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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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WEATHER BUREAU. In 1970 the United States Weather Bureau celebrated its 100th anniversary. Dubuque's weather bureau was then 119 years old. Dubuque's first weather observations were made by Dr. Asa HORR beginning on January 22, 1851. (1) He was pressured into this position by the Smithsonian Institute which wanted to establish a telegraphic network to "solve the problems of American storms." Horr measured temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and precipitation from an observation point at Fifth and Main. He walked outside and measured wind speed with his hand. In 1858 Horr moved his weather gathering operation to Ninth and Main, a location he used for the next thirteen years. He made his last weather observation in 1871. (1)

In 1873 the United States Army Signal Corps established an observation headquarters on the third floor of a building located on the southwest corner of Sixth and Main. The station was manned by Sergeant Robert Bell who began his work on July 10th. Bell was also in charge of daily setting the TOWN CLOCK. (2)

Weather forecasts, expressed as probabilities, were first issued while the observation point was located at Sixth and Main. It was from there that Dubuque's record low temperature of -32 degrees was recorded in January, 1887. In 1889 the observatory was moved to Fifth and Main. It remained there until the Panic of 1893 when it was closed by the Department of Agriculture as an economy measure. (3)

Until the observatory was re-established four years later, Theodore RUETE served as an observer at 568 Main. In 1902 the weather bureau was moved to the old post office building at Ninth and Locust. In 1934 with the completion of the new federal building, the weather bureau was moved again. It was there that Dubuque's hottest temperature of 110 degrees was recorded. (4)

The weather bureau was moved for the ninth time in 1951. Transferred to the municipal AIRPORT, the bureau was able to coordinate weather and aviation forecasts. (5)

In 1968 Dubuque was one of the few communities in the Tri-State area equipped with a Civil Defense warning siren and a plan for disaster warning. The Dubuque weather bureau was responsible for contacting adjoining counties in the tri-state with disaster warnings and alerts. The bureau notified the sheriff's office in the county which then issued a county-wide warning. There was a county-wide system of weather spotters. Rural residents living withing five miles of a community, in Dubuque County accepted responsiblity for notifying their town's Civil Defense official if they saw signs of bad weather. Information was then relayed through a civil defense network. (6)

In 1970 the Dubuque Weather Bureau had no radar installation of its own. It depended on reports from Des Moines, Iowa; Chicago, lllinois; Rochester, Minnesota; and Madison, Wisconsin. When severe weather threatened, the Dubuque bureau relayed information by telephone and weather wire to agencies on its call list to begin a "manned alert." The DUBUQUE POLICE DEPARTMENT maintained weather watches with patrol units assigned to the western edge of the community. (7)



1. Tauke, Tom. "U. S. Weather Bureau is 100 Years Old," Telegraph Herald, January 4, 1970, p. 15

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Hansen, Christine. "Disaster Warning Systems Lacking," Telegraph Herald, June 6, 1968, p. 16

7. Smith, Peter. "Why Was There No Warning," Telegraph Herald, September 13, 1970, p. 16