METEOROLOGY SCHOOLS IN THE US ARMY SIGNAL CORPS

Compiled by Paul A. Roales
Revised March 22, 2006, June 10, 2006, November 22, 2006 and March 29, 2007.



The association between the US Army Signal Corps and Meteorology was long and illustrious. In 1870, the Signal Corps established a congressionally mandated national weather service on November 1. And on November 8, the first "cautionary storm signal" was issued for Great Lakes shipping by Increase A. Lapham. By 1873, the Signal Corps issued seventy weather bulletins a day and almost as many weather maps. The Signal Corps staffed offices coast to coast with trained observers whose job was to keep headquarters in Washington supplied with the meteorological data on which the Army's weathermen based their forecasts. In the late 1870's, another pioneer, Army Signal Corps Lt. John Finley, began a systematic study of tornadoes that included a survey of the number of tornadoes in the Great Plains, and later resulted in experimental tornado predictions and subsequent verifications.

A permanent Signal Corps enlisted personnel corps was provided for by the Act of 3 March 1875, authorizing 150 sergeants, 30 corporals, and 270 privates. The training of officers and men for meteorological work was made a function of the Signal Corps School at Fort Whipple, VA. Courses were established for observer-sergeants and for assistants in one of the grades of private. All recruits were required to pass a preliminary educational examination and were promoted and assigned only after instruction and examination at Fort Whipple. Brigadier General Albert James Myer died 24 August 1880. To honor him, Fort Whipple was renamed Fort Myer in Feb. 1881.

"The course for acting signal officers at Fort Whipple at this time included the following: Theoretical: Myer, Manual of Signals; International Code of Flag Signals; Official Danger and Distress Signals; Pope's Practical Telegraphy; Culley's Handbook of Telegraphy; Loomis' Meteorology; Cipher Manual; Instructions to Observer-Sergeants (who were also trained in Morse telegraphy). Practical: Wand practice (speed of 10 words per minute required); practice in field with flag and torch; practice in all codes of flag signals; ciphers; heliograph; telegraph practice (speed of 10 words per minute, General Service Code, required)."

"In an interview with the correspondent of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper General Myer said: "The officers and men are instructed for the different branches of the service at a signal-school of instruction at Fort Whipple, right on the other side of the Potomac, about three miles from here. The term of enlistment is for five years, and the service is open to any American citizen of good character, who can face the rigid tests of the preliminary examination. The average number now in training at Fort Whipple is about fifty and we have about twelve hundred applications for admission to the corps. There are one hundred on duty at the Central office, and though the men object to it, they are drilled semi-monthly. Our strong point is in having strong thinkers and good men. The course of instruction includes the use of meteorological instruments, the modes of taking observations, and the forms and duties required at observation stations, and for the display of storm signals. The men are also taught telegraphy. Obviously, a knowledge of mere meteorology would be insufficient for an observer stationed on the Western plains, surrounded by hostile Indians, where he is exposed to constant peril of attack. And it is essential that he should know how to use firearms, and also how to summon help by the use of the telegraph if the danger is urgent. All men enlisted, before leaving Fort Whipple, are also drilled in the maneuvering of field telegraph trains, the rapid erection of telegraphic lines, and the management of all the apparatus habitually used by the corps in the field."" (Daily Critic, Washington, D. C., 7 Feb. 1880).

In 1885, Congress directed that the school at Ft. Myer be closed, so Meteorology classes ceased in 1886.

"World War I exposed the Army's need for a trained weather service again. Technology had created new weapons of war including aviation, modern artillery, and chemical warfare. Accurate weather reporting and forecasting was essential to properly using and defending against these new weapons. The Army responded by activating the Signal Corps Meteorological Service in August 1917.

In building a meteorological program almost from scratch, the Army selected an initial cadre of 150 men. These were primarily Weather Bureau personnel commissioned or enlisted into the military. The others in this first group had scientific, engineering or mathematics experience, but no one had Army background. With no Army school available, these first trainees gained mission specific experience through field training in small groups for eight to ten weeks, initially at various Weather Bureau stations and later at Army posts.

In April 1918, the Signal Corps established a weather school at Camp McArthur, near Waco, Texas. A month later, the school was moved to Texas A&M at College Station, Texas. While the students at this school were all enlisted men, most had degrees or practical experience in scientific or technical fields. Before the school closed near the end of 1918, more than 500 weathermen were trained with 300 going overseas, 200 more were assigned to various stateside forts and posts, and 25 were transferred to the Navy. The three-month course was taught by Weather Bureau staff with lectures and practical fieldwork.

When Army weathermen first arrived in WWI France after their initial training, they received additional training at a school near Langres, France. There, in a three-week course, they were trained with the French and British meteorological and signaling equipment they would use in the field and familiarized with local weather conditions. This school ran from March 24 through Aug. 4, 1918. Once the American Expeditionary Force weather stations were operational, replacement weather observers and forecasters received their initial deployment training after arriving at their assigned AEF weather stations."

In August 1919 all Signal Corps Schools were moved to Camp Alfred Vail, NJ and instructions in Meteorology were to resume that year, but the necessity to repair equipment damaged in shipment from France after World War 1 delayed the start of the Meteorology classes until Jan. 5, 1920. The School was established with the meteorological instruction in charge of Mr. Homer W. Ball. Mr. Ball continued in charge of this work until January 1,1921, when it was taken over by Capt. A. H. Thiessen, formerly of the Weather Bureau. Here is how Mr. Ball described the class in an article in Monthly Weather Review titled: "Meteorological Course Given In The Signal School At Camp Alfred Vail, N. J., During 1920" (Feb., 1921 p. 87): "The first class in meteorology at Camp Vail began its work January 5,1920, with about one dozen enlisted men enrolled for the course. During the first part of the year the length of the course in meteorology was six months and later was reduced to five months. Holidays and vacation periods usually subtracted two or three weeks from the allotted time. It was found that the work as outlined could be finished in five months if all the time each day during the school hours be taken up by recitations. Under those conditions the men were compelled to prepare their lesson when off duty. Beginning at 8 a. m. the surface observations were taken, reduced, and entered in the appropriate forms. This work occupied the first half of the first hour and the remainder of the period was given to the study of a meteorological textbook. The plan of the book was followed closely, with such modifications as were necessary to adapt it to the needs of the class, in order that the subject might be completed in the time allowed for the term. Brief statements as to the recent progress in meteorology were made occasionally by the instructor, and current literature on meteorology was made available to the students who wished to take advantage of the opportunity to do reading outside of the classroom. The weather map was of especial interest, and the relations of the weather conditions shown on the map to the daily forecast were watched very closely. The other periods were devoted in turn to elementary physics, elementary algebra, plane trigonometry, and pilot balloon work. Written examinations covering the week's work were required of the students Saturday forenoons. The methods of taking surface observations, reducing the data, making pilot balloon runs, and the necessary computations were similar to those employed by the Weather Bureau at present. A great amount of time was devoted to observational duties, teaching the students the principles of the work as they would be required to do it on the stations. All the men, however, were required to do the same amount of practical and meteorological text work. In class the usual schoolroom methods were used. Each student had a textbook and was required to recite from a definite portion of the text, or from papers previously prepared by the instructor. Diplomas were given to the men who had taken the entire course and obtained a grade of 75 per cent or above. To those who failed to earn a passing mark in some of the subjects, certificates were given showing the actual amount of work done and the grade received in each subject. During the year 43 students took the course in meteorology; 17 of them were given diplomas and the remainder certificates. The need for trained men in the field was so great that some of the advanced students who so desired were sent to the stations to fill vacancies before they had completed their courses."

In 1923 the Meteorologist's Course was listed as 9 months long in Phillips (see references below) but I have not been able to find any information on the course. This may be an error since descriptions from 1920 and 1926 list a course about 5 months long.

On August 6, 1925 Camp Alfred Vail was renamed Fort Monmouth. Note: Ft. Monmouth had separate courses in Meteorology for Officers and Enlisted Men until the Officers school was closed sometime between 1950 and 1956, but in this summary I will only report information on the Enlisted Men's course.

The 1926 course description was as follows:
"METEOROLOGIST' S COURSE FOR SIGNAL CORPS STUDENTS
a. Scope and purpose: Knowledge of elementary mathematics and physics sufficient to enable the student to understand the general principles of meteorology. Ability to operate field meteorological observing stations, including care and use of instruments, taking and recording readings, making simple computations, and preparing reports and records.
b. Duration: 19 weeks, commencing September 15 and February 1.
c. Entrance requirements (see par. 3). Student should be well grounded in grammar school mathematics.
d. Summary of course.
(1) Theoretical meteorology, 100 hours, 20 credits. Meteorology: Definition, history, progress. Atmosphere: Composition, extent, arrangement. Pressure: General principles, vertical and horizontal differences, daily and seasonal distribution, measurement. Temperature: Sources of heat, vertical and horizontal differences, daily and seasonal distribution, measurement. Circulation of the atmosphere: Effect of the earth's rotation, major and minor circulations, local winds, surface and upper winds, measurement. Storms: Origin, growth, dissipation, thunderstorms, tornadoes, waterspouts, hurricanes. Moisture: Evaporation, condensation, rain, snow, sleet, hail, dew, frost, fog, clouds, humidity, dew point, vapor pressure distribution and measurement. Clouds: Formation and dissipation, classification and measurement, importance in determining upper air conditions and in forecasting. Sunshine: Distribution- and measurement. Military meteorology: For Artillery, Aviation, Chemical Warfare, and other branches. Phenomena: Halos, coronas, etc. Climatology of the United States. Forecasts: Local conditions, weather maps, methods, and value of long forecasts. Weather Bureau and Meteorological section, Signal Corps. Text: Training Manual No. 31, Meteorological Observer.
(2) Physics, 76 hours, 10 credits. Elementary principles, general properties of gases, magnetism, heat, sound, and light. Text: Practical Physics (Milliken & Gale).
(3) Mathematics, 100 hours, 20 credits Arithmetic; algebra to include quadratics; plane trigonometry to include solution of right triangle; logarithms; slide rule. Texts: Arithmetic (Wentworth & Smith). New School Algebra (Wentworth). Plane Trigonometry (Wentworth & Smith)
(4) Practical meteorology, 309 hours, 50 credits. Instrumental observations: Reading, computing, and recording. Balloon observations: Filling and releasing balloons, theodolite observations, plotting runs. Computations: Means, extremes, normals, deviations. Instruments: Exposure, installation, maintenance. Electrical equipment: Wiring and care, care and maintenance of storage batteries. Preparation of forms: Reports, requisitions, lettering, spelling of technical terms, filing. Encoding meteorological data for distribution in the field."

"All Army meteorology courses were discontinued in 1937. The Weather Service transferred from the Signal Corps to the Air Corps July 1, 1937, and enlisted forecaster training moved from Ft. Monmouth to Patterson Field, Ohio. There, two 5-month forecaster courses were taught each year. The Signal Corps, however, remained responsible for the development, procurement and improvement of meteorological equipment."

After the start of the Korean War it was apparent that the Army in the field needed more meteorological information. The Army wanted the Air Force to provide weathermen down to Division Level, but the Air Force refused. In addition the Signal Corps was assigned primary responsibility for research and development in meteorology for the entire Army in 1951. That mission was to support research in the Army's missile development program, the prediction of chemical, biological or radioactive fallout and rainout, and research on atmospheric effects on microwave radar and other sensory devices. So the Army decided to train their own weathermen. A new Signal Corps meteorology school was established at Ft. Monmouth. The first 6 week class began on September 15, 1952. The NCOIC was Master Sergeant Howard F. Willey, who was transfered in from Arizona. One of the first instructors was Doctor Donald M Swingle, a graduate of MIT assigned to Signal Corps Engineering Laboratory. The November 1953 and May 1955 "Fort Monmouth Soldiers Handbook" continue to list the course.
"ARMY WEATHER OBSERVER 11-OE-36 (6 weeks)
To train selected enlisted personnel in the observation, interpretation, and prediction of meteorological phenomena at locations away from fixed weather station installations. MOS for which trained : None.
Scope: Basic elements of meteorology including its military applications; visual observations pertaining to weather phenomena; meteorological instrumentation; psychometeic tables; weather observations and charts; map and aerial photograph reading; field army communications systems; physical geography.
Prerequisites: Credit for courses in trigonometry or plane geometry at high school level. Normal color perception. Standard score of 100 or higher on aptitude area I."

By the 1956 fiscal year the course had changed, the new description was:
"METEOROLOGICAL OBSERVATION COURSE 11-E-36 (13 weeks)
To train enlisted personnel in the observation, interpretation and compilation of meteorological phenomena at locations away from fixed weather installations. MOS for which trained: Meteorological Observer (11-E-36).
Scope: Introduction to communication; supply procedures and catalogs; mission of the meteorological observer; weather communication facilities; meteorological geography; theory of meteorology; weather instruments; surface observation; plotting synoptic codes; communications; upper wind observation; electronic weather equipment; computation of radiosonde and rawinsonde data; proficiency examination; field training.
Prerequisites: High school graduate or equivalent as measured by GED tests. Credit for one year of physics, or have a standard score of 45 or higher on GED test 3 and 5, high school level. Normal color perception. Standard score of 100 or higher on aptitude area GT. 12 months or more of service time remaining upon completion of the course."

The image below shows the Signal Center School and Barracks at Ft. Monmouth circa the late 50's.

A 1958 table in Phillips' text divided the course into 4 weeks on Meteorological Theory, 4 weeks on Upper Winds Observations and Instruments and 5 weeks on Radiosondes Observations. By then the MOS of this course was 905.1.

Apparently there was a shortage of Meteorological Observers around 1958 because Lacy Hancock tells me he was trained at Ft. Huachuca, not Ft. Monmouth. Here is what he had to say about his training: "I finally contacted my school buddy, as near as we can determine, the 905 school at Fort Huachuca was in July and August of 1958 with about 40 to 50 students. The school was supposedly the same format as Monmouth but was only 84 total hours. Most grads were sent out, about 10, including myself, were held over for an additional 2 months of rawinsonde training. The diploma did have the 905.1 mos. While training we were split into 3 or 4 groups. Also, this was the one and only class taught at Huachuca."
84 hours is just over 2 weeks, adding the 2 months additional rawinsonde training Lacy received later brings that total to about 11 weeks. The 905.1 classes at Ft. Monmouth at that time were 13 weeks long, so I don't think the Ft. Huachuca classes were as complete. The Ft. Monmouth schedule in 1958 was 4 weeks on Meteorological Theory, 4 weeks on Observations and Instruments and 5 weeks on Radiosonde Observations. I would guess that 2 weeks of Meteorological Theory may have been cut from the Ft. Huachuca schedule. But what about the 35 or so trainees that were sent to other bases with only 84 hours of meteorological training, did they receive the additional 2 months of rawinsonde training at their new bases?

Sometime between March 1961 (my last reference) and August, 1963 (when I started the class) the length of the school was changed to 19 weeks. In 1965 the MOS was changed to 93E2. The description then read:
"METEOROLOGICAL OBSERVATION (19 weeks) 420-93E2
To provide enlisted personnel with a working knowledge in the observation, interpretation and compilation of meteorological phenomena at locations away from weather installations. MOS for which trained: Meteorological Observer (93E2).
Scope: Meteorological theory; use of meteorological instruments; surface observations; surface and upper-air plotting charts; micrometeorological instrumentation; electronic and visual upper-air soundings; surface micrometeorological and upper-air observations.
Prerequisites: Credit for 1 year of physics, or have a standard score of 45 or higher on GED tests 3 and 5, high school level. Binocular vision correctable to 20/20. 16 months or more of active duty service remaining after completion of course. Standard score of 100 or higher in aptitude area GT."

At this time the School was divided into 6 weeks on Surface Observations, 3 weeks on Micro-meteorology, and 10 weeks on High Altitude Observations.

The school was offically moved to the Meteorology Division, Target Acquisition Department (TAD), US Army Field Artillery School (USAFAS) at Ft. Sill, OK on July 14, 1969, but did not reopen until 1970. Thus ended the 100 year association between Meteorology and the Signal Corps.

The school was again moved on June 1, 1976. This time to Chanute AFB in Illinois. In 1977 most military weather training was consolidated and co-located to Chanute AFB in Rantoul, IL as a cost cutting measure. Consolidated forecasting courses began on 1 Feb. 1978. Under the new consolidation, students from all services entered jointly staffed basic meteorology-forecasting courses but then separated for their service-unique instruction after a few months. In early 1984 MOS 93E was discontinued when that function was taken over by civilians and Air Force personel. But other Meteorology related Schools remained open. The last meteorology class to graduate from Chanute did so in December, 1992. In April 1993, Keesler AFB in Biloxi, MS. began training most of the DOD's Weather personnel when it gained courses from the closing of Chanute AFB. Army MOS 93F (Field Artillery Meteorological Crew Member) continues to be taught at Ft. Sill, OK.

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