National Weather Service
Historical Highlights



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1849   Joseph Henry, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, establishes an extensive weather observation network. 150 observers' data is sent by telegraph.

1850   A daily weather map is posted in the hall of the Institution for public viewing. Corresponding weather "signals" are displayed on the Tower of the Smithsonian castle.

1856   William Ferrel publishes a mathematical model of the circulation of global winds and ocean currents.

1860   600 stations are making regular observations, but communications are interrupted by the Civil War.

1863   Isaac Newton, Commissioner of Agriculture, begins publishing a monthly weather and crop bulletin.

1870   (February 9) President Ulysses S. Grant signs a joint resolution of Congress authorizing the Secretary of War to establish a weather service within the Army.
1870   (November 1) Simultaneous observations are made at 24 locations by the Army Signal Corps and telegraphed to Washington, DC and other cities and ports.

1890   (October 1) At the request of President Benjamin Harrison, Congress creates the U.S. Weather Bureau within the Department of Agriculture. The actual transfer of weather stations, telegraph lines, apparatus, and personnel takes place July 1, 1891.

1891   The Secretary of Agriculture directs the U.S. Weather Bureau to carry out "rain-making" experiments by setting off explosions from balloons in the air.
1891   The U.S. Weather Bureau begins issuing flood warnings.

1894   Weather observations from kites at Harvard's Blue Hill Observatory are established with self-recording thermometers to make observations of temperature aloft.

1895   (September 30) The U.S. Weather Bureau publishes the first daily weather map.

1898   President William McKinley orders the U.S. Weather Bureau to establish a hurricane warning network.

1900   The U.S. Weather Bureau exchanges weather information and warnings with Europe via the transatlantic cable.

1902   The Marconi Company begins sending U.S. Weather Bureau forecasts by wireless telegraphy to steamships of the Cunard Line.

1903   Orville Wright makes the first powered flight after consultation with the U.S. Weather Bureau. By 1904, airplanes were used to conduct upper air atmospheric research.

1909   The U.S. Weather Bureau begins experiments with balloon observations.

1910   The U.S. Weather Bureau begins issuing weekly agricultural forecasts and the River and Flood Division begins drought and moisture assessment of the western U.S.

1912   The U.S. Weather Bureau issues the first fire weather forecast.
The Fire Weather Service is established in 1916.

1914   An Aerological Section is established to service the growing needs of the aviation community.

1918   The U.S. Weather Bureau begins issuing forecasts for domestic military flights and air mail routes.

1926   The Air Commerce Act directs the U.S. Weather Bureau to provide for weather services to civilian aviation.

1928   Teletype replaces the telegraph for weather communications.

1931   Regular aircraft observations begin at Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas and Omaha. Altitudes reaching 16,000 feet are met and the kite service ends.

1934   The U.S. Weather Bureau establishes the Air Mass Analysis Section.
In 1917, Norwegian meteorologists pioneered air mass analysis which dramatically improved forecasting accuracy.

1935   The U.S. Weather Bureau begins collecting marine weather data from automatic instruments on floating buoys.

1937   The first official U.S. Weather Bureau radio meteorograph or "radiosonde" soundings are made at East Boston, MA. This program ends aircraft soundings because balloons can reach heights of 50,000 feet.

1940   (June 30) The U.S. Weather Bureau is transferred to the Department of Commerce.

1942   The Navy gives the U.S. Weather Bureau 25 surplus aircraft radars to be modified for ground meteorological use.

1948   The first primitive computer numerical forecasts are made on the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC).
1948   USAF Air Weather Service meteorologists issue the first tornado warnings for military installations.

1950   The U.S. Weather Bureau begins issuing 30-day outlooks to the public.

1951   The Weather Service Warning Center begins operations at Tinker Air Force Base, OK. This is a forerunner of the National Severe Storms Center (NSSC).

1952   The U.S. Weather Bureau organizes the Severe Local Storm Forecasting Unit in Washington, DC and begins issuing tornado forecasts. The Unit moves to Kansas City, Missouri in 1954.

1954   The first radar specifically designed for meteorological use, the AN/CPS-9, is unveiled by the Air Weather Service, USAF.

1955   The U.S. Weather Bureau begins development of the Barotropic model, which will become the first operational numerical weather prediction tool.

1959   The first WSR-57 weather surveillance radar is commissioned at the Miami hurricane forecast center. The same model remained in service across much of the nation until replacement by the 88D Doppler radar.

1960   (April 1) TIROS 1, the world's first weather satellite is launched.
1960   U.S. Weather Bureau meteorologists issue the first advisories on air pollution over the eastern United States.

1965   The Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) is created within the Department of Commerce, incorporating the U.S. Weather Bureau and several other agencies.

1970   ESSA becomes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Weather Bureau is renamed the National Weather Service under NOAA.

1973   The National Weather Service purchases its second generation radar, the WSR-74C.

1975   The first geostationary weather satellite GOES 1 is launched.

1979   The NGM (Nested Grid Model) becomes operational. The AFOS (Automation of Field Operations and Services) computer system is deployed connecting weather offices and replacing teletype.

1989   The National Weather Service embarks on a national modernization plan with restructuring of the entire organization.

1990   The contract for the WSR-88D radar is awarded. The new Doppler technology permits weather forecasters to see the movement of rain and winds within storms and to more accurately identify tornado formation.

1991   The first WSR-88D radar is installed in Melbourne, Florida.
1991   The contract for the ASOS systems is awarded.

1993   The contract for the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) computer system is awarded.

1995   NOAA Weather Radio begins broadcasting coded emergency weather signals (watches, warnings and statements) that identify the specific geographic NWS area affected by the emergency. This technology is called S-A-M-E [Specific Area Message Encoding] and permits the public to select receiving only "alerts" that apply to their county or region.

1998   The final NEXRAD WSR-88D radar is commissioned in North Webster, Indiana, bringing the network to 120 units.

2000   The Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) is commissioned. It allows assimilation of radar, satellite, surface and upper air observations, and computer model guidance into one workstation. The older AFOS system is decommissioned.

2013   The dual-polarization (both horizontal and vertical) technology upgrade is completed at the 122nd NWS NEXRAD Doppler network site in the US. Begun in September 2011, the update to dual-pol more accurately tracks, assesses, and warns the public of approaching high-impact weather.


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