Skip to content
1849 engraving of Smithsonian Institute

1849 engraving of Smithsonian Institute

The roots of weather forecasting in the United States dates back to 1849 when the Smithsonian Institute provided the instrumentation used to measure and record weather to telegraph companies. By the end of the year, 150 volunteers had begun submitting weather observations. By 1860, 500 telegraph stations were sending weather reports to the Smithsonian and as a result, weather patterns from around the country began to not only be collected, but mapped. The word “forecast” entered the lexicon in 1870.

President Ulysses S. Grant

President Ulysses S. Grant

To improve the collection of data, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a resolution requiring the Secretary of War, “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 lakes and on the seacoast by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms.” The act required the formation of a new national weather service to become incorporated into the U.S. Army Signal Services’ Division of Telegraph and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce.

Antonio Jacobsen painting of S.S. New York

Antonio Jacobsen painting of S.S. New York

President William McKinley ordered the Weather Bureau to establish a hurricane warning network in the West Indies in 1898. Meteorological advances continued being made, including the first cable exchange of weather information with Europe in 1900. The following year, official three-day forecasts began in North America. The government began using airplanes to conduct upper air atmosphere research in 1904 and in 1905, the S.S. New York transmitted the first wireless weather report from sea.

Victims of Labor Day Hurricane near the ferry landing on Lower Matecumbe

Victims of Labor Day Hurricane near the ferry landing on Lower Matecumbe

Automated weather instruments mounted on buoys began collecting marine weather data in 1935, the same year the Weather Bureau established a hurricane warning system. Forecasting switched from a centralized Washington office to four distinct tropical hurricane forecasting offices: Boston, Jacksonville, New Orleans, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. None of these advancements had any bearing on the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.