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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about... the U.S. National Weather Service


CURWOOD: Forty-two degrees, clear, wind out of the west at 12 miles an hour. That was the weather report from Milwaukee on November 1st, 1870, one of 24 simultaneous reports wired to Washington, DC, that day from observers around the nation. And so began what is now called the National Weather Service. Throughout the nineteenth century, scientists were improving their means of measuring and predicting weather, but the real breakthrough was the invention of the telegraph. It allowed for synoptic forecasting, that is, the collection of data from many different places at once. Just a week after it began, the service forecasted its first storm. A year later, it was making nationwide forecasts three times a day. In the next 24 hours, the service will likely process 400,000 meteorological bulletins. Things weren't always so smooth at the startup. For example, the Weather Service had a hard time establishing a field station in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Most of the buildings there had been destroyed in the Civil War. And in the Midwest, an inspector visiting a field station discovered an empty room. It turned out the observer there dabbled in games of chance, and paid off a poker debt by pawning all the forecasting equipment. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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