Historical Timeline

Date Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory Historical Chronology
1776 An act of the Massachusetts legislature declared that the summit be named Great Blue Hill. Beacons were established and the summit was used as a vantage point during the Revolutionary War.
1798, May 30 Construction began on a forty-foot stone and wood observing platform. It was blown down four years later, rebuilt, again repaired in 1822 and then remained for many years.
1830 A state trigonometric survey conducted by Simeon Borden precisely established the position of Great Blue Hill and the height above mean sea level as 193.69 m (635.05 feet).
1845, July The Corps of Engineers of the U.S Coast Survey opened a new road to the summit near the site of the current road.
1861, Jan 6 Founder of the Blue Hill Observatory, Abbott Lawrence Rotch, was born in Boston, Massachusetts.
1861, Mar 12 Henry Helm Clayton, observer from 1886 to 1909, was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
1863, Aug 3 Alexander George McAdie, Observatory director from 1913 to 1931, was born in New York City.
1884, May Rotch graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in engineering.
1884, Aug 5 Rotch first documented the idea of building a weather observatory on Great Blue Hill.
1884, Sep 1 Construction began on the original observatory, which consisted of a two-story tower and living quarters.
1885, Feb 1 The Observatory was occupied and official daily observations began on the summit.
1886, Jan A Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder, the first of its kind in the United States was first used. It remained in service until it was replaced in July, 1993.
1888, Jan 1 The oldest mercury barometer still in daily use at the Observatory (number 872), which was purchased by Rotch in London and brought to Blue Hill in December 1887, was first put into service. It was later moved from the first floor to the second floor of the tower.
1889 The east wing addition to the Observatory, which was started on 18 October, 1888, was completed in early 1889. The upper floor of the addition served as the original library.
1891 Government weather agency was shifted from the Signal Service to the Weather Bureau under the Department of Agriculture.
1893 The Metropolitan District Commission acquired land around the Blue Hills for parkland that would become the Blue Hills Reservation.
1894, Aug 4 The first atmospheric sounding in the world was accomplished at Blue Hill with a kite carrying a thermograph to a height of 2030 feet above mean sea level.
1897, Mar 6 A kerosene-powered, steam-driven windlass was first used at Blue Hill for kite soundings.
1898, Feb 1 An unusually heavy snowstorm brought 20 inches of snow in about 24 hours, which was the largest snowstorm on record until 1958.
1900, Jul 19 The highest kite sounding in the world was made from Blue Hill to a height of 4,815 m (15,790 feet).
1901, Aug 22 First kite soundings over water with made with trial flights over Massachusetts Bay.
1901, Aug 28 First kite soundings over the open ocean were made to a height of 700 m (2,300 feet) from an eastbound trans-atlantic steamer by Rotch and Sweetland.
1902, Nov The west wing addition to the Observatory, which was started on 31 March, 1902, was completed.
1903, Jun 26 The new library was opened in the recently completed west wing. This room was finished with a tile vaulted ceiling of the style that originated with the Guastovino family in Spain. In the corners near the ceiling were placed eight bas-reliefs representing the allegorical figures of the winds that were on the first century B.C. Tower of the Winds in Athens.
1904 An instrument called an “ombroscope”, which was designed to record the time of precipitation, was first put in regular service. The present ombroscope at Blue Hill dates from the 1940s.
1904, Sep 15 The first balloonsonde in the United States was arranged by Rotch and launched by Fergusson at the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
1905, April 17 The Hazen instrument shelter was moved to its present location northeast of the Observatory and a fenced enclosure was set up around the shelter, rain gages and other outdoor instruments.
1905, May 16 Construction of a concrete wall and installation of a gated, iron fence around the Observatory was completed at the cost of $2000.
1906, Jan A pioneer in the development of meteorology, Norweigian scientist Vilhelm Bjerknes, visited the Observatory, where he witnessed a kite flight and discussed the vertical structure of the atmosphere with Rotch.
1906, Sep 1 Rotch was appointed as the first Professor of Meteorology at Harvard.
1907 Rotch became the first president of the Aero Club of New England.
1907, Oct 23 Clayton and Erbslock win balloon race with record flight from St. Louis to Asbury Park, New Jersey by covering 1,410 km (876 miles) in forty hours (an American record at the time). Clayton used wind measurements from a balloonsonde preceding the race to guide the balloon to favorable westerly winds.
1908, Jun 4 Construction was completed of a new three-story concrete tower at a cost of $5000. Demolition of the original two-story tower had been started on 25 March.
1910 Rotch publishes his book Conquest of the Air, an up-to-date and historical summary of dirigible balloons, flying machines and the future of aerial navigation. In December 1909, Rotch received a letter from Wilbur Wright commending the book.
1912, Apr 7 Abbott Lawrence Rotch dies suddenly from an undiagnosed ruptured appendix.
1913, Mar Harvard University takes over operation of the Observatory with an endowment of $50,000 from Rotch.
1913, Oct 1 Alexander George McAdie was appointed as Director of the Observatory.
1914, Jan 16 Wiring the Observatory for electricity was completed and electric lights were first placed in service.
1914, Jul 17 A stone monument to Rotch designed by Bela L. Pratt was erected on the summit of Great Blue Hill. The inscription reads: “In memory of Abbott Lawrence Rotch, founder of the Blue Hill Observatory, pioneer in the study of the upper air, a life devoted to science for the good of mankind.”
1918, Oct 1 In recognition of his teaching, McAdie was appointed the first Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor of Meteorology at Harvard.
1919 McAdie receives letters from the Navy and from Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, commending his work training officers in aerography and weather observing at Blue Hill during World War I.
1919 Charles Franklin Brooks was a co-founder and the first secretary of the American Meteorological Society in Boston.
1924, Jan A series of three storms each with strong winds near 80 mph seriously damaged the copper sheathing on the Observatory roof, which was not fully repaired until April.
1931 McAdie retired and Charles Franklin Brooks was appointed as the third director of the Observatory.
1932, Oct The Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire was opened.
1933, Nov 7 Daily radio communications were established between Blue Hill and Mt. Washington.
1934, Feb 9 The coldest temperature ever measured at Blue Hill, -21 deg F, was observed.
1934, Feb The coldest month on record at the Observatory with an average temperature of 13.5 deg F was observed.
1934, Apr 12 The world record wind gust of 231 mph on Mt. Washington was timed by radio at Blue Hill.
1935, Feb 1 Observatory’s 50th anniversary; Brooks proposed the development of the radio-meteorograph to transmit atmospheric measurements from sounding balloons to the surface.
1935, Apr 17 The first radio-meteorograph transmission of temperature data from an airplane was received at Blue Hill from a height of 17,000 feet.
1935, Nov Carl-Gustaf Rossby, then a Professor of Meteorology at MIT, visited Blue Hill to observe progress in the development of the radio-meteorograph.
1935, Dec 23 The first radio-meteorograph transmission of pressure and temperature data from a balloon was received at Blue Hill from a height of 52,500 feet.
1936, Aug 19 German airship Hindenburg was observed from Blue Hill passing about one mile to the west at 11:20 AM and heading west of south. It was just below the cumulus clouds at about 2000 feet.
1937, May 6 German airship Hindenburg was seen entering clouds as it passed east of Blue Hill at about 10:45 AM headed for Lakehurst, New Jersey where it met with tragedy later in the day.
1938, Sep 21 Great New England hurricane brought the highest wind gust ever experienced at Blue Hill. Numerous readings by several observers of the Draper wind recording established a top five-minute average wind speed of 121 mph from the south at 6:11 to 6:16 P.M. EST. From this a peak gust of 186 mph was calculated with an uncertainty of 30 to 40 mph. The highest hourly average wind speed was 84 mph from 5 to 6 P.M. Precipitation at Blue Hill during the storm was light and amounted to 0.12 inch.
1941, Dec 14 Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, eight U.S. Army personnel arrived at Blue Hill and manned the post 24 hours a day to spot and report airplanes and to collect upper air wind measurements. They left the Observatory for another location about one month later.
1943-44 Brooks and John H. Conover participated in a program for the Weather Bureau to instruct civilian and military weather observers throughout the United States on cloud observing and to make these reports more valuable to forecasters.
1946 A steel extension was added to the south side of the Observatory tower roof to serve as a platform for various solar radiation instruments.
1946, Oct 26 Henry Helm Clayton, who was associated with the Observatory from 1886-1909 and 1943-1946, died at age 85.
1948, Jan 25 Heavy snowfalls during the winter of 1947-48 accumulated to a peak average snow depth of 42 inches on the summit, which remains the deepest snow cover on record.
1948 The first Observatory government contract with the Weather Bureau provided funding to the Observatory for one year to perform research related to snowstorm forecasting.
1949, Aug 10 An unusually hot summer peaked with a high temperature of 101 deg F, the highest ever recorded at Blue Hill. This was later matched on Aug 2, 1975.
1951, Oct 6 Non-commercial radio station WGBH-FM first went on the air transmitting from a storage room under the library in the Observatory. The 95-foot high transmitting tower was erected on the rocks to the northwest of the tower. The call letters “WGBH” were named for Great Blue Hill.
1953, Jun 9 Debris from the Worcester tornado fell at Blue Hill. Oak twigs with frayed leaves were followed by papers, rags, shingles, roofing paper, insulation, boards up to 12 feet long, and pieces of walls or roofs a meter square (3×3 feet). This material had been carried 25-38 miles by the storm.
1954, Apr 21 The WGBH-FM transmitter facility was moved from the Observatory to a separate building on the summit to the southeast of the tower, which had been completed in January.
1954, Aug 31 Hurricane Carol brought a peak wind gust on Blue Hill of 125 mph from the southeast.
1954, Nov 16 U.S. Air Force Geophysical Research Directorate established a weather radar laboratory on the summit that remained until November, 1961.
1954, Dec 11 A new WGBH FM and TV transmission tower near the new building was completed. Total height of the new tower and antenna was 71.6 m (235 feet).
1955, May 2 WGBH TV first went on the air.
1955, Aug 19 Former Hurricane Diane passed New England as a tropical storm, but it brought record rainfall of 9.93 inches in 24 hours and 12.77 inches for the storm total over a period of 57 hours.
1957, Sep 1 Dr. Charles F. Brooks retired as director; John H. Conover was appointed acting director, and he continued in that position through June 1958.
1958, Jan 8 Dr. Charles F. Brooks died suddenly at his home at age 66.
1958, Jan 16 A snowstorm brought 22.2 inches of snow in 22 hours, which was the largest snowfall from a single storm on record through that date.
1958, Jul 1 Richard M. Goody of Harvard was appointed director of the Observatory.
1958, Oct The Observatory library was removed and distributed to various libraries and to the Weather Bureau, with a significant portion being moved to the Gordon McKay Library at Harvard where it remains.
1959, Jul 1 Weather Bureau took over operation of the climatological observations.
1959, Nov 16 Sterling Price Fergusson died at age 91.
1960, Sep 12 Hurricane Donna brought a peak wind gust of 140 mph from the south-southeast to Blue Hill, the second highest gust ever recorded at the Observatory. The fastest mile for the day, which is the speed of the passage of one mile of wind in the shortest time, was 92 mph also from the SSE.
1962 The first measurements of airglow, the emission of radiation from atomic oxygen during the day, were made at Blue Hill by Goody and John Noxon.
1962 A siderostat, which directed the solar beam by means of a motorized mirror to indoor instruments, was erected at the rear of the west wing of the Observatory. The structure, without its original mirrors, remains in its original location to this day.
1966 Successful spectroscopic measurements of the concentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere were made by Noxon.
1968, Mar 13 One of the most significant ice storms to affect the Observatory left one-inch thick ice accumulation on all surfaces.
1968 Goody first documented interest in ending Harvard’s association with the Observatory in part due to the interference from the WGBH transmitter with ongoing research.
1969, Feb A monthly snowfall total of 65.4 inches was measured. This included the snowfall record for a single storm, 38.7 inches, which fell over four days from the 24th to the 28th. This was the monthly record until 83.6 inches was recorded in February 2015.
1970, Jan 2 The National Weather Service, formerly the Weather Bureau, appointed William Cusick as official-in-charge of the station.
1971, Oct 1 After considerable effort and discussion, the National Weather Service agreed to continue operation of the Observatory, and ownership of the facility was transferred from Harvard to the Metropolitan District Commission. Goody retired as director.
1975, Aug 2 The highest temperature ever recorded at the Observatory, 101 deg F, was measured, matching a temperature observed on Aug 10, 1949.
1976, Jan 1 Observatory was officially listed as a Reference Climatological Station by the World Meteorological Organization due to the length and homogeneity of its climate record.
1977, May 10 The heaviest late-season snowfall on record occurred with 7.8 inches being measured on the summit.
1978, Feb 7 The great “Blizzard of 1978” brought 30.1 inches of snow in 33 hours ending on the 7th. Snow depth on the ground was 33 inches on the morning of the 8th. The fastest mile during the storm was 67 mph from the northeast, with gusts from the NE on the evening of the 6th estimated to about 80 mph.
1978, May 1 William Cusick retired and Robert Skilling, who had served as relief observer since October 1960, was appointed as chief observer.
1980, Feb 26 Preservation of the historic Blue Hill weather archives and paper recordings was accomplished by their transfer to permanent residence at the U.S. National Archives facilty in Waltham.
1980, Sep 27 Observatory was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1981, Feb 13 The barometric pressure, reduced to sea level, reached 1052.4 mb (31.08 inches) a new record high pressure at the Observatory.
1981, Jun The Blue Hill Observatory Weather Club and Museum was established by Dr. William Minsinger to support the preservation and restoration of the facility and to hold meetings for local amateurs and professionals to discuss the weather.
1985, Feb 1 100th anniversary of the Observatory was celebrated by over a hundred guests with presentations on the history of the station, with the re-dedication of the Rotch Memorial monument, which had been inscribed with a summary of the weather from the past century, and with fireworks in the evening.
1985, Sep 27 Hurricane Gloria made landfall in western New England and brought a peak wind gust to 100 mph to the Observatory. The wind has not reached that magnitude again since that date.
1988 Blue Hill Weather Club President, William E. Minsinger, publishesThe 1938 Hurricane: An Historical and Pictorial Summary on the 50th anniversary of the Great New England Hurricane.
1989, Dec The Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory was recognized as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. National Park Service.
1990 Former Blue Hill observer and Director, John H. Conover, publishes The Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory: The First 100 Years, 1885-1985.
1993, Jul The original Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder was reported stolen from the tower roof on the 11th and replaced with a modern duplicate instrument. The original was recovered in a few days and remains on display in the Observatory history room.
1996, Apr 10 The seasonal snowfall total reached 144.4 inches during the last storm of the 1995-96 season. This was the seasonal record until the winter of 2014-2015 when 150.8 inches was measured.
1997, Apr 1 Greatest 24-hour snowfall on Blue Hill of 30.0 inches, which began on March 31st, was measured.
1997, Sep Extensive renovations of the Observatory began.
1998 A new annual precipitation record of 71.00 inches was established.
1998, May Observatory first developed an Internet web site (www.bluehill.org).
1998, Oct 15 The Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) operated by the National Weather Service to provide hourly automated weather observations was commissioned at Blue Hill as station ID KMQE.
1998 With support from private grants, the Observatory began the WINS (Women in Natural Science) Program, a series of educational programs designed to inspire adolescent females to pursue careers in math and science.
1998, Dec The Blue Hill Observatory Science Center was established to expand the Observatory’s mission to include atmospheric science education. William E. Minsinger became President and Charles T. Orloff was named Executive Director of the non-profit organization.
1999, May 1 Completion of the extensive Observatory renovations was celebrated with a public Open House and Grand Re-Opening ceremonies.
2000, Oct 21 Blue Hill Science Center co-sponsored the First Southern New England Weather Conference, an annual meeting of professionals and amateurs designed to enhance communication among various local groups with an interest in the weather.
2002, Jan The American Meteorological Society recognized the Observatory with its Award for Outstanding Services to Meteorology by a Corporation. The inscription read, “for its distinguished history of meteorological research and commitment to maintaining a high-quality climate record, and its dedication to increasing public understanding of atmospheric science.”
2003 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) installed ozone measuring equipment on Blue Hill for local air quality monitoring.
2003, Dec 30 Former Blue Hill Director and observer, John H. Conover, whose association with the Observatory began in the 1930s, died at age 87.
2004, Oct Observatory began participating in CAMNET, a regional network of high-resolution “visibility” cameras viewable on the Internet, to raise public awareness about the effects of pollution on visibility.
2004, Oct 4 Blue Hill hosted the U.S. Postal Service’s First Day of Issue ceremonies for the release of the “Cloudscapes” sheet of twenty stamps depicting various cloud types.
2006, Feb Blue Hill Observatory first announced plans for a new environmental Science Center facility to be located on the summit of Great Blue Hill.
2010, Feb 1 Observatory celebrated its 125th Anniversary with invited lectures by Dr. Louis Uccellini, Paul Kocin and others on January 30th, along with a reception and fireworks on the summit on the evening of the 30th. An Open House with additional festivities was held at the Observatory on January 31st and February 1st.
2010, Mar A new monthly precipitation record for any month of the year of 18.81 inches was established. This included the second highest single-storm rainfall total on record at the Observatory of 9.41 inches on March 13th-15th, 2010.
2010, Jul The warmest month on record at the Observatory with an average temperature of 75.1 deg F was observed.
2012 The warmest year on record at the Observatory was established with a mean of 51.7 deg F.
2013, Mar 8 The second of two blizzards within a month ends with a total of 29.8 inches on March 6-8th. A blizzard on February 8-9th had brought a total of 26.6 inches to the Observatory.
2015, Jan 28 The second largest snowstorm in the Observatory’s history ended with a total of 30.8 inches measured on January 26-28th.
2015, Feb The snowiest month on record was established with a total of 83.6 inches of snow at the Observatory, surpassing the previous record of 65.4 inches in February, 1969. This included two of the largest snowstorms ever to occur in February, which brought 27.7 inches on February 7-10th and 21.6 inches on February 14-15th.
2015, Mar A new record for the snowiest season on record at the Observatory was established with a total of 150.8 inches, surpassing the previous record of 144.4 inches in 1995-1996.
2015, Dec A new record was established for the greatest positive temperature departure for any month since 1885. This month was the warmest December on record and 13.1 degrees F warmer than the 1891-2010 120-year average.
2016, Feb 14 A daily record minimum temperature of -14 deg F was the coldest recorded at the Observatory since -16 deg F occurred on January 15, 1957. With a high temperature of 10 deg F and a mean of -2 deg F, this day was the coldest Valentine’s Day on record at Blue Hill.
2016, Feb 16 The high temperature climbed to 55 deg F, producing a 69 deg F increase in temperature in less than 72 hours from the low of -14 deg F on the 14th. This change matched the previous record for a temperature swing within three days when the mercury rose from -18 deg F on the morning December 30, 1933 to 51 deg F on January 1, 1934.