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January-February 2009

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Retrospect: February 19, 1871 - First Official U.S. Weather Forecast

It is almost impossible in today’s world of global communications and 24-hour cable networks to imagine a time when the latest weather forecast wasn’t readily available on demand. Before the Internet, television, or even radio, many Americans received weather forecasts from their local newspapers, and the official source for this information was the U.S. Weather Bureau (and, prior to 1891, its predecessor, the U.S. Army Signal Service).

It took a series of events—including the invention and development of the telegraph, the systematic organization of weather observation networks by the U.S. Army and the Smithsonian Institution (among others), and several major shipping losses on the Great Lakes—to lead to the eventual formation of the country’s first official weather service in February 1870.

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