A Bit of History

The first known recorded weather observations in the Grand Rapids area were chronicled by A. F. Ball beginning in May of 1849 and continued for 18 years. Alfred O. Currier recorded weather observations from March 1854 until December 1859. L. R. Strong maintained temperature records from 1854 to 1860. E. S. Holmes recorded temperature, wind, clouds, and rain from January 1860 to May 1861. F. M. Kendall recorded the weather from September 1882 to June 1884 with another set of observations at Barclay & Lyon Streets from February 1887 through February 1888.

From December 1891 to March 1896 weather observations were recorded at the Old Soldiers Home in North Park. Observers were D. R. Sweet, December 1891 to March 1893, Theo Karmsey to July 1893, Talbert Gridley to August 1895, and John Kremer to March 1896. Observations included temperature, wind, and rain. In December 1895 the Fire Department began weather observations with A. K. Lamb serving until December 1896, M. G. Canfield to June 1902, and H. C. Bettinghouse to June 1905.

On July 1, 1903, the U.S. Weather Bureau began weather observations in the Michigan Trust Building at the corner of Ottawa and Pearl streets. This was the beginning of formal and continuous weather observations by the Federal Government in the Grand Rapids area. This site was occupied through December 31, 1910. At that time the observing site was moved to the Post Office Building at the corner of Lyon Street and Division Avenue. The weather office was moved to the National Bank Building (on the corner of Ionia Avenue and Pearl Street) March 29, 1930. Observations continued at this site until January 26, 1956.

In the meantime an observing site had been established at the Kent County Airport (near Madison and 36th Street). This location opened its doors September 1, 1934 and continued through November 24, 1963. At this time the Weather Bureau moved to the newly established airport (formerly known as the Cascade Airport) located at 44th Street and Kraft Avenue. In 1970 the U.S. Weather Bureau became the National Weather Service. The airport office was responsible for observations and for severe weather warnings for its County Warning Area (CWA) consisting of 8 counties from 1963 until 1995. On August 1, 1995 the Grand Rapids office of the National Weather Service moved to its current location at 4899 South Complex Drive, in a new building built specifically for an expanded office. This was the beginning of many changes in the National Weather Service in Southwest Lower Michigan.

Also on August 1, 1995 a new Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) at the Kent County International Airport began taking the official observations for Grand Rapids. The staff continued to monitor the automated system and augment the observation until May of 1999 when the augmentation was taken over by a contract observer based at the terminal.

Many other changes occurred with the move to the new building. The NEXRAD WSR-88D radar was installed and used operationally beginning in August of 1995. The staff increased from 7 in the summer of 1994 to 19 by the summer of 1995. The duties also expanded as in February 1996 aviation forecast duties were added for 5 airports in Southwest Lower Michigan. The County Warning Area (CWA) was also expanded with 8 counties taken over from the Lansing office. The Lansing office was then closed in October 1995.

Also in February 1996 the office absorbed another 7 counties from the Muskegon office, 2 counties from Houghton Lake and 3 counties from South Bend, Indiana into its CWA. The Muskegon office was closed in May 1996 and a Warning Coordination Office was established. This existed until August 1997 when it also was closed. The Houghton Lake office and South Bend offices were closed some time later.

At the end of 1996 the office was responsible for a total of 28 counties in southwest Lower Michigan. In the Spring of 1998 a new office in Northern Indiana assumed 5 of those counties on the Indiana/Michigan border leaving the Grand Rapids office with warning responsibility for 23 counties. These 23 counties include over 141,000 square miles and over 2.5 million people.

The office also began issuing hydrologic river forecasts in February 1996. Initially the forecasts were for 28 counties in southwest Lower Michigan. In July 1998 the forecasts for the southern 5 counties were taken over by the Northern Indiana office leaving the office with the responsibility of hydrologic forecasts for 23 counties which include the Grand, Muskegon, and Kalamazoo River basins.

On April 6, 1999 the Grand Rapids office of the National Weather Service took over all public forecast and warning responsibility for the 23 counties. The last of the modernization process occurred during the year 2000 when the Advanced Weather Interactive Process System (AWIPS) was commissioned and the old communications system (Automation of Field Operations and Services, AFOS) was decommissioned.

This does not end the story of the Grand Rapids National Weather Service Forecast Office. We continue to upgrade our AWIPS system by enhancing warning dissemination capabilities and adding more tools to provide a more accurate product and service. Doppler Radar upgrades continue as well adding more available products and better resolution for severe storms. A new NOAA Weather Radio transmitter in Mt. Pleasant was brought online in May 2001, and another at Wolf Lake on May 19th 2005, expanding the coverage for our 23 county warning area to nearly 100%. Close to a dozen local automated (MESONETS) have been installed in airports across the area. New, state of the art weather graphics of our forecast have now begun to appear on our website providing quick reference access to your forecast. Other changes are just over the horizon so keep checking our web site and listening to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest upgrades.

The Grand Rapids Office of the National Weather Service has had 10 Meteorologists in Charge since its establishment by the U.S. Weather Bureau on July 1, 1903.

Meteorologist in Charge Years of Service
C. F. Schneider 1903 - 1921
A. E. Brown 1921 - 1923
W. H. Tracy 1923 - 1932
Paul E. Johnson 1932 - 1957
Fred A. Baughman 1958 - 1965
James Zoller 1966 - 1968
Marshall E. Soderberg 1968 - 1975
Jack R. Cooley 1976 - 1994
Daniel G. Houser 1994 - 2006
Daniel Cobb 2006 - Present

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