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  Home >> History >> NOAA's NWS 135th Anniversary

   NOAA’S National Weather Service Celebrates
135th Anniversary

Feb. 9, 2005 - The NOAA National Weather Service is celebrating its 135th anniversary amid a renewed commitment to preserve its history.

On February 9, 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, thousands of weather observations are made hourly and daily by government agencies, volunteer/citizen observers, ships, planes, automatic weather stations and earth-orbiting satellites.

"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. “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 history of NOAA and the nation are intertwined. It is difficult to talk about weather, water, climate, and commerce without discussing NOAA and its ancestor agencies, the U.S. Coast Survey, U.S. Weather Bureau, and U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries.

NOAA is working to preserve its heritage resources, from historic maps and charts to buildings and shipwrecks, and make them accessible to the public through innovative programs and partnerships. NOAA’s Preserve America Initiative (( )) Web site has more information.

National Weather Service - Through the Years:

Picture of the five men who worked for the early weather bureauThe 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. In 1970, the U.S. government creates the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service becomes NOAA’s National Weather Service.

Today, advances in satellites, radars, sophisticated information processing and communication systems, automated weather observing systems and superspeed computers are the centerpieces of NOAA’s National Weather Service that have resulted in more timely and precise weather forecast and warnings for the nation. Johnson adds, “NOAA’s National Weather Service is a strong part of the NOAA team that has the responsibility for the two fluids that drive the environment – the atmosphere and the ocean.”

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  Page last modified: 01-Mar-2006 11:10 AM