Atmosphere And Weather

History of the National Weather Service

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"History of the National Weather Service"
Caption: NWS
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Weather records and predictions have always been a fascination with many. For some, like our nation’s farmers and businesses, weather predictions were practically a necessity. Farmers would time their crops using the Almanac. Thomas Jefferson recorded the weather daily. 

In 1845 the telegraph made advance notices a realistic goal of many. By the end of 1849, 150 volunteers throughout the United States were reporting weather observations to the Smithsonian regularly thanks to the foresight of Joseph Henry, Secretary of the new Smithsonian Institution.

The National Weather Service (NWS) officially began as the Weather Bureau of the United States. It originally fell under the Secretary of War. On 9 February 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a joint resolution of Congress authorizing the Secretary of War to establish a national weather service. The idea was that the promptness, regularity and accuracy required to make the necessary observations would require a self discipline that is found in the military. The mission was to take meteorological observations at the military stations.

From 1870 to 1890, the agency was headquartered in Washington, D.C., with field offices concentrated mainly east of the Rockies. At that time, weather that occurred at one location was assumed to move into the next area downstream.

In 1890 the Weather Bureau became a civilian enterprise and fell under the Department of Agriculture. Forecasts were sent via wireless telegraphy to ships at sea in 1902. Three years later, in 1905, the first wireless weather report was received from a ship at sea. In 1907, the daily exchange of weather observations with Russia and eastern Asia was inaugurated. Still under the Department of Agriculture, the Weather Bureau began issuing weekly outlooks to aid agricultural planning in 1910. The first fire-weather forecast was issued in 1913. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt transferred the Weather Bureau to the Department of Commerce in 1940. He reasoned that the Weather Bureau was important for aviation which in turn was important and played a key role in commerce. The military gave the Weather Bureau 25 surplus radars in the late 1940s. 

In 1970 the Weather Bureau was renamed the National Weather Service (NWS). The NWS would now fall under the Department of Commerce’s newly organized National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

"Since the beginning, the mission of the National Weather Service to protect life and property has been and remains to be the top priority,” said Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), director of NOAA’s National Weather Service in a 2005 press release. “Advances in research and technology through the decades have allowed the NOAA National Weather Service to create an expanding observational and data collection network that tracks Earth’s changing systems."  

Today, observations are made hourly and daily by government agencies, volunteer/ citizen observers, ships, planes, automatic weather stations and earth-orbiting satellites with the mission of protecting life and property. 

"Advances in research and technology through the decades have allowed the NOAA National Weather Service to create an expanding observational and data collection network that tracks Earth's changing systems. The 21st century will see these changes accelerating," said Jack Hayes director of NOAA's National Weather Service in a 2010 press release. 

Technological advances through the years have ensured timely and precise weather forecast and warnings for the nation.

More about this author: Jeanne Ruczhak-Eckman

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