Today, the Congress Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin remembers their act of February 9, 1870 that began what is now known as the National Weather Service
From The Weather Bureau by Henry Eugene Williams, published in 1915 by the United States:
As an institution the Weather Bureau exhibits the growth and development of meteorology and its practical application through the medium of the electric telegraph in the performance of a systematic and continuous service to the public, consisting of daily weather and temperature forecasts, warnings of frost, cold waves, storms, floods, and other features of atmospheric conditions, all in the interest of agriculture, commerce, and navigation.
The observation of atmospheric phenomena began with the dawning intelligence of man. The invention of the barometer, thermometer, hygrometer, and other meteorological instruments enabled accurate observations to be made, from the study of which some of the laws that govern the changes in these phenomena have been deduced.
The importance of a foreknowledge of weather changes in the conduct of the daily affairs of life was early recognized.
The invention of the telegraph made the dissemination of this information possible, and practical meteorologists soon began to formulate plans for the preparation and effective distribution of weather forecasts and warnings.
These efforts led to the organization of weather bureaus, some of them antedating our own, in nearly every civilized country.
The cordial cooperation of these national bureaus in the general interchange of data and knowledge has tended to marked increase in the value of the respective services to the community at large.
The Weather Bureau of the United States has reached its present development mainly under three organic laws.
The first was a joint resolution approved February 9, 1870, which is as follows:
“Be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Secretary of War be, and he hereby is, 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.”
In compliance with the appropriation bill of 1871, reports relative to the stages of water in the rivers were added to the above.
The appropriation bill approved June 10, 1872, provided:
“For expenses of storm signals announcing the probable approach and force of storms throughout the United States, for the benefit of commerce and agriculture; and that the Secretary of War be, and hereby is, authorized and required to provide, in the system of observations and reports in charge of the chief signal officer for such stations, reports, and signals as may be found necessary for the benefit of agriculture and commercial interests.”
In the act transferring the meteorological work of the Signal Office to the Weather Bureau of the Department of Agriculture, approved October 1, 1890, the duties of the service are thus summarized:
“The Chief of the Weather Bureau, under the direction of the Secretary of Agriculture, shall have charge of forecasting the weather; the issue of storm warnings; the display of weather and flood signals for the benefit of agriculture, commerce, and navigation; the gauging and reporting of rivers; the maintenance and operation of seacoast telegraph lines and the collection and transmission of marine intelligence for the benefit of commerce and navigation; the reporting of temperature and rainfall conditions for the cotton interests; the display of frost, cold-wave, and other signals; the distribution of meteorological information in the interest of agriculture and commerce; and the taking of such meteorological observations as may be necessary to establish and record the climatic conditions of the United States, or are essential for the proper execution of the foregoing duties.”
The acts of Congress indicate that the meteorological service of the United States has passed through three distinct epochs, each of which has been natural in the practical development of this branch of science.
The laws are, in fact, but the crystallized expression of the outcome of years of experience on the part of those interested in meteorology.
Thus, the laws of 1871 and 1872 mark the end of a long agitation, the purpose of which was to persuade Congress that forecasts of the weather were practicable in the United States and that an organized systematic effort to give the public due warning of the approach of storms was worth a trial.
The organization of this service was entrusted to the Signal Service of the War Department.
At first the service was for the benefit of navigation on the seacoast and on the Great Lakes, but it was soon extended so as to include the interior districts and the great rivers of the central valleys.
The benefits of the weather service were readily appreciated by nearly every industry and every department of our complex civilization.
Reports on climatic conditions were demanded for the farmer, and observations and warnings for the public and for railroad and water carriers.
Hence, it soon became necessary to enlarge the scope of the service so as to include agriculture and commerce as well as navigation and to extend the sphere of the meteorologist to cover the study not only of the dynamics and motions of the atmosphere, but of climatology (the prevailing temperature and rainfall) , together with their effects upon human life.
This great enlargement of the original idea regarding the scope of the work gradually produced an environment which became less suited to the duties inherent in the purely military service that had so successfully fostered this very growth through 20 years, till at length it was concluded that a more strictly scientific bureau could better carry on the work.
Accordingly, the second epoch came to an end on July 1, 1891, when the Signal Service of the War Department was relieved of its meteorological duties and the Weather Bureau of the Department of Agriculture was organized and charged with the future of meteorology in the United States.
To the general public the Weather Bureau is probably best known through the medium of its daily forecasts and weather maps.
These forecasts are based upon simultaneous observations of local weather conditions taken daily at 8 a. m. and 8 p. m., seventy-fifth meridian time, at about 200 regular observing stations scattered throughout the United States and the West Indies, and upon similar reports received daily from various points in other parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
Each of the Weather Bureau stations is operated by one or more trained observers, and is equipped with mercurial barometers, thermometers, wind vanes, rain and snow gauges, and anemometers, and many of them with sunshine recorders, barographs, thermographs, and other devices which make a continuous automatic record of the local weather conditions and changes.
The results of the twice-daily observations are immediately telegraphed to the central office at Washington, D. C., and other forecast centers where they are charted for study and interpretation by experts trained to forecast the weather conditions that may be expected to prevail during the following 36 to 48 hours.
A complete telegraphic report includes the following data: Temperature, pressure (reduced to sea level), precipitation, direction of wind, state of weather, current wind velocity, and maximum or minimum temperature since last observation.
From these data the forecaster, by comparison with preceding reports, is able to trace the paths of storm areas from the time of their appearance to the moment of observation and approximately determine and forecast their subsequent courses and the attendant weather conditions.
Currently, the National Weather Service is a component of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is an Operating Unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The Congress Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows with an image of a weather observation station on top of Pike’s Peak, circa 1870s.