Happy Birthday National Weather Service

The National Weather Service was born 152 years ago.

It is hard to imagine life today without modern weather forecasts and technology. Let’s take a look back at the beginnings of the National Weather Service (NWS).

Volunteer beginnings (1865)

What started out as a suggestion after the Civil War by Joseph Henry, Director of the Smithsonian Institute, grew into the NWS. Henry assembled about 600 volunteers and taught them to use instruments to measure temperature, wind, humidity, cloud cover and rain/snow.

At that time, observers were ‘predicting’ storms across telegraph lines in Great Britain. While in the Great Lakes, a scientist uses weather data collected three times a day to show that storms could be tracked from west to east.

On February 9, 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill into law requiring the Secretary of War to take weather observations at 44 military stations across the Great Lakes, Gulf and Atlantic Coasts and inland areas in the eastern half of the nation. The U.S. Signal Service oversaw the new organization that also distributed the information with the telegraph as an early form of forecasting.

First storm warning (1870)

The first "storm warning" on November 8, 1870 read, ""High wind all day yesterday at Cheyenne and Omaha; a very high wind this morning at Omaha; barometer falling with high winds at Chicago and Milwaukee today; barometer falling and thermometer rising at Chicago, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Buffalo and Rochester; high winds probable along the Lakes."

First weather map (1871)

The Signal Service published their first map on January 1, 1871 and gave it to newspapers. The map gave "deductions" not forecasts. Deductions then went on to be called "indications" as more data points were added.

A weather "predictor" devised four standard time zones across the U.S. to keep daily weather bulletins consistent. The railroads adopted it then the nation to what we now know as the national standard time zones.

In June 1871, Congress finally extended the Signal Service’s responsibility across all states. The service "predicted" weather for nine districts, 24 hours in advance. Ship weather reports were not included until 1873.

The first Hurricane Warning came in 1873.

The word "tornado" banned (1884)

The first severe storms forecaster makes "indications" of the possibility of "violent local storms" in 1884. The Signal Service chief banned the word "tornado" fearing mass panic of the public. The ban held until 1950.

The Department of Agriculture took over weather operations citing the importance of weather in 1891 and called the organization the Weather Bureau. Failure of the Service to issue a "Cold Wave Warning" for two deadly blizzards in 1888 prompted the transfer of responsibility.

In 1895 the Weather Bureau starts taking upper air measurements with kites. Balloons took the place of kites in 1909.

Hurricane Warning Network was established across the West Indies in 1898. It later grew into the National Hurricane Center in 1955.

In 1900, a Weather Bureau employee who experimented with radio, then called voice transmission over wireless telegraphy. Hew left the Bureau and laid the groundwork for AM radio.

The Wright brothers consulted with the Weather Bureau on the best place for the first flight on December 17, 1903.

The first aviation forecasts (1926)

The Weather Bureau started aviation forecasts for the military and air mail in 1918 and expanded to civilian forecasts in 1926.

In 1928 the teletype replaced the telegraph for distributing weather data.

The Department of Commerce takes over the Weather Bureau in 1940, primarily due to its role in aviation.

Weather data ban (1941)

Weather forecasts and observation are censored after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The censorship continued through World War II.


The Weather Bureau starts using weather radar in 1946. A radar network finally comes online in the 1950s.

The first Tornado Warning is issued on March 25, 1948 in Oklahoma.

The government established the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center after a tsunami swamped Hilo, Hawaii in 1946.

Weather radio (1965)

The "ESSA (Environmental Science Services Administration) Weather Radio Network" broadcasts weather warnings after the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak. It is later named "NOAA Weather Radio" in 1970.

The first U.S. Meteorological Satellite was launched and deployed in April 1960. The unit only lasted for 78 days but proves useful.

The Weather Bureau is renamed The National Weather Service on October 1, 1970.

In 1982, the NWS issues the first Tornado Warning based on Doppler radar.

Happy birthday NWS and many more!