History of National Weather Service River Forecasting

The Beginnings of NWS River and Flood Program

The National Weather Service's River and Flood Program traces its origins back to the start of the National Weather Service itself. In 1870, Congress authorized the Army Signal Service Corps to create a river and stream gauge program, as well as a weather observation and forecasting program. Then, Congress passed the Organic Act of 1890, that transferred all weather and related river services into the Department of Agriculture, and created a civilian U.S. Weather Bureau, which would later become the National Weather Service (NWS).

Creation of River Forecast Centers

As the country grew, the need for expanded hydrologic services grew with it. In 1903, an extensive and disastrous flood struck the Kansas River, further raising public cries for improved flood forecasting. In response, Congress passed legislation making river and flood services a separate division within the Weather Bureau. Starting with the Kansas River, expanded hydrologic services moved into Texas and then throughout the entire country within the next few years.

With the nation's continued growth, the economy became increasingly dependent on river and flood forecasting, but the emphasis still remained on protection of life and property. In 1940, the Weather Bureau was transferred into its present home, the Department of Commerce, and a river division, now known as the the NWS Office of Hydrology, was formed. This river division divided the country into river districts, each with an associated Weather Bureau office to cater to the hydrologic needs of that area. By the the end of World War II, the increasing responsibilities of the regular Weather Bureau offices prompted the need for separate River District Offices. Finally, through the 1960's these offices combined into the 13 River Forecast Centers that exist today.

Next, the theory of river forecasting.