National Weather Service
San Juan, Puerto Rico
The history of the National Weather Service in the Caribbean dates back to the 18th century when it became evident that hurricanes, which affected the Continental United States, had their origin in the Caribbean and the Tropical Atlantic.
Back in the 1870's, the U.S Government gave support for the collection and processing of meteorological data across the Caribbean Islands. The collection of this data across the Caribbean led to the first study of the San Felipe Hurricane of September 13, 1876. The U.S. Weather Bureau then published and disseminated this study throughout the United States, which led to an understanding of the hurricane vortex and its behavior. In May, 1899, the U.S. Weather Bureau established its Weather Office in Puerto Rico immediately upon taking command the island. That same year, a network of rain gauges was placed around the island and the collection and dissemination of daily weather observations began.
Initially in 1899, the Weather Bureau Office was established in Old San Juan, in a building next to the Fortaleza. The meteorological observations were administered by the local Department of Public Works. In 1913, the Weather Office was moved to Puerta de Tierra in Old San Juan. Unfortunately, this building was destroyed by the San Felipe II Hurricane of September 13, 1928. It was rebuilt with concrete blocks and used by the U.S. Weather Bureau, then under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, until 1946, when the Office was relocated to the Isla Grande Airport. The original building, which is now a historical site, is still in place in Puerta de Tierra and forms part of the Old San Juan historical structures protected by law. It is being used as a museum by Puerto Rico’s National Guard. The building has the emblem of the Department of Commerce with the Weather Bureau name placed on it.
As the importance of commercial aviation grew and the demand for aviation weather services increased, the San Juan Weather Office was moved again in 1954, but this time to the new San Juan International Airport at Isla Verde (Carolina), where it remained in the main building until 1994.
In 1970, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was created under the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Weather Bureau was administratively placed under it and renamed as the National Weather Service. The Weather Office in San Juan also was renamed as the San Juan National Weather Service Forecast Office.
In the 1990’s, Congress enacted the Modernization and Restructuring of the National Weather Service Act. The Act provided funding for facilities, new technology, and training. As a result, a new “Hurricane proof” building was constructed within the San Juan International Airport (now Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport) premises, which houses the new San Juan Weather Forecast Office of the National Weather Service. The relocation to the new building was completed in April, 1994.
The role of the U.S. Weather Bureau in Puerto Rico in the first half of this past century was mainly focused on hurricanes and the collection and dissemination of climatological data. The San Juan Weather Office also served as the Hurricane Forecast Center for the Caribbean from Hispaniola eastward up until the 1970's, when the National Hurricane Center was established in Miami, FL.
In the late 1930's, with the advent of commercial radio, routine daily weather transmissions from the U.S. Weather Bureau were initiated via WKAQ, the first radio station established in Puerto Rico. It is worth noting that during Hurricane San Felipe II of September 13, 1928, the Weather Office used the radio to transmit a Hurricane Warning for the first time. In the late 1960’s through the 1980’s, the Weather Office used to provide daily lived broadcast over the government owned WIPR Radio Station.
In the 1970’s, the National Weather Service established its own Weather Broadcast Network called the NOAA Weather Radio.
The new NWS Office at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport
The Weather Forecast Office at San Juan, PR has transitioned into a modernized facility. Some of the largest modernization projects that the office has completed through the years have included the following:
· In 1991, Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) stations were deployed across the area of responsibility to take 24-hour observations remotely and automatically,
· In 1995, Weather Surveillance Radar 88-Doppler (WSR-88D) technology was installed on the island to replace the aging infrastructure and technology from the 1940s,
· New computers and data processing systems collectively named the Advanced Weather Information Processing System (AWIPS) was put in operations,
· New polar and geostationary satellites have been launched and are providing more data than ever before,
· Advanced weather forecast models have been routinely redeveloped and are now being used in our daily operations, and
· In 2004, the WFO entered the digital era providing forecast services in gridded and graphical formats.
Additionally, it is the only WFO in the National Weather Service that continuously provides bilingual English and Spanish services.
The National Weather Service (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. Due to the complexities of the weather experienced across the U.S., the NWS operates the most advanced weather service in the world.
Special thanks to Dr. José Colón, former Meteorologist in Charge of the office from 1963 to 1986, for his assistance with this historical information.