History of Hurricane Warnings

Believe it or not, there was a time when hurricanes hit with no warning whatsoever. Today, we get warnings at least three or four days ahead of time that a hurricane is heading our way, giving us time to prepare and evacuate if necessary.

August 21st was the 140th anniversary of the first hurricane warning in the Unites States. The U.S. Army Signal Corps warned the East Coast of a hurricane threat on August 21st, 1873 by displaying signal flags along the coast. In reality, the storm missed the U.S. but hit Newfoundland, Canada, killing at least 223 people.

The invention of the electric telegraph in 1835 made weather forecasting possible. Meteorologists then learned how to prepare maps showing air pressures and other weather elements, using reports from stations around the entire country. Although the system wasn’t foolproof, it was a step in the right direction. By the late 1840s, the telegraph allowed reports of weather conditions from a wide area to be received almost instantaneously.

In 1889, weather stations were established across the West Indies and Caribbean Sea. A year later the Weather Bureau was created, and then later expanded through the Caribbean Sea. By 1905, radio reports were being used to track hurricanes more effectively. Despite the delivery of hurricane watches and warning, forecasting the path of tropical cyclones didn’t occur until 1920.

A hurricane-warning program was then established in 1935, with a number of offices in different cities. This was also when the basic concept of a hurricane season began. Starting 1954, the public was issued topical cyclone forecasts one day in advance. This was extended to two days in 1961, and the National Hurricane Center then added a 36-hour point to their forecast in 1988. By 2001, tropical cyclone forecasts were extended from three to five days in advance.

The National Hurricane Center is located at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. While a tropical cyclone is active, the Hurricane Specialist Unit issues six hourly advisories, which become more frequent once a tropical cyclone watch or warning is issued.