The National Weather Service in Florida

The National Weather Service in Florida
Hurricanes are a fact of life in Florida. With the season extending through half of the year, these tropical cyclones are a continuing concern. The National Weather Service (NWS) was established in 1970 in part to address these concerns. The mission of NWS is to “Provide weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.”

A Brief History:
Government involvement in recording weather observations began in 1870 when Congress passed a resolution requiring the War Department “to provide for taking meteorological observations at the military stations in the interior of the continent, and at other points in the States and Territories...and for giving notice on the northern lakes and on the seacoast, by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms.” President Grant signed it into law. Then, in 1890, the U.S. Weather Bureau was created when this responsibility passed from the military to civilian control within the Department of Agriculture.

In 1965, when the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) was created in the Department of Commerce, the Weather Bureau became part of this new agency. In 1970, ESSA became the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), while the U.S. Weather Bureau was renamed the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service Today:
Today the National Weather Service maintains local forecast offices in Jacksonville, Key West, Melbourne, Miami, Pensacola, and Ruskin (for the Tampa Bay area). These local offices “are responsible for issuing advisories, warnings, statements, and short-term forecasts for their local county warning area.” This weather information is broadcast over NOAA Weather Radio from each forecast office. Local offices also present this information on social media (Facebook and Twitter).

NWS also oversees nine National Centers for Environmental Prediction. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami is one of these centers. It is responsible for tracking and predicting tropical weather systems in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific Oceans. NHC is located together with the Miami forecast office on the campus of Florida International University. In its operations area, NHC is staffed by hurricane prediction scientists that analyze data from satellites, data buoys, and reconnaissance aircraft. Updates are issued at least every 6 hours and go out to the public, the media, and to emergency management agencies.

Upon request from the National Hurricane Center, reconnaissance aircraft are sent out from NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center located at Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, site of the annual Sun ‘n Fun Fly-in. Nine weather-observation aircraft are hangared there. They fly through the storms, collecting atmospheric data that are sent back to the NHC for analysis. This is accomplished by sending devices called dropsondes down into the storm. The sonde contains a GPS receiver, along with pressure, temperature, and humidity sensors that take readings and transmit them to a computer on the aircraft.

Outside of hurricane season, the aircraft fly along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to monitor winter storms. Storm tracking is a year-round job.

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