National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Brief History of National Weather Service 

1870 First established under President Grant
Placed under the Signal Service Corps
1890 Renamed Weather Bureau
Placed in the Department of Agriculture
1940 Transferred to the Department of Commerce
1970 Renamed National Weather Service
Placed in the National Oceanic and Atmospherice Administration

 

Detailed History of National Weather Service 

 

NWS Spokane Office History Slideshow

 

History of National Weather Service - Spokane

1880-1908

First weather office in Spokane

The first weather office in downtown Spokane was at the Spokane Times Building as a Signal Service Corp office. Observations began in 1881.

Fires destroyed the office in 1884 and 1889. When the Weather Bureau took over, the office moved several times in downtown Spokane. It was at the Blalock Building, then the Jamieson Building in 1892.

The first Meteorologist In Charge, Charles Stewart 1880-1916 (left). The Jamieson Building around 1900 (right).

1908-1932

Weather Bureau - Spokane

The weather office moved to the Empire State Building in 1908 and remained there for a few decades.

Empire State Building in the early 1900s

1932-1947

Weather Bureau - Felts Field

Weather observations moved to Felts Field in 1932. The standard weather balloon observations using helium began in August 1939. Meanwhile the Weather Bureau office moved all operations to Felts Field by January 1, 1941.

Felts Field in the early 1940s (left). Meteorologist In Charge, E.M. Keyser from 1916-1941 (right).

1935-1947

Weather Staff

The Spokane Weather Bureau had a diverse staff with many duties, from surface to upper air observations.

Meteorologists view data from an airplane in 1935 (left). Evelyn Conan records weather balloon data in 1944 (right).

1947- 1965

Weather Bureau - Geiger Field

The weather office moved to Geiger Field in December 1947.

Views of Spokane Weather Bureau at Geiger Field in the 1950s (left). Meteorologist In Charge, Robert McComb 1943-1957 (right).

1965-1979

Weather at Spokane International

The weather office moved into the terminal building of the Spokane International airport in May 17, 1965 and remained their through the 1970s. The weather balloon switched from helium to hydrogen in 1965. 

Spokane Internal Airport Terminal Building in the 1970s (left). Meteorologist In Charge, Robert Small from 1957-1979 (right).

1979-1995

NWS Building at Spokane Airport

The office moved into it's own building on Nov 15, 1979 and stayed at this location until the mid 1990s. The Mt Spokane NOAA Weather Radio was installed in 1979.

A bird's eye view of the NWS Building at the Spokane Airport (right). Meteorologist In Charge, Ken Holmes from 1979-1994 (left).

1995

NWS Spokane to Rambo Road

This move was the start of the NWS Modernization and more room was needed for the radar. While the airport location could not be sold to the NWS, Fairchild AFB had land available on Rambo Road.

This site on Rambo Road was a former communication building.

1995

Office Construction

The office began construction in 1994 and finished in the summer of 1995. The change over from human surface observations to Automated Surface Observation System at the Spokane Office took place on September 1, 1995.

The framing of the office and finished building (left). Meteorologist In Charge, John Livingston from 1994-2016 oversaw the construction and the move of the new office (right).

1995

Upper Air Observations

The upper air observations were moved from the airport to Rambo Road in September 1995. The first official weather balloon launch on Rambo Road was on September 22, 1995. 

1996

Doppler Weather Radar

The radar construction started in 1995 and completed in early 1996. The first and only weather radar in the Inland NW.

1996

Weather Forecast Office

While the Spokane office had responsibility of its local warnings, The first forecasts and discussions originated from NWS Spokane in March 3, 1996.

2020

NWS Spokane in the 21st Century

The NWS Spokane office is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We have a strong commitment to our partners and our community across the Inland NW.

 

September 2020 marks the 25th Anniversary of NWS Spokane on Rambo Road!


Here are images of the preliminary plans and stages of current office. 

  • IMG_5186.jpg
  • New WFO under construction Apr 1995.jpg
  • Proposed WFO Building - Apr 1987.jpg
  • Proposed WFO Generator - Apr 1987.jpg
  • Proposed WFO Site - Apr 1987.jpg
  • Upper Air Building at GEG (2).jpg

 

Answers to the little known questions about the NWS Spokane office


Why did the NWS Spokane office move from the airport?

So how did the National Weather Service wind up on Rambo Road? In the early/mid 1990s, the NWS went through an extensive modernization plan.  The central idea of this plan was to install a network of new doppler weather radars across the county.  The radars are sometimes referred to as 88D, which stands for "1988 Doppler".  New NWS offices would also be built for nearly every new radar  

At the time of the modernization, the NWS office was located at the Spokane International Airport in a building in the middle of a large parking lot.  You can still see that old NWS building today.  But placing a tall weather radar at a growing airport didn't seem like such a good idea.  So an alternate location was needed for the radar

Fairchild AFB owned some land north of the base on Rambo Road which was no longer needed.  The Air Force was happy to transfer ownership of this land over to the National Weather Service, and that became the location of the radar and the new office.

 

So why did Fairchild AFB own 20 acres of land a few miles north of the base?  

We wondered that as well, until one day, we had a visitor drop by the office.  He had worked at this location when he was in the Air Force.  And he had the answer to our question.  According to this gentleman, back in the Cold War days of nuclear testing, the Air Force had a method of monitoring the globe for nuclear detonations to determine if a country had conducted a nuclear test.  The technology monitored certain radio frequencies. Unfortunately, there was just too much radio interference on the base.  So a location was selected a few miles away which would avoid the interference and allow the Air Force to "listen" to these radio frequencies for nuclear testing.  As the cold war and nuclear testing ended, the need for the monitoring station on Rambo Rd ceased. 

When the land was signed over to the NWS, two abandoned buildings still remained on the property.  In the initial plan was to use one of the buildings for the NWS office.  Ultimately, the building was found to have asbestos and was instead demolished.  However, a storage building from those early days still remains on site and in use today.  You can see it on our web camera.  

 

What changed with the new office on Rambo Road?

Prior to the modernization, the NWS had a structure where about one office in each state would do the forecast for the entire state.  Some of the larger states had 2 offices, and some smaller ones were shared by one office.  In the Northwest, those offices were located in Seattle, Portland, Boise, and Great Falls.  Smaller offices (like Spokane) had responsibility for issuing a forecast for the local metro area. In addition, the main mission of the Spokane office was:

  • Taking hourly weather observations for the airport.
  • Launching weather balloons twice per day.
  • Issuing thunderstorm warnings for Spokane and the nearby counties.

The Spokane NWS office staff at that time consisted of an office supervisor, three Meteorologist Technicians, two Meteorologist Interns, and two Electronic Technicians.   The meteorologists worked shifts around the clock, with one person always there taking weather observations.

The modernization changed the old "two tiered" profile to one where 124 "equal" offices divided up responsibility of the country, largely based on radar locations and coverage.  This brought additional staff and new duties to the office.  The current staff of 25 includes 15 forecasters, a hydrologist, an IT specialist, and additional support staff.  While we no longer take weather observations, we continue to do the weather balloon observations.  In addition, we are responsible for a much larger area that covers most of eastern Washington as well as the Idaho Panhandle, 21 counties in all.

 

When did  the move take place?

Construction on the new building began in 1994.  This was actually a little earlier than planned.  But a large wildfire (Tyee Creek) in the central Washington Cascades that summer had caused NWS officials to move up the timeline of the office and radar construction.  The office and upper air (weather balloon) buildings were completed in the summer of 1995.  At that point, 4 additional staff members had already been hired and were crammed into the little building at the airport.  So the administrative and support staff for the office moved into the new building on Rambo Rd in July 1995.  

The operational forecasting and observation program remained at the airport for a short time.  Weather observations up to this point were taken with human observers.  A new technology called Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) was being installed at all airports, replacing the manual observations.  The ASOS at Spokane Airport took over official surface weather observation duties at midnight, 1 September 1995.  This allowed the operational meteorologists to move over to the new NWS building, officially beginning the start of operations at Rambo Rd.

The weather balloon launches still remained at the airport for a few more weeks.  That program moved over to Rambo Rd later in September, with the first weather balloon launch taken on the afternoon of 22 September 1995.  The radar would be constructed later that winter and went online in February of 1996.

The transfer of forecast duties from the Seattle and Boise offices took place in early 1996. The first official forecasts and discussions were released on March 3, 1996