The National Weather Service has its beginning in the early history of the United States. Weather always has been important to the citizenry of this country, and this was especially true during the 17th and 18th centuries. Weather also was important to many of the Founding Fathers. Colonial leaders who formed the path to independence of our country also were avid weather observers. Thomas Jefferson purchased a thermometer from a local Philadelphia merchant while in town for the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. He also purchased a barometer — one of the only ones in America at the time — a few days later from the same merchant. Incidentally, he noted that the high temperature in Philadelphia, Pa., on July 4, 1776 was 76 degrees. Jefferson made regular observations at Monticello from 1772-78, and participated in taking the first known simultaneous weather observations in America. George Washington also took regular observations; the last weather entry in his diary was made the day before he died.
During the early and mid-1800's, weather observation networks began to grow and expand across the United States. Although most basic meteorological instruments had existed for over 100 years, it was the telegraph that was largely responsible for the advancement of operational meteorology during the 19th century. With the advent of the telegraph, weather observations from distant points could be "rapidly" collected, plotted and analyzed at one location.
By the end of 1849, 150 volunteers throughout the United States were reporting weather observations to the Smithsonian regularly. By 1860, 500 stations were furnishing daily telegraphic weather reports to the Washington Evening Star, and as the network grew, other existing systems were gradually absorbed, including several state weather services.
The ability to observe and display simultaneously observed weather data, through the use of the telegraph, quickly led to initial efforts toward the next logical advancement, the forecasting of weather. However, the ability to observe and forecast weather over much of the country, required considerable structure and organization, which could be provided through a government agency.
A weather-sensitive sports event of that year: 15th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Weather Bureau becomes responsible for issuing flood warnings to the public; Telegraphic reports of stages of rivers were made at 26 places on the Mississippi and its tributaries, the Savannah and Potomac Rivers.
Professor Mark W. Harrington becomes the first chief of the Weather Bureau. He serves until 1895.
September, 1900: A devastating hurricane strikes Galveston, Texas, killing more than 6,000 people. The wife of the Galveston Official-in-Charge Isaac Cline and one Weather Bureau employee and his wife are killed in the associated flooding. The Weather Bureau forecasts the storm four days earlier, but not the high tide.
At the Weather Bureau Conference in Milwaukee, Wis., Chief Willis Moore observed the Post Office Department was delivering slips of paper with daily forecasts, frost and cold-wave warnings, to everyone's door with the mail. The one disadvantage to the system was the mail carriers started their routes about 7:00 a.m. and that day's forecast was not issued until 10:00 a.m., so the previous night's forecasts were used.
The Weather Bureau begins collecting flood damage statistics nationally.
The Weather Bureau's fire district forecast center started at Medford, Oregon.
First Transatlantic flight by U.S. Navy sea plane, with stops in Newfoundland, Azores and Lisbon.
Charles Lindbergh flies alone from Long Island, non-stop, to Paris. The 3,610 mile trip is completed in 33.5 hours. As on his earlier transcontinental flight, he consulted the Weather Bureau in planning this flight. However, Lindbergh didn't wait for the final confirmation of good weather over the Atlantic. When Weather Bureau officials in New York heard that Lindbergh had left, they expressed surprise because the forecasts indicated that the flight should have been delayed by at least 12 hours. Indeed, Lindbergh ran into problems with fog and rain — as the Weather Bureau had predicted.
The Weather Bureau establishes an Air Mass Analysis Section; 1934-37 "Dust Bowl" drought in southern plains causes severe economic damage.
The Smithsonian Institution begins making long-range weather forecasts based on solar cycles; floating automatic weather instruments mounted on buoys begin collecting marine weather data.
January flood on the Ohio River is the greatest ever experienced, with Ohio River levels exceeding all previous. Cincinnati's 80 foot crest and Louisville's 81.4 foot crest have never been exceeded. Seventy percent of Louisville under water, 175,000 of its residents flee their homes; the entire city of Paducah, Kentucky, (population 40,000) is evacuated.
Both the Army and Navy establish weather centers.
President Roosevelt orders Coast Guard to man ocean weather stations.
Two women are listed among the ranks of observers and forecasters in the Weather Bureau.
The Navy gives the Weather Bureau 25 surplus aircraft radars to be modified for ground meteorological use, marking the start of a weather radar system in the U.S. Navy aerologists play key role as U.S. carrier-based Navy planes decimate Japanese fleet in mid-Pacific Battle of Midway Island in early June 1942, turning point in World War II.
A cooperative thunderstorm research effort is undertaken by the Weather Bureau, military services, and the University of Chicago.
Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies begins research into use of a computer for weather forecasting.
Chicago Weather Bureau office demonstrates use of facsimile for map transmission.
Truck-mounted campers first used as mobile forecast stations in major forest fires.
World Meteorological Organization established by the U.N. Bureau Chief Riechelderfer elected its first head; Bureau's New Orleans data tabulation unit moves to Asheville, N.C., to become the National Weather Records Center and later the National Climatic Data Center.
The first radar specifically designed for meteorological use, the AN/CPS-9, is unveiled by the Air Weather Service, USAF.
Regularly-scheduled operational computer forecasts begun by the Joint Numerical Forecast Unit. The Weather Bureau becomes a pioneer civilian user of computers along with the Census Bureau in Commerce; Bureau begins development of Barotropic model, a first for numerical predictions.
Weather Bureau Chief Dr. Francis Reichelderfer accepts a proposal by Dr. James Brantly of Cornell Aeronautical Laboratories to modify surplus Navy Doppler radars for severe storms observation--the first endeavor to measure motion of precipitation particles by radar.
The National Meteorological Center is established; the first commercial jet passenger flight from New York to Miami by National Airlines.
The Weather Bureau's first WSR-57 weather surveillance radar is commissioned at the Miami Hurricane Forecast Center.
The Naval Aerological Service becomes the Naval Weather Service.
The Thomas Jefferson and John Campanius Holm awards are created by the Weather Bureau to honor volunteer observers for unusual and outstanding accomplishments in the field of meteorological observations. Both awards still exist today.
The Weather Bureau assumes full responsibility for severe weather forecasting, establishing the National Severe Storms Center in Kansas City; special training begins for Federal Aviation Authority employees to equip them to brief pilots as part of a joint FAA-Bureau program; to USAF Air Weather Service issues first official forecast of clear air turbulence; scientists from 27 countries attend NASA Weather Bureau sponsored international workshop on technique to interpret weather satellite data.
The polar-orbiting weather satellite TIROS III is launched with automatic picture transmission capability, eventually to provide continuous cloud images to over 100 nations.
The National Severe Storms Laboratory is established in Norman, Oklahoma.
The American Meteorological Society writes to the Taiwanese Ambassador to the U.S., deploring treatment accorded Mr. Kenneth T.C. Cheng, head of the Taiwan Weather Service, who had been indicted for an incorrect typhoon forecast. The AMS points out that if forecasters were indicted for an incorrect forecast there could soon be a total lack of forecasters. (Minutes of the AMS Council, October 3-4, 1964).
Dr. George Cressman is named chief of the Weather Bureau and becomes the first director of the National Weather Service, when the agency is renamed in 1970. He serves until his retirement in 1979.
The National Meteorological Center introduces a computer numerical model capable of making sea level predictions as accurate as those made manually.
Fire weather forecasts are extended to cover contiguous U.S.
The U.S. Weather Bureau becomes the National Weather Service.
A devastating flash flood in the Black Hills of South Dakota kills 237 people.
The Big Thompson Canyon Flood in Colorado kills 139 people.
AFOS Computer system is deployed, connecting all Weather Service forecast offices. AFOS is the most ambitious computer network created at the time, setting records for volume of data and number of entry points while supporting full range of word processing and other capabilities.
"Dean of the Cooperative Weather Observers," Mr. Edward H. Stoll of Elwood, Nebraska, is honored at the nation's Capitol and meets President Jimmy Carter at the White House. Mr. Stoll had faithfully served as a Cooperative Observer since October 10, 1905.
Various "hot weather topics" become of general public concern, such as the El Niño/Southern Oscillation as a factor in U.S. weather, and global warming.
Weather-related event: First successful solo balloon crossing of the Atlantic by pilot Joe Kittinger, 83 hours and 45 minutes.
September 11-13: The first official Air Transportable Mobile Unit (ATMU) dispatches to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest wildfire. The ATMU is dispatched by plane from Redding, California while the forecaster is flying from Sacramento, Calif. These mobile fire units are deployed nationwide in 1987. ATMUs permit NWS forecasters to set up remote observing and forecasting offices anywhere in the world within hours of a request for on-site fire weather support.
President Ronald Reagan awards Dr. Helmet Landsberg the National Medal of Science, the most prestigious service award a civilian can receive.
The National Hurricane Center provides continuous advisories and early forecast on movement of giant hurricane Gilbert to assist Caribbean and U.S. coastal areas with evacuation plans.
Dr. Richard Hallgren retires as NWS director to become executive director of the American Meteorological Society.
Dr. Elbert W. “Joe” Friday, Jr. becomes director of the National Weather Service. He serves until 1997.
Miami Hurricane Center plays central role in limiting loss of life from gigantic Hurricane Hugo which causes $7 billion damage.
Eight year national plan for the modernization and restructuring of the National Weather Service is announced. The massive $4.5 billion overhaul of the agency from will last a decade and change the way the agency operates, resulting in improved capabilities to protect lives and livelihoods. To modernize its operations, the NWS developed and implemented five major technologies:
The National Weather Service exercises the contract option for full scale production with the Unisys Corporation for production of 165 Next General Radar (NEXRAD) units and more than 300 display subsystems. The explosive growth of technology led to the development of NEXRAD, a joint project of the Departments of Commerce, Transportation and Defense to meet their common radar needs.
Hurricane Iniki struck the Hawaiian island of Kauai killing seven and Hurricane Andrew devastates Florida and Louisiana.
Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) contract awarded to PRC, Inc., of McLean, Va. AWIPS will rapidly analyze weather data and distribute it nationwide.
The 100th new Doppler weather radar is installed.
The blizzard of '93 deposited enough precipitation in one weekend to drastically change the spring hydrologic outlook.
An international training facility was dedicated at the National Meteorological Center.
Two scientists develop a new method of processing atmospheric data needed for global forecasting and five meteorologists from Alaska design a state-of-the-art computer network used to improve forecasting capabilities in Alaska.
Vice President Al Gore launches NOAA Weather Radio initiative to increase transmitter coverage to 95 percent of the population.
The new Cray C90 supercomputer was dedicated providing for faster and more accurate forecasts.
NOAA and the EPA launched an experimental Ultraviolet (UV) Exposure Index.
NWS launches Internet Service Interactive Weather Information Network—IWIN.
Scientist make the first dual Doppler tornado intercept. A team of government and university scientists and student volunteers for the first time observe a tornado close-up with dual high-resolution Doppler radars, providing a never-before-seen two-dimensional view of a full-blown tornado. The team scanned the slow moving twister for 10 minutes with the two Doppler radars mounted on flatbed trucks.
Red River of the North Flood causes 11 deaths and $3.5 billion in damages. Subsequent evaluation of NWS services led to service improvement in hydrologic products including explicit consideration of uncertainty in forecasting.
Dr. Robert S. Winokur appointed acting director of the National Weather Service.
With the completion of AWIPS the formal end of the NWS Modernization and associated restructuring is declared, completing a decade-long effort to revamp weather services and significantly improve weather forecasting.
StormReady®, a new national program designed to better prepare for tornadoes and other types of severe weather, is unveiled. By 2011 there are more than 1,800 StormReady sites in 48 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Guam.
TsunamiReady™, a national program designed to help cities, towns, counties, universities and other large sites in coastal areas reduce the potential for disastrous tsunami-related consequences, is unveiled. By 2011 there are more than 90 TsunamiReady sites in 10 states, Puerto Rico and Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
NOAA policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information is adopted in response to the 2003 Academy of Science study.
Tsunami readiness in the United States is strengthened after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake strikes in the Indian Ocean and tsunami waves kill over 230, 000 people around the Indian Ocean basin.
Congress passes the Tsunami Warning and Education Act authorizing NOAA to strengthen its tsunami detection, forecast, warning and mitigation programs.
Hurricane Rita hits the Texas-Louisiana border coastal region in September, creating significant storm surge and wind damage along the coast, and some inland flooding. Prior to landfall, Rita reached the third lowest pressure (897 mb) ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. Rita results in an estimated $16.0 billion in damage/costs and 119 deaths — mostly indirect.
Hurricane Wilma hits southwest Florida in October, resulting in strong, damaging winds and major flooding across southeastern Florida. Prior to landfall, as a Category 5 hurricane, Wilma sets a record for the lowest pressure (882 mb) ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. Wilma results in an estimated $16.0 billion in damages/costs and 35 deaths.
Overall, the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season set several records. There were 28 named storms (storms with sustained winds of at least 39 miles per hour). In addition, there were an unprecedented 14 hurricanes, of which seven were major hurricanes (Category 3 or better on the Saffir-Simpson Scale). Three category 5 storms (sustained winds of 156 miles per hour or more) formed in the Atlantic Basin for the first time in a single season (Katrina, Rita, and Wilma). Four major hurricanes and three tropical storms made landfall in the U.S., with an eighth storm (Ophelia) brushed brushing the North Carolina coast.
December 13 marks the 30th anniversary of the nation's only federally funded weather telecast. Known as “Alaska Weather,” the program, broadcast live across the state every night at 5:30 p.m. from KAKM-TV, the PBS station in Anchorage, is a partnership between public broadcasting and NWS.
NWS activated its newest weather and climate supercomputers — IBM machines capable of processing 14 trillion calculations per second at maximum performance and ingest more than 240 million global observations daily. The new computers increased the computational might used for the nation's climate and weather forecasts by 320 percent.
NWS implements the Enhanced Fujita scale to rate tornadoes, replacing the original Fujita Scale. The EF scale will continue to rate tornadoes on a scale from zero to five, but ranges in wind speed will be more accurate with the improved rating scale.
In response to customer demand for climate information at the local level, NOAA’s National Weather Service has launched a new local three-month temperature outlook product for the continental United States.
NWS teams with 2007 Iditarod sled dog race to showcase for four newly designated StormReady® communities. For the first time, mushers raced through four trail communities — Anchorage, Wasilla, McGrath, and Nome — carrying the StormReady distinction.
NWS implements a new Heat/Health Watch Warning System in the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, as well as surrounding Bay communities of Redwood City, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Gilroy, Fremont, Alameda, Berkeley, Richmond, and El Cerrito. They join 18 other metropolitan areas in the United States using this system as guidance for issuing excessive heat watches, excessive heat warnings and heat advisories.
Dr. John L. “Jack” Hayes appointed director of the National Weather Service.
NWS transitions from county-based to new storm-based warnings, issuing more geographically specific warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, floods, and marine hazards.
A series of three storms affected the Pacific Northwest between December 1 and 3, 2007, resulting in 11 fatalities and an estimated $1 billion in damage.
Hurricane Ike makes landfall in Texas, as the largest (in size) Atlantic hurricane on record, causing considerable storm surge in coastal Texas and significant wind and flooding damage in 10 other states. Estimated damage exceeds $27 billion. Ike results in 112 deaths.
The Super Tuesday Tornado Outbreak of February 5-6 results in 57 fatalities in four states. It is the second largest February tornado outbreak since 1950 in terms of fatalities and the largest since May 31, 1985.
Nenana, Alaska, Receives Nation’s 1,000th NOAA Weather Radio Transmitter.
NWS completed implementation of the final phase of a nine-year, $180 million contract by installing the newest generation of IBM supercomputers for weather and climate prediction. The new supercomputers, based on IBM Power 575 Systems, are four times faster than the previous system, with the ability to make 69.7 trillion calculations per second. Higher computation speed allows meteorologists to rapidly refine and update severe weather forecasts as dangerous weather develops and threatens U.S. communities.
Devastating floods affect the southeast U.S., as copious moisture drawn into the region from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico produced showers and thunderstorms from September 18-23. Rainfall amounts across the region totaled 5-7 inches, with locally higher amounts near 20 inches. The northern two-thirds of Georgia, Alabama, and southeastern Tennessee were hardest hit with the southeasterly low-level winds providing favorable upslope flow. Flash flood and areal flooding were widespread, with 11 fatalities were directly attributed to this flooding.
GOES-15, launched on March 4, 2010, from Cape Canaveral, Fla., joining three other NOAA operational GOES spacecraft that help the agency's forecasters track life-threatening weather.
Record-breaking rain struck Kentucky and the Tennessee Valley on May 1-2, resulting in widespread, devastating flash flooding across much of western and middle Tennessee, including the greater Nashville area. The heavy rain also resulted in unprecedented flooding along the Cumberland River and its tributaries. There were 26 fatalities directly attributed to the flooding, 11 of which were in greater Nashville. Preliminary estimates of property damage were in excess of $2 in greater Nashville alone.
NWS launches a comprehensive initiative to build a Weather-Ready Nation to make America safer by saving more lives and protecting livelihoods as communities across the country become increasingly vulnerable to severe weather events, such as tornado outbreaks, intense heat waves, flooding, active hurricane seasons, and solar storms that threaten electrical and communication systems. The initiative is focused on helping people make better decisions with better information and will require not only improvements in the science and technology of the modernization era, but also the integration of social sciences and the improvements in partnership with other government agencies, researchers, and the private sector.
NWS ranks in the top 15 percent of federal agencies for customer satisfaction, according to a new public survey. With an essential public safety mission, the agency rated 84 on a scale of 0 to 100 – a score considered “excellent” by independent survey firm Claes Fornell International (CFI).
Hurricane Irene makes landfall over coastal N.C. before moving northward along the Mid-Atlantic Coast and causing torrential rainfall and flooding across the Northeast. Wind damage in coastal N.C., Va., and Md. was moderate with considerable damage resulting from falling trees and power lines, while flooding caused extensive flood damage across N.J., N.Y., and VT. More than seven million homes and businesses lost power during the storm. Numerous tornadoes were also reported in several states further adding to the damage. Over $7.0 billion in damages/costs; and at least 45 deaths were reported.
NWS began upgrading its network of Doppler radars throughout the nation with dual-polarization (Dual-Pol) capability, resulting in better estimation of heavy rainfall amounts in flooding events, improved hail detection in severe thunderstorms, and improved classification of precipitation types. Dual-Pol radar has the potential to improve forecasts and warnings and reduce the impact of hazardous weather on transportation. The upgrades are scheduled to be completed in early 2013.
NWS began using a sophisticated forecast model that substantially improves predictions of space weather impacts on Earth. Better forecasts offer additional protection for people and the technology-based infrastructure we use daily.
The National Research Council completes the first phase of a study on the NWS Modernization and Associated Restructuring effort of the 1990s. The NRC report concludes that the framework left in place from the modernization of the 1990s “allows and encourages the continued evolution of National Weather Service technology, and to some extent the workforce composition and culture.”