The Launch of TIROS I Weather Satellite
Early Dreams and Visions
For many years weather prognosticators dreamed of observing weather systems from afar so they could view and predict storms moving over the surface of the earth. As early as 1939 George Mindling, a visionary and poetic Weather Bureau official, predicted:
Television is coming, it is not far away; We'll be using that too in a not distant day.
Photographs will be made by the infra red light That will show us the clouds both by day and by night.
From an altitude high in the clear stratosphere Will come pictures of storms raging far if not near
Revealing in detail across many States The conditions of weather affecting our fates....
In the coming perpetual visiontone show We shall see the full action of storms as they go.
We shall watch them develop on far away seas, And we'll plot out their courses with much greater ease.
Firsts in Forecasting
For the first time, NWS forecasters were able to forecast a storm of this magnitude five days in advance and provide storm and blizzard warnings two days in advance. This was unprecedented. The five-day lead time allowed the entire NWS to begin preparations well in advance of the storm and warn the 100,000,000 people in the eastern third of the United States of this impending natural disaster. Prior to the “Storm of the Century,” the technology was not available to warn not only of a storm this far in advance, but also of its expected impacts.
[It would be very useful, instructive, and context-setting if NWS could provide two sentences regarding how it made forecasts prior to the widespread use of numerical weather forecasting. This will help the reader to understand why numerical weather forecasting is such a big deal and advancement.]
With a level of confidence they had never experienced, NWS forecasters began to using terms such as “of historic proportions” to describe the impending storm. In turn, This allowed, for the first time, officials such as the governors of New York and the New England states to declare states of emergency prior to the first snow flake falling on their states and take actions to mitigate potential disaster. To accomplish this was a triumph of science, technology, communications and media relations. According to Dr. Louis Uccellini, present head of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction, “It was a defining moment in our forecast process, a process that has evolved over the past forty years.”
Models as Bases of the Forecast
Long before the storm formed, NWS forecasters watched as all the necessary atmospheric conditions came together. They did so by peering days into the future using computer forecast models to guide them. Although these models existed since the 1950s, recent advances in the global analyses, numerical modeling, and computing power had increased their resolution and accuracy enough to allow them to play a much greater role in forecasting. Because of the improved models, NWS forecasters were able to make difficult decisions based on the model guidance. This was the first time forecasters were able to do so with such a major weather event.
NWS forecasters issued warnings and advised the public well in advance of the storm’s approach. As the storm continued to build, forecasters watched nervously as each model run confirmed their fears. In the end, the storm materialized just as they had predicted.
Pride and Confidence in NOAA Forecasts
Although there was great loss of life and a large economic impact, without the warnings the toll would have been significantly higher. By making this forecast five days in advance and having the confidence to make the forecast known to the public, the National Weather Service raised public confidence in its products and services. By doing so it distinguished itself as one of the great meteorological organizations of the world.
This storm brought about a fundamental change in the meteorological forecast process. The “Storm of the Century” will long be remembered by the public for a multitude of reasons, but within NOAA’s National Weather Service, it will long be remembered as major first-time accomplishment. This storm was a watershed event in both NOAA’s science and service to the nation.