A HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN TOPEKA, KANSAS

There is a long and distinguished history of weather observations, reports and forecasts from the National Weather Service, formerly known as the US Weather Bureau, in Topeka, Kansas. This history extends back to the 1850s and spans numerous locations, duties, responsibilities and personnel.

The earliest known Topeka weather records were made by volunteer observers beginning in 1858 continuing intermittently through 1877. The observations were made with the aid and guidance of the Smithsonian Institution, and are still on file in the National Archives.

From January 1878 to May 1887, daily temperature and precipitation records were kept in cooperation with the U.S. Army Signal Service by Professor J. T. Lovewell of Washburn College.

On June 1, 1887, a First Order Station of the U. S. Army Signal Service, was established in Rice Hall on the Washburn College campus with Sergeant Thorpe Butolph Jennings in charge of the station and staff. Weather records begun this day in 1887 for Topeka continue to the present.

In 1890, Congress passed the Organic Act, establishing the U. S. Weather Bureau as a civilian agency under the Department of Agriculture, taking over duties of the Signal Service.

Eighty years later, in October 1970, the Weather Bureau was renamed National Weather Service, an agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the U.S. Department of Commerce

 

Through the years, the Weather Bureau, and later National Weather Service, occupied several locations in Topeka before settling at the current location in 1976 at 1116 NE Strait Avenue on the west edge of Billard Municipal Airport. The other past locations were:

1887 - 1892 Rice Hall at Washburn College

1892 - 1908 Columbian Building ( Knox Building), 112 W. 6 th St

1908 - 1918 Mulvane Building, 6 th and Kansas Ave

1918 - 1933 New England Building, 5 th and Kansas Ave

1933 - 1959 Federal Building (Post Office), 5 th and Kansas Ave

1944 - Present Phillip Billard Municipal Airport (3 locations)

The “Official “ observation site for Topeka was transferred to the airport location from downtown on August 14 th, 1946, with comparative and climatological records kept at the Post Office building until April 1959.

Upper air observations via the release of large weather balloons with attached weather reporting devices began at the Topeka Weather Bureau office in September, 1955, and continue to the present day. The upper air observation program also brought an increase in the weather office staffing.

There have been only seven Meteorologists-in-Charge since 1887 for weather offices in the Topeka area, with two of the officials serving over 30 years.

 

Some milestone events in the history of the Topeka National Weather Service office.

Spring 1935…Direct radio broadcasts began through Topeka station WIBW.

July 1951…worst flood in modern Topeka history with record Kansas River stage at 36.3 ft.

June 4, 1953…first weather radar, WSR-1, installed at the Topeka office.

June 4, 1955…Weather teletype communications circuit installed with 4 subscribers in Topeka.

September 27, 1955 …First radiosonde upper air balloon observation launched from Topeka.

June 2, 1956…moved to new building at airport combining public and aviation services.
April 19, 1957…radar updated to newer and more advanced WSR-3 model. Famous Hook Echo image detected from Meriden, KS Tornado in 1962.
March 1, 1963… Kansas statewide weather teletype circuit established in cooperation with the Kansas Association of Broadcasters combining the Topeka and Wichita local circuits.
June 8, 1966…one of the largest and most devastating tornadoes in U.S. history tore a long path through Topeka killing 16 people and injuring over 400. Damage at Billard airport including Weather Bureau office where people fled under tables for safety.

March 1972…Direct audio broadcast line established to Topeka and Lawrence broadcasters for immediate relay of severe weather information.

July 1, 1973…Office becomes state forecast center for Kansas with new responsibility of statewide zone and aviation forecasts….staff also increases.

October, 1975…near real-time satellite images received every 30 minutes.

April 30, 1976 …radar updated to newest WSR-74C model with 250 mile range.
August 25, 1978 ..First NOAA Weather Radio console installed with transmitter at Maple Hill.
August 1978…AFOS (Automation of Field Operations and Services) computer system installed. One of the first systems in the new NWS nationwide computer network.

December 19, 1984…Teletype communications system removed from office and replaced by all computer driven operations.

Spring 1985… Kansas begins testing new surface observing equipment, ASOS, that was installed nationwide in the 1990’s.

1990’s…NWS Modernization and Restructuring (MAR) takes place with significant changes in duties, personnel and responsibilities.

May 1993…radar updated to the most advanced Doppler system, WSR-88D. Radar commissioned in January 1995, and WSR-74C removed.

August 1994…Concordia NWS office closed and many duties and responsibilities transferred to the Topeka office including NOAA Weather radio.

September 1996…AWIPS (Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System) computer ystem installed…only the 7 th such system in the NWS network. First warnings issued through advanced warning generation software (WARNGEN) in May 1998, speeding warning generation and dissemination process.

September 2000…NOAA Weather Radio at Abilene on the air.

October 2000…AFOS computer system removed.

August 2001…NOAA Weather Radio at Blue Rapids on the air

July 23, 2002…NOAA Weather Radio at Halls Summit on the air.


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