Official weather observations in Des Moines began on August 1st, 1878, when the Weather Bureau was part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. The first weather office opened in the northwest room of a two story building known as the George D. McCaine Block, which was located on the northeast corner of Sixth and Walnut streets. The Iowa State Director of Weather and Chief Meteorologist at the time was Dr. Gustavus Hinrichs. On January 1st, 1887 the office moved to the four-story Clapp Block building on the southwest corner of Fifth and Walnut streets, and on April 1st, 1889 moved again to the fourth floor of the U.S. Courthouse and Post Office on the northeast corner of Fifth and Court streets. When a new U.S. Courthouse was completed on the southeast corner of East First and Walnut streets in 1929, the Weather Bureau moved into rooms 400-404 on October 1st of that year.
On October 16th, 1950 the office moved to the second floor of the Des Moines Airport Terminals near the corner of Army Post Road and Fleur Drive, where it would remain for more than 40 years. In 1970 the U.S. Department of Commerce was reorganized, and the Weather Bureau officially became the National Weather Service (NWS) on October 3rd, moving under the jurisdiction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). On September 1st, 1993 the office moved to its current location at 9607 Northwest Beaver Drive in Johnston, on the northwestern edge of the Des Moines metro area.
The last 20 years have seen a plethora of technological upgrades that have greatly benefited the NWS. In 1994, the NWS in Des Moines received a WSR-88D Doppler Radar, which enables forecasters to better interrogate thunderstorms and determine their severity. The AWIPS (Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System) computer system became operational in the late 1990s, allowing for the viewing of a wide range of weather data, ranging from satellite imagery to computer models, in a single interface. Along with AWIPS came GFE (the Graphical Forecast Editor), a computer program designed for the production of gridded (graphical) forecasts. The installation of new surface observation sites and river gauges across state, many of which are owned by state, private, or other federal agencies, helps forecasters identify smaller scale weather phenomena that might be missed otherwise. The last two decades have also witnessed major advances to computer model forecasts. All of these improvements have enabled the NWS to produce higher quality forecasts and alert those in the path of dangerous weather with greater lead time.
Photos from the Des Moines NWS Archives
Click image to view a larger version and caption