When you think about your daily routine, finding out about the day’s weather forecast probably figures into your list. This is especially true if the sky looks threatening or if a storm is already in progress as you go about your business. Maybe you read the local forecast and conditions off your smartphone or computer. The television and radio also come to mind when thinking about weather forecasting. The main source for this information is the National Weather Service.
The weather service has a somewhat personal meaning to me. I think of one of my good friends who used to be an employee at the Norfolk, Nebraska office of the Weather Service. He still maintains a sharp interest in weather data and forecasting. Sometimes he sends me emails about weather here in Norfolk even though he has lived in Arizona for over three decades.
So, when we get unusual weather, I know my weather hobbyist friend is probably viewing a webcam originating from Norfolk. He’s also undoubtedly gleaning weather information from the Internet.
I’ve also enjoyed a professional relationship with the Weather Service because of my past work as a broadcaster. Our radio station was probably one of the very few that broadcasted recordings of weather service meteorologists, themselves, reporting about weather conditions, and forecasts. Four-minute weather reports aired at 7:25 AM, noon, and 5:25 PM each day. These little broadcasts were extremely popular with our listeners.
I remember recording and then airing many of them during the first few years of my employment at the radio station. The meteorologist switched on the remote transmitter at the weather office when he was ready to pre-record his report. At the radio station, I had a reel of tape pre-loaded onto a recorder that was patched into the output of the remote reciever in the studio. A red light bulb in the studio turned on whenever our reciever detected the signal from the weather service. That was the cue to start the tape recorder. I usually monitored the recording “in cue” off the air to determine when the program was finished. Then I rewound the tape and played it on the air at its scheduled time slot.
There were also emergency broadcasts for especially severe events like tornado watches when the meteorologists gave live, un-recorded reports. Our listeners appreciated getting weather updates directly from the experts.
After the weather bureau phased out their recorded announcements, we relied on a “Weather-Wire” and the Associated Press to print weather summaries and forecasts. we used them in order to assemble our own weather reports. These still aired at 7:25 AM, noon, and 5:25 PM at the insistence of our listeners.
These recollections came to mind because today is the official birthday of the U.S. National Weather Service. It was on February 9, 1870 that a Congressional Resolution requesting a new weather agency passed and President Ulysses Grant signed it into law.
Because the United States was large and growing, a tight organizational structure and a reliable communication system were necessary. The budding agency was placed under the supervision of the Secretary of War. The Secretary, in turn, assigned the agency to the Army Signal Service Corps. The head of the Signal Corps was Brigadier General Albert Myer. He named the agency, “The Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce”.
Then on November 1, 1870 at 7:35 AM the very first synchronous, systemized meteorological reports were made by observer-sergeants at the first 24 stations of the agency. Their reports were telegraphed to the central office in Washington D.C.
To aid in the expansion of the weather agency to more locations in the country, a school of meteorology was added to the existing program of telegraphy and military signaling at the then Fort Whipple, Virginia (now Fort Myer).
By 1878, the three-times-daily reports from the field to Washington D.C. had to include these observations: Barometric pressure and its changes since the last report, temperature and its 24-hour change, Relative humidity, wind speed, wind pressure in pounds per square foot, amount of cloudiness, and a general description of weather conditions such as precipitation.
After the information was collated into forecasts, those forecasts were telegraphed back to the observers, newspapers, and railroad stations. The early forecasts were not minutely accurate, but they were very successful in predicting large scale storms, heat waves, and cold waves that affected large areas.
Now, in 2017, the National Weather Service uses the latest radar technology, satellite images, computers, communications, and so forth to provide us with very accurate weather updates and forecasts.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this saying from the philosophical writer George Santayana: “To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.”