Someone is having a birthday. Did you know that it was 100 years ago this month that the Weather Bureau was formed in the United States, and it was 50 years ago this year that the Weather Bureau reorganized into what we now know as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States National Weather Service (NWS). But looking back farther in our history, weather was always an important concern. While Thomas Jefferson was in Philadelphia plotting resistance, rebellion and treason against the British monarchy, he took the time to buy himself a thermometer and a rare instrument called a barometer. Coincidentally, he noted that on July 4, 1776, the high temperature for the day was 76 F. In fact, both Jefferson and George Washington kept meticulous weather records, for Washington right up until the day before he died.
The story of the development of what we now know as the National Weather Service is one of critical need, disaster, and military tactical advantage. It isn’t a stretch to say that the entire history of the United States could be told in the history of the development of our weather service. From Ben Franklin’s brilliant charting of the Gulf Stream and other currents in the Atlantic Ocean and the speed advantage that gave our ships, outrunning oncoming armadas and giving the likes of Paul Revere advance word that they were indeed coming by sea, to present day questions and unsettling answers about climate change, the history of weather observation traces the history of our country. The archives are full of examples where the weather changed the course of history, for better or for worse.
The entire history of the development of the National Weather Service is far beyond the scope of any one article like this, and the whole suite of web sites put together by NOAA and called NOAA History, A Science Odyssey, is just a start. For those with an interest in weather, earth science, history, art and poetry this group of web sites is a treasure trove. The place to begin is https://www.history.noaa.gov/
Did I mention poetry? If you dig into this site you will find this poem by George W. Mindling who was the official in charge of the Atlanta, Georgia Weather Bureau office in 1939:
Introducing the Weather Man
In the paper one Sunday the editor's page
Gave a big lot of space to the Weather Man sage
Where it told how he hit the old nail on the head
With predictions resulting just like he had said.
But it never did mention the failures of late
That were known to the Weather Man date after date
When he called for the clouds and the downpouring rain,
Yet there came not a drop for the unsprouted grain.
So the Weather Man wondered, ''What response can I make?
I must pinch myself hard; am I really awake?
I never deserved this acclaim so profuse,
And so when I am right they just treat it like news.