NOAA History Banner
gold bar divider
home - takes you to index page
about the site
noaa - takes you to the noaa home page
search this site
white divider
arrow NOAA Legacy
arrow NWS History

Banner - national weather service celebrates 125th anniversary

The National Weather Service, which is in the midst of a major modernization program that will significantly improve its forecasting, celebrates its 125th anniversary on Feb. 9.

In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a joint resolution of Congress authorizing the Secretary of War to establish a national weather service. Later that year, the first systematized, synchronous weather observations ever taken in the U.S. were made by "observer sergeants" of the Army Signal Service.

Today, 125 years later, thousands of weather 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.

"We've come a long way since those first weather observations," said Elbert W. Friday Jr., director of the National Weather Service. "Back then we were using only human surface observations; today we are in the midst of a major program to modernize the National Weather Service based on state-of-the art technology and knowledge about meteorology."

The original weather agency operated under the War Department from 1870-1891 with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and field offices concentrated mainly east of the Rockies. Little meteorological science was used to make weather forecasts during those early days. Instead, weather that occurred at one location was assumed to move into the next area downstream.

From 1891 to 1940, the Weather Bureau was part of the Department of Agriculture. These first two decades of the 20th century had a remarkable effect on the nation's meteorological services. In 1902, Weather Bureau forecasts were sent via wireless telegraphy to ships at sea. In turn, the first wireless weather report was received from a ship at sea in 1905. Two years later, the daily exchange of weather observations with Russia and eastern Asia was inaugurated.

In 1910, the Weather Bureau began issuing weekly outlooks to aid agricultural planning. And in 1913, the first fire-weather forecast was issued. During these times, weather forecasters began using more sophisticated methods including surface weather observations; kite experiments to measure temperature, relative humidity and winds in the upper atmosphere; and later, airplane stations.

Realizing that the Weather Bureau played an important role for the aviation community, and therefore commerce, in 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt transferred the Weather Bureau to the Department of Commerce where it remains today. During the late 1940s, the military gave the Weather Bureau a new and valuable tool - 25 surplus radars - thus launching the network of weather surveillance radars still in use today. In 1970, the name of the Weather Bureau was changed to the National Weather Service, and the agency became a component of the Commerce Department's newly created National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The advent of computer technology in the 1950s paved the way for the formulation of complex mathematical weather models, resulting in a significant increase in forecast accuracy. Today the National Weather Service is at the brink of a meteorological evolution. Advances in satellites, radars, sophisticated information processing and communication systems, automated weather observing systems and superspeed computers are the centerpieces of the modernization that will result in more timely and precise severe weather and flood warnings for the nation.

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

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

Privacy Policy | Disclaimer