The Birth of our National Weather Service

| February 8, 2008 @ 10:19 pm | 1 Reply

The year 1868 was especially costly to shipping on the Great Lakes. A series of major storms resulted in hundreds of sinkings on the stormy lakes in which 321 mariners died. 1869 was almost as bad, with 209 sailors perishing in the great gales on the lakes.

Professor Increase Lapham of Milwaukee was a civil engineer and scientist. He recognized that the losses could be limited through some sort of warning system. He approached a Milwaukee Congressman named Halbert E. Paine, who introduced a bill authorizing the Secretary of War to begin taking observations and warning shipping interests when storms were approaching.

But there was disagreement over whether the fledgling weather service should be under military or civilian control. Paine believed the Army could provide the necessary service at a lower cost. As debate raged, the bill passed both Houses of Congress and on this date President Grant signed the measure into law. The order directed the Secretary of War to take observations at posts across the United States and give warnings by telegraph of storms on the Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast. This bill would create a national weather service that would eventually be the envy of the world.

The weather agency was later assigned to the U.S. Army Signal Corps. On November 1, 1870, twenty four stations would transmit their first observations containing only the state of the sky. Observations would be handled by military personnel, but the interpretation of the data and the issuing of forecasts were handled by civilians hired by the Corps, including Lapham, whose tenure would be cut short by ill health.

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About the Author ()

Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site's official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site's severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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