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Blog Category: 1940 Census

The National Weather Service in the 1940s

Women hovering over weather maps

Ed. Note: This post is part of a series following the release of the 1940 Census highlighting various Commerce agencies and their hard work on behalf of the American people during the 1940s through today

The 1940s was a pivotal decade for the National Weather Service and the entire field of meteorology. Advancements in technology during the ‘40s, spurred by World War II, provided the scientific foundation for modern day weather forecasting throughout the world.

The agency, founded by Ulysses S. Grant in 1870 and called the Weather Bureau, was originally housed in the War Department. It was later moved to the Department of Agriculture in 1890, and then in 1940 President Roosevelt transferred it to the Department of Commerce. In 1970 the agency was renamed the National Weather Service when it became part of the newly-created National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the Department of Commerce.

In the 1940s, most of the modern technology forecasters rely on today had not yet been invented, such as satellites and super computers. Weather observations were painstakingly logged by hand.

By 1940, the Weather Bureau operated 35 radiosonde stations (weather balloons), allowing for the routine measurement of atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity, wind direction and speed. In 1942, the Weather Bureau received 25 surplus radars from the military, launching the network of weather surveillance radars.