1871 -- observing and reporting river stages added to the responsibilities
of the Signal Corps.
1871 -- Professor Abbe appointed as special assistant to the Chief
Signal Officer and directed most of the Service's research on tornadoes,
moisture in the air, atmospheric electricity, use of balloons, thermometer
exposure, and wet-bulb temperature conversion tables.
1874 -- remaining 383 cooperative observers in the Smithsonian's network
transferred to the Signal Service.
1884 -- weather services for cotton and sugar producers initiated.
1885 -- Service began issuing warnings of Atlantic storms (in cooperation
with the British Meteorological Office).
1884 -- reduced appropriations forced the closure of 18 stations of
the Signal Service; due largely to a decrease in the prestige of the
Service associated with the 1881 indictment of the service's disbursing
officer (Captain Henry W. Howgate) for embezzlement.
1890 -- the "Weather Service Organic Act" is passed, transferring
the weather service to the new Department of Agriculture; transfer
of operations officially accomplished on July 1, 1891.
1891-1939 -- public forecasts issued twice a day for the ensuing 36
hours (based on twice daily observations).
1896 -- first hurricane warning service established.
1902 -- forecasts sent by wireless to ships at sea for the first time;
in 1905, the first reports from ships at sea were received
(primarily in support of hurricane warnings).
1909 -- Bureau began a regular program of free balloon upper air observations.
1910 -- Weather Bureau began issuing weekly forecasts.
1913 -- first fire weather forecast issued.
1914 -- aerological section established within the Bureau to meet
the growing needs of aviation (services to aviation actually began
in 1902 with a study of surface winds at Kitty Hawk for the Wright
1918 -- special bulletins and forecasts first issued for military
1919 -- daily "flying weather" forecasts were begun for the Post Office
Department and military aviation; the first flight forecast centers
were established in 1920 in Chicago, Washington, and San Francisco.
1922 -- special fruit frost service began in selected states.
1926 -- the Air Commerce Act of 1926 gives the Bureau responsibility
for weather services to civilian aviation.
1927 -- two Frenchmen attach a radio transmitter to a free balloon;
a year later a Russian meteorologist (Moltchanoff) achieved the first
official flight of a "radio meteorograph" attached to a sounding balloon
-- this eventually led to the familiar radiosondes (or "weather balloon").
1928 -- first teletypewriter circuits installed, which eliminated
the Bureau's dependence on telephone and telegraph.
1934 -- Bureau began machine processing of past weather records with
the establishment of a tabulating unit in New Orleans; the Bureau
began card punching surface and upper air data from airway weather
stations in 1936; in 1951, these activities were moved to Asheville,
North Carolina with the establishment of the National Weather Records
1935 -- improved hurricane warning service established.
1936 -- Weather Bureau began operational use of radiosondes which
allowed for the routine measurement of atmospheric pressure, temperature,
humidity, wind direction and speed.
1939 -- automatic telephone weather forecast service began.
1940 -- first official five-day forecast issued.
in 1940, the Weather Bureau was transferred to the Department of Commerce.
President Roosevelt's explanation for this reorganization noted that
the move would "permit better coordination of Government activities
relating to aviation and to commerce generally..."
during and after World War II, the tremendous growth of the Weather
Bureau was due largely to the expansion of aviation. Increasing performance
capabilities of aircraft required improved observing and reporting
networks, communications systems and forecasting organization. After
World War II, surplus radars were acquired by the Bureau to track
the movement of rain areas, storms and squall lines. In 1942, building
on early work on the use of computers for weather prediction, (which
the Weather Bureau, the Air Weather Service and the Naval Weather
Service supported at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton,
New Jersey, MIT, and the University of Chicago), a central Analysis
Center was created to prepare and distribute master analyses of the
upper atmosphere. The Joint Numerical Weather Prediction Unit was
established in the Center in 1954 and by 1985, operational computer
weather forecasts had become routine. In 1958, this Center became
part of the National Meteorological Center which provides guidance
to the field stations by preparing weather analyses and forecasts
for the Northern Hemisphere. In 1948, the teletypewriter was supplemented
by facsimile transmission -- a wirephoto technique used to transmit
analyzed maps and charts from analysis centers to field weather stations.
In 1954, automatic observing stations, which made weather measurements
and transmitted them by teletypewriter, were first placed in operation.
Also during that year, the Bureau began the installation of high-powered
radars along the coastline to detect and track hurricanes. The Bureau
began an ongoing study of hurricanes in 1956 with the establishment
of the National Hurricane Research Project. In a similar effort to
improve forecasts of inland severe storms, the Weather Bureau established
a severe storm forecast center in 1952. While Signal Corps officers
had attempted to predict the occurrence of tornadoes, early Weather
Bureau forecasters were not permitted to issue tornado forecasts for
fear of causing panic. The ability to make accurate forecasts of severe
storms was only made possible with the development of modern methods
of upper air observation and air-mass analysis.
the most exciting developments in recent Weather Service history can
be traced to April 1960 when NASA launched the first weather satellite.
The polar-orbiting [Ed. inclined orbit] TIROS-1 (Television lnfra-Red
Observation Satellite) built by RCA, provided forecasters with the
first view of cloud (i.e., weather) patterns as they developed and
moved across the continent. The history of weather satellites like
TIROS actually trace their history back to the 1950's when scientists
like the Weather Bureau's Dr. Harry Wexler began to push for the development
of satellites for weather studies and measurements. Dr. Wexler's 1954
paper "Observing the Weather from a Satellite Vehicle" remains a classic
in the field.  The mid-late 1950's saw the development and testing
of a number of military-sponsored satellite systems for weather observations.
Prior to 1958, these experiments were part of broader satellite experimentation.
In 1958, however, the Defense Department began a program to develop
a spacecraft specifically for meteorological purposes. This "TIROS"
program was transferred to NASA in April 1959.
the Weather Bureau, along with colleagues in the military, NASA and
the private sector, formally undertook the development and operation
of a global weather satellite observing system. Additional polar-orbiting
TIROS research satellites were launched over the next several years
to test new camera lenses and transmission techniques. TIROS-8, launched
in late 1963 successfully tested an automatic picture transmission
(APT) system which continually relayed imagery to ground receiving
stations anywhere in the world along the satellite's track.
satellite, launched into sun-synchronous, near polar-orbit in 1965,
gave the first complete daily coverage of the entire sun-illuminated
portion of the earth. Launched just a few months earlier, the NIMBUS-1
satellite carried an infrared sensor which permitted the first-ever
nighttime pictures from space. The early TIROS spacecraft and NIMBUS-1
proved the feasibility of an operational system of weather-watching
satellites. On July 1, 1965, TIROS-10, the first wholly operational
meteorological satellite was launched. The more recent history of
the Department of Commerce's weather satellite program will be discussed
in later sections describing the activities of ESSA and NOAA.
Radio Propagation Laboratory
major component of the newly-created ESSA was the Central Radio Propagation
Laboratory. This Laboratory, located in Boulder, Colorado, was established
in 1946 as the central Federal agency for obtaining and disseminating
information on the propagation of electromagnetic waves, on the electromagnetic
properties of man's environment, on the nature of electromagnetic
noise and interference, and on methods for more efficient use of the
electromagnetic spectrum for telecommunication purposes. The Ionospheric
Telecommunications Division of the Laboratory played a key role in
the discovery of new models of electromagnetic propagation by the
ionosphere and the practical use of such new telecommunication techniques.
The Division was responsible for publishing a regular "radio weather"
forecast series which predicted the best frequencies for ionospheric
Telecommunications Division conducted similar research related to
telecommunication activities within the area from the earth's surface
up to 5 or 10 miles. Research included the effects of weather and
terrain on television and microwave frequencies as well as investigations
of the propagation of infrared, optical and radio frequencies.
Environment Forecasting Division focused its research on the effects
of solar disturbances and how to predict them. This effort was a natural
outgrowth of research on techniques to measure changes in the ionosphere
which affect radio transmissions. Since most of such changes are the
result of solar-associated disturbances, many of the same techniques
could be used to study the nature of the disturbances themselves.
Such investigations were critical to support for manned and unmanned
Division of CRPL conducted research aimed at understanding the fundamental
physical processes controlling the ionosphere. Focusing on gaining
a detailed knowledge of the characteristics of the upper atmosphere,
the activities of the Division were critical to supporting the Nation's
increased space and satellite programs.