National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

A brief story of the beginnings of the current NWS Pittsburgh office when it came to fruition in the late 60s. As told almost 6 years ago by a former (now retired) employee Jerry Hill. The pictures found on this page were also courtesy of Mr. Hill.


Office on the Move

November 1, 1870 - First observations taken from a window shelter on 5th avenue in downtown Pittsburgh

March 15, 1871 - June 1, 1871 - office located on 53 Grant Street

June 1, 1871 - July 1 1871 office located in the St. Claire Hotel (Penn Ave & 6th)

July 1, 1871 - October 1, 1886 office located in the 1st National Bank Building (5th Ave & Wood)

October 1, 1886 - June 1, 1892 office located in the Schmidt Building (95-97 5th Ave)

June 1, 1892 - June 24, 1904 office located in the U.S.C.H. & Post Office (Smithfield St, 3rd & 4th Ave)

June 24, 1904 - March 20, 1910 office located in  the Farmers Bank Building (5th Ave & Wood St.)

March 20, 1910 - December 15, 1934 office located in the Oliver Building (Smithfield St, Oliver & 6th Ave)

December 15, 1934 - January 27 1965 office located in the Post Office & Federal Courts Building

January 27, 1965 - 1980 office located in the Federal Building (1000 Liberty Ave)

1980 - Present office located at 192 Shafer Road Moon Township.

It was 1966 when I arrived in Pittsburgh. I was assigned to be the Supervising Radar Meteorologist for the new WSR-57 radar facility that was under construction in Pittsburgh. However, upon arrival I learned that the radar was to be at neither the city office nor the airport office but a couple of miles away from the airport on Shafer Road.
At that time the Pittsburgh office was split with the Weather Bureau Office, the WBO, located downtown in the Federal Office Building.  The Weather Bureau Airport Station, the WBAS, was at the airport.  The city office was just for administration and the MIC worked there. The airport had the observing program and also staffed the forecasters who made the local and district forecasts. For many years the airport station had also conducted the upper air sounding program.
One of the electronic technicians who worked at the airport lived on Shafer Road and saw a new house being built next door to him. He had the idea that it would be a good location for the upper air station because the balloons could be inflated with hydrogen, instead of the more expensive helium, which the airport authorities required for safety reasons. The ET sent in an employee suggestion to the Weather Bureau and the agency soon bought the property. It consisted of a new three bedroom, 1 1/2 bath house with an attached garage and an unfinished basement. There were several acres of land included that could form a buffer against the future encroachment of other buildings nearby.
Part of the wooded area surrounding the mowed portion of the acreage was lined with dogwood trees that provided a backdrop of white blossoms every spring.
The Weather Bureau moved into the facility and started the raob program using hydrogen for inflating the balloons. I recall someone telling me that the savings in the cost between hydrogen and helium paid for the property in three years.
After the Weather Bureau had installed the long-range radars along the U.S. seaboards, they started to place them in major cities and Pittsburgh's turn came in 1966. The upper air station was picked as the site. The basement of the house was finished out with the radar console and the other equipment, along with the radar transmitter.
The tower for the radar was placed right next to the house, and it was painted with a white dome and blue steel work. In keeping with the residential nature of the neighborhood, the paint scheme was a nice alternative to the orange and white obstruction paint that the Weather Bureau normally had to use on the radar towers near most airports.
Inside the house, offices were built out for the electronic technicians, and all the communication equipment needed for a functioning weather office was added.
When the upper air unit moved from the airport terminal building out to Shafer Road it was just considered a satellite of the WBAS.   With the addition of the radar, we had 5 meteorologists, 7 meteorologist technicians, and 4 electronic technicians, so somebody in headquarters decided the facility needed a name.  It couldn't be another WBO because one already existed in Pittsburgh so someone suggested it be called the Weather Bureau Meteorological Observatory, the WBMO. Soon a large sign arrived to place in the front yard identifying the facility as thus.
In the 1960s the Weather Bureau was forming what they called Weather Bureau Forecast Offices, WBFOs. The location for the WBFO was selected to be the office in the downtown federal building.
More original equipment from the early years of the Pittsburgh WBFO.




Radar Console