Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

The President's Page: A century of U.S. Weather Services


  • Helmut E. Landsberg


On February 9, 1970, the government weather services in the United States celebrated their one hundredth anniversary. A century ago President Grant signed a joint resolution of Congress authorizing telegraphic collection of weather messages and the issuing of storm warnings.

As has often been the case, this legislation was born as a result of disasters. Storm catastrophes had caused great shipping losses on the Great Lakes and in coastal waters. The Signal Service of the Army, in control of the best communication network in the country, was given this new responsibilty. Over two decades earlier Joseph Henry, the erudite first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution had tried to inaugurate a weather service. But the gentle scientist to whom acquisition of knowledge was more important than service did not convince Congress to spend public funds for such purpose. Thus General Albert Myer, a persuasive M.D., became the organizer of a synoptic service. He had at his side very talented civilian help, especially Cleveland Abbe who, with Increase Lapham, was the godfather of the meteorological service. Distinguished members of the then young National Academy of Sciences took a major interest in meteorology. Best known among them was William Ferrel, the first to create a sound theory of atmospheric motions.