National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

History of National Weather Service River Forecasting

The National Weather Service's River and Flood Program traces its origins back to the start of the National Weather Service itself. In 1870, Congress authorized the Army Signal Service Corps to create a river and stream gauge program, as well as a weather observation and forecasting program. Then, Congress passed the Organic Act of 1890, that transferred all weather and related river services into the Department of Agriculture, and created a civilian U.S. Weather Bureau, which would later become the National Weather Service (NWS).

As the country grew, the need for expanded hydrologic services grew with it. In 1903, an extensive and disastrous flood struck the Kansas River, further raising public cries for improved flood forecasting. In response, Congress passed legislation making river and flood services a separate division within the Weather Bureau. Starting with the Kansas River, expanded hydrologic services moved into Texas and then throughout the entire country within the next few years.

With the nation's continued growth, the economy became increasingly dependent on river and flood forecasting, but the emphasis still remained on protection of life and property. In 1940, the Weather Bureau was transferred into its present home, the Department of Commerce, and a river division (formerly NWS Office of Hydrology, now The National Water Center), was formed. This river division divided the country into river districts, each with an associated Weather Bureau office to cater to the hydrologic needs of that area. By the the end of World War II, the increasing responsibilities of the regular Weather Bureau offices prompted the need for separate River District Offices. Finally, through the 1960's these offices combined into the 13 River Forecast Centers that exist today.

History of the LMRFC

The Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center was founded in 1971 in concert with the efforts to fund the Alaska River Forecast Center, and officially commenced operations in January of 1972. No single flood event can be identified as motivating the formation of this RFC. Instead, its startup resulted from the need to complete the coverage of the Nation by RFCs and to provide coordinated forecasts for the economically critical lower Mississippi basin. Since it commenced operation, the LMRFC responsibility area of over 209,000 square miles has essentially remained unchanged. After it was formed, the LMRFC was the first to demonstrate the routine use of the nationally-supported operational forecast system which would eventually become the NWS River Forecast System (NWSRFS).