It was on this date 153 years ago—February 9, 1870—that President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the bill which authorized the agency which would become today’s National Weather Service. The bill authorizing establishment of a national weather service had been passed by Congress on Feb. 2, 1870.

And there’s a major Midwest connection. Dr. Increase Lapham of Milwaukee, concerned about the loss of life among mariners on the Great Lakes, had begun lobbying as 1850 for an effort to collect weather observations at Great Lakes ports to warn mariners of impending weather changes on he Great Lakes. Lapham is considered among the four referred to as “Fathers of the National Weather Service”

Surface weather map from Jan. 1, 1871, produced by the newly established National Weather Service. (Library of Congress)

Interest in the weather dates back to this country’s Founding Fathers–most notably Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Franklin is best known for his kite and key experiment on lightning. But he was the first to observe that storms on this continent moved from west to east–but was also was the first to chart the course of the Gulf Stream–the warm ocean current which runs northeastward paralleling the East Coast and ends up in Europe where it has a major impact on the weather.

A fascinating article on the establishment of the National Weather Service and on the history of weather observations and early interest in the weather in this country appears on the Weather Underground website written by Tom Niziol, former Science Operations Officer and Meteorologist in Charge of the National Weather Service Buffalo, New York Forecast Office and retired winter weather expert at the Weather Channel. In it, Niziol references a fascinating history of the National Weather Service produced by the agency–a link to which is included in Niziol’s Weather Underground piece.