The National Weather Service has its roots in Buffalo

Local News

(WIVB) – One hundred fifty years ago today, November 1st, 1870, the Buffalo National Weather Service began operations with the same mission and under a different name.

From gathering weather data to developing many of our modern forecast tools, the Weather Service has been a trailblazer in the field.

As we celebrate its 150th anniversary, you might be surprised to know that the National Weather Service has its roots right here in Buffalo.

The first operational weather network was organized by Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1849. he recognized the natural pairing between the new telegraph and weather – the telegraph could quickly convey weather observations across the country. The term used at the time was “weather telegraphy”. Humans tabulating the reported data in Washington D.C. were referred to as “computers”.

After the Civil War, there was a push for a renewed effort. Recognizing that military discipline was required, implementation of the newly passed resolution fell to the U.S. Army Signal Service, then commanded by Brigadier General Albert J. Meyer.

Under his direction, the Buffalo Weather Station, located in downtown Buffalo, logged its first weather observation on a sunny November 1, 1870.

Buffalo was among the first 10 stations that made up this fledgling network.

The first log entry read: “opened station this Tuesday morning November 1, 1870. Reports a little mixed up. General Meyer in town” and thus began 150 years of community service to the country and to Buffalo.”

General Meyer rests in Buffalo to this day.

Below you can see part 2 of this two part series.

Part 2: In View Of The Harbor

The initial location of Buffalo’s first official weather station of a new national network (now referred to as the ‘National Weather Service’ ) was located downtown at the corner of Main and Seneca Streets, however as the city was in a period of rapid growth, the office moved 6 times leading up to 1943, each time to gain a better vantage point of Lake Erie

The Guaranty Building (formerly the Prudential Building), recognized by its characteristic port windows on the top floor, served as home to Buffalo’s weather office between the years 1896 and 1913. The office was located on the top floor, with some weather monitoring equipment positioned on the roof

 From Buffalo’s early skyscraper, the Signal Service broadcasted weather reports to ships in the harbor through a series of rooftop flags, and lanterns by night.

The location of this weather office was based on its proximity to the post office, town newspapers, and the telegraph. At that time, these were how information was received and shared. Since that time technology has continued to evolve.

By the 70’s the forecasts were being sent via teletype and it wasn’t until the early 80’s when the forecast office got its first computer system. Since then that technology has progressed in leaps and bounds.

While the mission of the Weather Service has remained unchanged, their customers have evolved over the years. What originated as the Weather Bureau started as part of the Army before being moved under agriculture, followed by commerce. These were logical moves considering how the end users went from ship captains to farmers to pilots and travelers as the nation’s highway system evolved.

The Buffalo Weather Forecast Office has a long tradition surrounding research and development of new tools and techniques. When I reached out to Tom Niziol, retired Meteorologist in Charge he described some of the work that came out of the Buffalo office during the 80’s and 90’s. “The office was a great place to work and I was fortunate to be allowed to conduct a lot of operational forecast research there. In the 80s I advanced methods to predict lake-effect snow, before computer models and computers developed the resolution and power to include the Great Lakes in their data. Our office led the effort to develop some of the first mesoscale models to predict lake-effect snow events to be used in an operational forecast office, in collaboration with SUNY Oswego and Brockport.  In addition, we developed BUFKIT, which I began, then handed off to our first Science Officer, Ed Mahoney, who advanced that software to be used in most forecast offices throughout the U.S. and Canada. I also worked in collaboration with our Canadian counterparts at Environment Canada in Toronto, Ontario to share our research on lake-effect snow.  That collaboration led to the Great Lake Operational Meteorology Workshop, which was a unique international program that is now in its 27th year I believe. The 80s and 90s were a great time to work at NWS Buffalo !!

While every meteorologist knows what Tom is referring to here, the tool named BUFKIT they developed here in Buffalo is a forecast and analysis software that allows us to see a vertical profile of the atmosphere. It is used by thousands of forecasters including here at 4WarnWeather to this day!

Special thanks to Stephen Vermette from Buffalo State College, Tom Niziol, Judy Levan, and Mike Fries for their contributions to this tribute to 150 years of meteorological excellence. For more information on this 150th anniversary of the NWS check out this link https://vlab.ncep.noaa.gov/web/nws-heritage

If you are interested in learning more about Buffalo’s weather history, Steven Vermette’s book is available by special request from the Buffalo State College Bookstore.

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