National Weather Service At 150

National Weather Service

Established on February 9th, 1870; the organization known today as the National Weather Service was created by a joint Congressional resolution that was later signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. The organization is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, branch of the Department of Commerce, and headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The purpose of the National Weather Service is to provide weather forecasts, warnings of hazardous weather, and other weather-related products to organizations and the public for the purposes of protection, safety, and general information. To do this, the NWS performs its primary task through a collection of national and regional centers, and 122 local Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs). As the NWS is an agency of the U.S. federal government, most of its products are in the public domain and available free of charge.


In 1870, the predecessor to the National Weather Service was founded under the name “Weather Bureau of the United States” with a mission to “provide for taking meteorological observations at the military stations in the interior of the continent and at other points in the States and Territories…and for giving notice on the northern (Great) Lakes and on the seacoast by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms.” As their primary mission was to provide meteorological observations at military stations, the agency was placed under the Secretary of War. It would be Brigadier General Albert J. Myer who gave the National Weather Service its first name: “The Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce.”

In 1890, the agency moved from the military to t he Department of Agriculture, which saw the agency begin to issue flood warning and fire weather forecasts. In addition, the first daily national surface weather maps were established and also created a network to distribute warnings for tropical cyclones.

The Bureau would later be moved to the Department of Commerce in 1940. The Weather Bureau became part of the Environmental Science Services Administration in August 1966, but was renamed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on October 1, 1970, with the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Forecasting Sub-Organizations

Fire Weather services to help track and measure several important wildfire measures.

Weather Forecast Offices use local branches, known as Weather Forecast Offices, to issue products specific to those areas.

Their Aviation division provides concise, coded 24-hour forecasts for a specific airport, which are issued every six hours with amendments as needed.

The Storm Prediction Center issues severe thunderstorm and tornado watches

The Weather Prediction Center provides guidance for future precipitation amounts and areas where excessive rainfall is likely. It is worth noting that local flood alerts are handled and issues by more local weather forecasting stations.

The River Forecast Centers provide daily river forecasts.

The Ocean Prediction Center issues marine forecasts for areas that are within the national waters of the United States, which includes coastal waters, offshore waters, and high seas.

The National Hurricane Center is responsible for monitoring tropical weather in the Atlantic, and central and eastern Pacific Oceans, with the jobs of releasing routine outlooks and discussions, advisories and discussions on individual tropical cyclones, and issuing statements detailing the expected effects within their local area of responsibility

The Climate Prediction Center is responsible for all of the NWS’s climate-related forecasts.

Data Acquisition Methods

  • Surface observations in the form automated surface observing systems to track weather features such as sky condition, visibility, present weather, obstructions to vision, pressure, temperature, dew point, wind direction and speed, precipitation accumulation, and selected significant remarks
  • Marine observations use buoys and land based coastal observing stations to measure wind speed, direction, and gust; barometric pressure; and air temperature. Some coastal observing stations and all buoys examine measure sea surface temperature, and wave height and period conditions for forecast preparation and to verify their forecasts after they are produced.
  • Upper air observations, which use radiosondes and radiosonde stations to track sensors that measure profiles of pressure, temperature, and relative humidity. These sensors are linked to a battery-powered radio transmitter that sends the sensor measurements to a ground receiver, which are then used for weather forecasting. By tracking the position of the radiosonde in flight, information on wind speed and direction aloft is also obtained. 

Weather Warnings And Advisories

The National Weather Service has developed a multi-tier concept for forecasting or alerting the public to all types of hazardous weather, which can be disseminated by different organizations depending on the requirements for dissemination. This is the section of the NWS that provides guidance on whether to issue a watch or warning when a storm is coming into an area.

Resources and Further Reading

Official Website

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.