Key West was discovered in the 1820’s as a base for Bahamian shipwreck salvages and US Navy ships that chased pirates in the region. The Navy’s presence in Key West was increased in the 1930’s, as the threat of world war became reality. Year round ideal weather for training and the island’s strategic location led to the establishment of a Navy submarine base at what is now Truman Annex. The United States Weather Bureau building was founded in 1912. After 1951, the Weatherstation Inn building served as residential housing for the U.S. Navy and was subsequently abandoned after the closure of the base Annex in 1974. The two-story structure, renaissance in style, characterizes both the U.S. military architecture of the period and the unique site of a tropical American Military base. The Weatherstation proudly opened its doors to guests in the spring of 1997 maintaining its heritage.
Key West Historic Marker
Accurate weather forecasts are vital to the growth and success of a community. This building was an integral link in the legacy of the United States Weather Bureau.
Without the use of advanced forecasting tools we enjoy today, our ancestors were dependent on a basic history of weather in their area and a couple of rudimentary tools.
Research of Key West personal journals shows that many of the daily entries noted the wind and barometric pressure. The preoccupation with any out of the normal climate changes represents some of the challenges of living on a sub-tropical island.
In 1832, citizens started recording daily rain amounts at the Key West Lighthouse. While that information added to the overall climate knowledge, it was probably more of a response to the need to collect water from rooftops. Key West’s sole source of fresh water was collected and stored in cisterns throughout the historic district in the 1800s.
Before the formation of the Weather Bureau, a loose network of forecasting locations was primarily run by local citizens throughout the country. The speed of warnings and information was limited by the speed of a pony express or a sailing ship.
That all changed with the invention and widespread use of telegraphs during the 1860-70s. Forecast range and accuracy greatly improved with the connection of land line telegraph services and the first underwater telegraph cable laid between Key West and Cuba in 1867.
By 1870, a Joint Congressional Resolution requiring the Secretary of War “to provide for taking meteorological observations at the military stations to make warnings by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms” was introduced. Congress passed the resolution and on February 9, 1870 and President Ulysses S. Grant signed it into law. With that law, a new national weather service had been born within the U.S. Army Signal Service’s Division of Telegrams and Reports that would affect the daily lives of most of the citizens of the United States through its forecasts and warnings for years to come.