A Brief History of the Boston Weather Bureau

"Time of observation, 8 AM; 'height' of barometer, 29.72 inches; 'height of attached thermometer, 52F; reduced barometer (sea level), 29.655 inches; temperature (outdoor), 44; temperature of the wet bulb, 38; direction of wind, west; velocity of wind, 3 mph; pressure of wind (1 lbs. per square foot), .044; amount of cloud, 1/4." The foregoing is a transcript of the first official Weather Bureau observation taken in Boston. The place was the Old State House on the corner of State and Devonshire Sts.; the date was Tuesday, November 1, 1870. Identity of observer is uncertain but he was one of three: Sergeant S.E. Cole, Pvt. Black, or Pvt. Huneke, all of the Signal Service of the U.S. Army.

Pre-Weather Bureau observations in America go back into early colonial times. The first known continuous weather log was maintained in 1644-45 by the Reverend John Campanius at Swedes Fort, near Wilmington, Delaware. Among the Boston area's notable early records are those of Paul Bradley, Chief Justice of Massachusetts, who kept records from 1738-50 in Boston, and those of John Winthrop, Harvard College Professor, covering 1742-78. One famous American interested in weather was Henry Thoreau who commented upon the trends of Indian summer for the falls of 1851-60 at Concord, MA.

Most early records were private undertakings, not coordinated by any central organization. But the importance of simultaneous observations at many places was recognized by Thomas Jefferson before the Revolutionary War. In fact, Jefferson became nearly a private unofficial weather bureau, collecting records from such distant points as Quebec and from as far west as the Mississippi River. Perhaps the first observations made in this area as a part of an organized effort were sponsored by the Meteorological Society of the Palatinate (Germany). This organization in 1780 issued rain gages to fourteen German stations, several others in Europe, and to Cambridge, MA. Detailed publications of the data were issued until 1792, when the French Revolution interfered. In Europe, Ferdinand II of Tuscany is credited with establishing the first observational network, with several stations in northern Italy, in 1653. He tried at that time, but was unsuccessful, to establish an international meteorological system.

The first federal government sponsored weather service in America resulted from a directive during the War of 1812, by Dr. James Tilton, Surgeon General of the Army, that hospital surgeons take observations and keep climatological records. This project grew slowly, but included 97 army camps by 1853. The advent of the telegraph brought the possibility of a new use for weather observations during the 1840's, that of weather forecasting. One of the earliest supporters in this cause was Prof. Joseph Henry, who became secretary of the new Smithsonian Institution. This organization organized a network of observatories, and in 1849 Prof. Henry received his first observations via telegraph, the same year that the British inaugurated a similar service. Within the year Prof. Henry had a network of 150 stations. The first synoptic weather map, containing current information from the station network, was displayed by Prof. Henry in 1849. This could be called the early beginning of weather forecasting service in the United States.

By act of Congress on February 9, 1870, the Secretary of War was authorized and required "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 of the United States, 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 duty of executing this resolution was assigned to Gen. A.J. Myer, Chief, Signal Officer, U.S.A. His first step was the establishment of a school of instruction in meteorology at Fort Whipple (now Fort Myer), Virginia. Regular published weather predictions began on February 19, 1871. They were called "Probabilities" and were made three times daily for such elements and periods in advance as seemed warranted by the maps, and for 8 geographical districts, viz.: New England, Middle States, South Atlantic States, Lower Lakes, Upper Lakes, Eastern Gulf, Western Gulf, and Northwest. The term "indications" was substituted for "probabilities" on December 1, 1876, and this was changed to "forecasts" on April 1, 1889.

The Boston Weather Bureau office was moved to "103 Court Street, Room No.10" on Jan. 10, 1871, thence to the Equitable Bldg., corner Milk and Devonshire Sts., "Room No.65," on Aug.12, 1875. On October 1, 1884, the Office was relocated to the Old U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, where it was to remain for 45 years until 1929. Young's Hotel served as interim quarters from June 7, 1929 to Sept.29, 1933, when the Old Post Office Bldg. was razed to make way for the new Post Office and Courthouse. The "City Office" or Office of the State Climatologist for Central and Northern New England moved to the U.S. Custom House on June 6, 1964. State Climatologist, Robert E. Lautzenheiser was in charge of the City Office in May 1956 and has since retired. Bob resides in Reading, MA and still furnishes end-of-month data to many newspapers.

The station at Logan Airport, which later became the Weather Service Forecast Office for most of Southern New England, was originally established on October 15, 1926. Pilot balloon observations, only, were taken for about a year, after which additional elements of synoptic observations were included. Weather briefing service to pilots began on Nov. 1, 1927. Official synoptic and climatic observations for Boston were shifted to the Airport Station from the City Office on Jan. 1, 1936. With the gradual increase in air traffic volume, the frequency of observations increased to the present rate of 2 or more per hour. The Airport Station was quartered at U.S. Army Hangar No.1 until April 1, 1927; then, temporarily located on the 8th floor of the Army Base in South Boston for 7 months. From Nov. 1, 1927, until July 1, 1929, Army "shacks" served as the office at the Airport. On Nov.22, 1951, the station was relocated to the Toutwell Building (Gate No.11). On December 5, 1963, the station was moved to the General Aviation Administration Building on Maverick Street, and in July 1987 was moved one block down to the three story Massachusetts Technology Center on Harborside Drive.

On October 1, 1890, the act of transferring the meteorological work of the Signal Service to the Weather Bureau was accomplished. This act became effective on July 1, 1891. The complement of the Boston Office then included: J. Warren Smith, Local Forecast Officer (in Charge), and observers Park Merrill, T.L. Bridges, J.W. Cronk, C.J. Doherty, F.A. Davis, E. Douglas, J.P. Cowles, Jr.; also G. B. Ackerman, messenger, and Kate E. Reynolds, "cleaner". In October 1891, the renowned meteorologist H.H. Clayton joined the force, replacing Mr. Doherty.

"Sgt. J.W. Smith arrived this morning." This note is contained in the Daily Journal of Thursday, Aug. 25, 1887. Mr. Smith was to become the first civilian Official in Charge of the Boston Office of the Weather Bureau. He served in that capacity until June 14, 1924, compiling a total of 37 years of weather service in Boston. Succeeding Mr. Smith was George A. Loveland who headed the Boston service until August 1933. Then, in order, came G. Harold Noyes, to June 1945; Clayton Van Thullenar to Dec.31, 1947; Paul H. Kutschenreuter to Sept. 1, 1950; and Dr. Oscar Tenenbaum, Meteorologist in Charge.

On Oct. 1, 1940, slightly more than 2 years after the disastrous and tragic hurricane of Sept.21, 1938, the Forecast Center was established with Mr. Van Thullenar in charge. Supervision of all Boston installations was transferred to the Center in July 1945.

Local divisions of the Weather Bureau in the 40's and 50's included the Forecast Center, the Office of the State Climatologist, the Atlantic Weather Project, and the Blue Hill Observatory Office. The Forecast Office at Logan Airport, in addition to general public forecasts, makes detailed terminal aviation forecasts. The agricultural and fruit-frost service includes a special cranberry forecast program. Fire-weather forecasts aid local, state, and federal efforts to minimize forest fire losses. Duties at Logan also include research to improve forecasts and services. Weekly weather summaries of special interest to agriculture, are also issued by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The Atlantic Weather Project supervised and furnished observers for the several weather ships stationed at strategic points in the Atlantic and were later replaced by moored buoys. Weather observations from these are essential to furnishing forecasts and warnings, particularly for transatlantic air and surface commerce. The Weather Service Office at Blue Hill Observatory on top of Big Blue in Milton maintains an observational program which continues the climatic weather observations began there in 1885. Also recorded is the intensity of the sun's radiation. Among those who have served in Boston, honorable mention, for reasons of long and faithful service, should be made of two outstanding men, both of whom have passed on. Mark T. Nesmith and Theodore L. Bridges were gentlemen and scholars, dedicated to the science of meteorology and its application in the service of their fellow men and women. Mr. Nesmith's service began on February 12, 1902, and ended with his retirement in June, 1952, a period of more than 50 years. Mr. Bridges served 42 years, from Sept. 1889 until 1931.

This dedication to the public service has been the fixed policy of the Bureau throughout its history, from the limited responsibilities at the beginning to the vastly complex demands of this jet/space age.

On July 13, 1965, the Weather Bureau became part of the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA). The first Administrator of ESSA was Dr. Robert M. White, a native of Boston and a product of Harvard and M.I.T..

In the early 1970's, the United States Weather Bureau became the National Weather Service under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Boston Forecast office at that time was located in the General Aviation Building (the Edson Building) on what is now Harborside Drive. In July of 1987, the office was moved one block to the first floor of the Massachusetts Technology Center, a modern three-story building which overlooks part of Boston Harbor and the city to the southwest.

A major change occurred November 8, 1993 when the forecast operations moved to a new facility in Taunton at the Myles Standish Industrial Park. Now co-located with the Northeast River Forecast Center, this office provides a full slate of public, aviation, marine, and hydrologic warning and forecast services for most of southern New England and the adjacent ocean. On a seasonal basis, fire weather and agricultural weather services are provided as well. From the Taunton location, three NOAA Weather Radio programs broadcast continuously over five transmitters located throughout southern New England. The 1990s have also seen the implementation of a new doppler radar, automated service observing systems, and major advances in computer technology. A staff of skilled electronic technicians maintain the complete systems at Taunton and surrounding locations.

Most official observations are now automated or contracted. Upper air observations are still taken from Chatham, MA but now by contract rather than NWS personnel. Such observations remain as crucial as ever for the NWS warning forecast mission. And personnel at the National Weather Service's Blue Hill Observatory, with records dating back to 1885, continue to take climatological observations. The quality of the long-term Blue Hill climatological record appears ever so important on a planet where people and nature are so interdependent.

The NWS is fortunate to be able to rely upon hundreds of volunteers who supplement weather and climate information throughout Southern New England. Over 1,500 storm spotters provide timely "ground truth" information to forecasters during severe storms. And over 100 cooperatives take daily measurements of temperature and precipitation to preserve the New England climate record. Many of the staff during the early 1970's have since retired or passed away. Meteorologist-in-charge Oscar Tenenbaum; Principal Assistant (later to become Deputy Meteorologist-in-Charge) Charley Pierce; Lou Goldman, Supervisory Aviation Forecaster; Robert Lynde, Marine Focal Point; Monte Glovinsky, Fire Weather Focal Point - Lead Forecasters Albert Flahive and Howard Rexroad - are all familiar to many older radio listeners as direct radio broadcasts were a fixture of the Boston office for many years on WHDH-AM radio in Boston. Jim Perry for many years was in charge of the Observing Unit. Later in 1972, the reigns were changed as Anthony Tancreto took over as MIC with Rodney Winslow later to become PA and then MIC. Later in the 1970's, Thomas McGuire took over the DMIC position when Rod Winslow was promoted to MIC with Mr. McGuire later becoming MIC upon Mr. Winslow's retirement. In the fall of 1989, Mr. McGuire finally hung up his career with Mr. Robert Thompson becoming MIC.

The Boston Weather Bureau -- now called the National Weather Service and located at Taunton -- has indeed changed dramatically since its beginnings. However, two things have not altered over the years: 1) the changeability and extreme diversity of New England weather and 2) the dedication of the men and women of the National Weather Service.