National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

History of NWS Mobile/Pensacola

The National Weather Service has its beginnings in the early history of the United States. Weather has always been important to the citizenry of this country, and this was especially true during the 17th and 18th centuries. The beginning of the National Weather Service we know today started on February 9th, 1870, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed a joint resolution of Congress authorizing the Secretary of War to establish a national weather service. This resolution required the Secretary of War "to provide for taking meteorological observations at the military stations in the interior of the continent and at other points in the States and Territories...and for giving notice on the northern (Great) Lakes and on the seacoast by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms"

After much thought and consideration, it was decided that this agency would be placed under the Secretary of War because military discipline would probably secure the greatest promptness, regularity, and accuracy in the required observations. Within the Department of War, it was assigned to the Signal Service Corps under Brigadier General Albert J. Myer. General Meyer gave the National Weather Service its first name: The Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce. Later that year, the first systematized, synchronous weather observations ever taken in the U.S. were made by "observing-sergeants" of the Army Signal Service at 22 stations and telegraphed to Washington. Mobile, Alabama was one of these original 22 offices. An agency was born which would affect the daily lives of most of the citizens of the United States through its forecasts and warnings.

The new agency operated under the Army's Signal Service from 1870 to 1891. In 1890, Congress voted to transfer the agency to the Department of Agriculture and renamed it the Weather Bureau. Although the parent agency was changed to the Department of Commerce in 1940 the Weather Bureau name remained unchanged. In 1970, the Weather Bureau name was changed to the National Weather Service, although it's primary function of public service remained the same. The National Weather Service is one of the main components of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Battle HouseThe weather station was established in Mobile, AL on November 6, 1870 by the Signal Service of the War Department. It was located at 48 St Michel Street in downtown Mobile and was equipped with standard set of instruments consisting of a barometer, thermometer, hygrometer, wind vane, rain gauge and Robinson anemometer.

Reports commenced on November 7, 1870. The weather station remained at this location until May 1, 1872 when it was moved to the 3rd story of the Manser Building, located on the southeast corner of Government and Royal Street. On the night of November 16-17, 1880, the Manser Building was completely destroyed by fire of undetermined origin. The office together with all the instruments and records perished in the fire.

The station was re-established at the Battle House, on the corner of Royal Street and St Francis Street. To the left is a picture of the Battle House located in downtown Mobile, AL (courtesy of the University of South Alabama Archives). Observations resumed on November 18th of that year.

The weather station was re-established in the New Manser House, which was located on the corner of Royal Street and Government Street in Mobile. This was the exact same location as the old Manser Building that burned down the year prior. To the right is a picture of the New Manser House in downtown Mobile, AL (courtesy of the University of South Alabama Archives).

The weather instrumentation, including the wind vane and anemometer, were located on top of the roof of the New Manser House. Note the pennant flag in the picture to the right. Flags were a primary means of warning the public of hazardous weather.

Customs BuildingOn July 1, 1884, the weather station relocated to the United States Customs House. The US Customs House was located at the southwest corner of Royal Street and St Francis Street in downtown. A photograph of the US Customs House which was located in downtown Mobile, AL can be viewed on the left (courtesy of the University of South Alabama Archives).

The weather instrumentation shelter at this location was located in the center of the roof of the US Customs House building (not seen in the photograph to the left).

On September 1, 1905, the weather office made yet another move, this time to the 6th floor of the City Bank Building located on 17 North Royal Street in downtown. On the right is a photographof the City Bank Building in downtown Mobile, AL (courtesy of the University of South Alabama Archives).

By November 1st of 1913, the weather office moved to the top floor of the 8-story addition built on to the City Bank Building.

A few years later in 1936, the weather office re-located back to the US Court House and Customs House located in downtown Mobile, AL. A photograph of the US Court House and Customs House can be viewed to the left (courtesy of the University of South Alabama Archives).

With the advent of commercial aviation, it became necessary to establish weather observations at the airport in Mobile. The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), a forerunner to the FAA, began taking observations at the old Bates Field (now referred to as Brookley Field) several miles south of downtown Mobile in 1934. A photograph of old Bates Field (aka Brookley Field) can be viewed on the right (courtesy of the University of South Alabama Archives).

The Weather Bureau personnel assumed this responsibility in the year 1939, working in the Guard and Fire Building by 1940.

By December of 1941, the weather office at Brookley Field was relocated to the current location at the Mobile Regional Airport (now called Bates Field). The weather office eventually occupied a portion of the terminal building. A nighttime view of the Mobile Regional Airport can be seen on the left (courtesy of the University of South Alabama Archives).

The downtown office officially closed on May 1, 1953. At this time, all remaining weather operations shifted over to the Mobile Regional Airport.

In the year 1994, the new weather office at the Mobile Regional Airport was opened as seen in the photograph of our office below. The modern National Weather Service office operates a powerful WSR-88D Doppler radar (behind our building as seen below), sophisticated computers and a wide array of automated observing systems (known as ASOS).



Note: All photos are from the University of South Alabama Archives. More information can be found on their website.