Wisconsin State Climatology Office


The first weather observations in Madison were made during the school year by professors at North Hall on the University of Wisconsin starting in the early 1850s.  They frequently enlisted the aid of science students, including the now renowned naturalist, John Muir. The original instruments were supplied by the Smithsonian Institution.  Essentially continuous weather records for Madison commenced in 1869 when weather observers began recording data at Bascom Hall on the University of Wisconsin Madison campus. 

In 1878 a Signal Service Station was established in downtown Madison at the corner of South Pinckney Street and East Washington Avenue. In May 1883 the office moved back to campus at North Hall. Signal Service operations ceased and the office reverted to University jurisdiction. In September 1883 the office moved to the Washburn Observatory on campus, where it remained as part of the Astronomy Department until 1904.

The National Weather Service, then called the US Weather Bureau, was established at North Hall in 1904 and forecasts began to accompany observations. The first regularly broadcast weather forecast in the United States originated from the Madison Weather Service office in 1920 over the University radio station WHA.

An airport office was opened by the Weather Bureau at  the airport on the northeast edge of Madison in 1939, a year after it was built.   The original office was in the terminal building on N. Stoughton Rd (USH 51), to the east of the field.  The official climate records for Wisconsin's capital city  were transferred from the city office to the airport offfice in 1948.  In May 1979,  a new office was built on the west side of the airport, north of the new terminal.   For over half-a-century, the Madison National Weather Service operated in the full capacity of supplying weather data to south-central Wisconsin along with the responsibility to notify and warn counties of severe weather and winter storms.  In 1972, a  local weather radar was installed next to the office.

Meanwhile, back in town, weather records continued at the Weather Bureau's Madison "City Office" until 1963. So for over 20 years Madison had two weather offices,  one site on campus and the other at the airport.

During the late 1980's, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration launched a major program to modernize the National Weather Service. This resulted in a new office located near Sullivan, Wisconsin, 45 miles east of Madison. Equipped with the latest technology, including a new 88D-Doppler radar, the Sullivan office is now the official Weather Service office serving Madison and south-central Wisconsin.

The Madison National Weather Service office closed 1 April 1996, marking the end of a long tradition for the state's capital city. The radar, which was installed in the early 1970s, was decommissioned and dismantled. The radar tower was eventually resurrected and now sits on top of the AOSS building on campus to support satellite communication equipment. An Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) was commissioned to generate the official weather observations for Madison. Contract observers augment ASOS for accuracy and the Wisconsin Air National Guard is taking snowfall measurements to continue the snowfall climate record.

ASOS weather observations are updated each minute in support of the aviation and meteorological community. To hear a computer simulated voice recording of the ASOS weather data at the Dane County  Regional Airport any time of the day or night, call (608) 249-6645.


Milwaukee-Sullivan National Weather Service Forecast Offfice,  A Time-Line of the National Weather Service in Wisconsin.
Moran, J.M. and E.J. Hopkins, 2002,  Wisconsin's Weather and Climate.  University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.

  Return to: [Madison Climate Page][Climate History for 7 Cities] [State Climatology Homepage]

Latest revision: 27 March 2004

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URL Address: http://www.aos.wisc.edu/~sco/stations/msn/madison.html