The National Weather Service, or NWS, is a part of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NWS provides “weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.”
The NWS makes and collects surface, marine and atmospheric observations and distributes them nationally and internationally. Professional meteorologists and private forecasting companies often interpret this information provided by the NWS in their weather analysis. In addition to issuing severe weather and marine watches and warnings, the NWS is responsible for computer weather model forecasts, which many forecasters rely on in making their local forecast.
The NWS formed in 1870 through a joint resolution in Congress. It was originally operated by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in the Department of War and made meteorological observations at military stations.
The organization was moved to the Department of Agriculture and renamed the U.S. Weather Bureau in 1891. In 1940 the Weather Bureau became part of the Department of Commerce.
Today the NWS is headed by Dr. Louis Uccellini, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, continuing a strong connection between the organization and the state of Wisconsin. The first public storm warning was issued for a Great Lakes storm on Nov. 8, 1870 by Professor Increase Lapham of Milwaukee. On Jan. 3, 1921, UW-Madison’s experimental radio station made the first media weather forecast. Professor Verner Suomi of UW-Madison is known as the Father of Satellite Meteorology; weather satellites are a critical component of the various NWS activities.