me on a quest to work out why. Soon, it became apparent that parts of the Southern Hemisphere like Antarctica and Southern Chile had been cooling for fifty years or more. My experience in analyzing temperature dynamics for vine sites and working out just how much heat these plants need to bring their fruit to maturity gave me a focus on sourcing data using the net. Figuring out what has been happening on a regional scale, both at the surface and in the upper atmosphere has been my consuming interest for the last couple of years. It became quite plain to me that the upper atmosphere very much influences surface conditions. It is in the upper atmosphere that solar influences are manifest.
I think there is room for a subject called historical climatology. We can learn a lot just by looking at what has happened over long periods of time. Good data sets are readily available on the net. All one needs is a little curiosity, a facility with spreadsheets and a lot of determination.
Perhaps the easiest way to begin is to download the longest possible time series of sea surface temperature data for tropical latitudes in a hovmoller diagram. Then do the same for each level in the atmosphere to see how far the surface influence extends. This can be easily done here: http://www.cdc.noaa.gov/map/time_plot/