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• 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 Brothers).

• 1918 -- special bulletins and forecasts first issued for military aviation.

• 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 Center.

• 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.

Also 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..."

In fact 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.

Perhaps 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. [12] 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.

In 1961, 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.

The TIROS-9 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.

Central Radio Propagation Laboratory [13]

The third 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 radio transmissions.

The Tropospheric 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.

The Space 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 space flights.

The Aeronomy 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.

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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