The US Weather Bureau on Hatteras Island

US Weather Bureau Station
US Weather Bureau Station in Hatteras, NC

National Park Service


The Outer Banks are a narrow chain of barrier islands stretching more than 175 miles along North Carolina's coast. Separated from the mainland by sounds up to 30 miles wide, the area is subject to severe storms and high winds. The Outer Banks of North Carolina were an important part of the national weather network.

The US Weather Bureau established several weather stations and observation posts throughout North Carolina and its coast as part of a national network of weather stations. The first coastal observation station in North Carolina was in Wilmington, established in 1871. A station at Cape Hatteras followed in 1874. Although some of them were temporary, smaller Weather Bureau observation stations on the North Carolina coast were set up over the years at various locations including Wash Woods (1878); Kitty Hawk (1875), which was moved to Manteo (1904); Portsmouth Village (1876); Cape Lookout (1876); and Beaufort Inlet (1878).

The first US Weather Bureau Station managed by the Army Signal Services on Hatteras Island was established at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Keepers' Quarters in 1874, moved to the Hatteras Life-Saving Station on December 1, 1880, and later transferred to a Hatteras Village private residence, known as Styron’s Building, on October 1, 1883.

A few years later, the Weather Bureau built a structure for the station in Hatteras village for the sum of $250. This building was a small one-story framed structure consisting of three rooms, two of the small rooms were each about 9-feet by 6-feet and one larger one about 14-feet square. There was also a small attic that was used for storage.

Cape Hatteras, where the Gulf Stream and Labrador Current meet, was an important location for weather forecasting. Residents that lived on the Outer Banks received their news by boat or through word of mouth. Residents of isolated Portsmouth and Ocracoke Islands got word of an approaching storm in sealed tubes dropped from airplanes. Cape Hatteras, a major shipping route, was also a common place for shipwrecks. The Weather Bureau felt that the need to have a main station on the North Carolina coast was important enough for them to build one in Hatteras Village.

On July 11, 1901, Secretary James Wilson, US Department of Agriculture, requested proposals for the erection a two-story cellar frame and brick building for the Weather Bureau at Hatteras, NC. The Chief of the Weather Bureau awarded the contract to C.L Harding, Architect, Washington, DC. to design and supervise the first official building constructed for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, US Weather Bureau in Hatteras, NC

The cost was $5,194 to build the station and the purchase cost of the land was $110.35. On the back of the specification was a list of Weather Bureau Stations to be constructed: Hatteras; Taloosh; Canley; Criescent; Point Reyes; and Bismarck, ND. Though construction was completed in 1901, the official Hatteras Weather Bureau Station was commissioned and occupied on January 1, 1902.

The design included a prefab structure that can be delivered by railroad and steamship to Hatteras Island. Located at the intersection known today as Kholer and Saxton Cut streets, the original building was a wood frame structure on masonry piling. The first floor had seven rooms including a living room, dining room, kitchen, store pantry, and three bedrooms for the weather observer and family. The second floor had a large observation room/office with a ship’s ladder leading to a walk on the roof. Porches extended across the front and west side.

Other structures include two wooden storage outbuildings with gable roofs with cedar-shingles. On-site were a cistern, a metal signal tower for displaying weather flags, and a privy. The Weather Bureau operated there from 1902 until 1946.

Since being restored to its 1901 appearance, the station has operated as a welcome center by the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau through a partnership agreement with the National Park Service.

log book depicting entry on RMS Titanic
Entry into Weather Station Log Book reading: Received Hatteras Station at 11:25 p.m. TITANIC calling C.Q.D. giving reading 41.44 about 380 miles SSE of Cape Race. At 11:35 p.m. TITANIC gives corrected position as 41.46 N 50.14W. A matter of five or six miles difference. He says “have struck iceberg”

NPS Photo

RMS Titanic and Hatteras Island

On April 14th 1912, the Hatteras Weather Bureau Station picked up the following message on thier wireless around 11:25pm:

"CQD CQD CQD CQD CQD CQD. Have struck an iceberg. We are badly damaged. Titanic. position 41 degrees 44 minutes north 50 degrees 20 minutes west.'"

Hatteras is the only known wireless station in the United States to have received the first distress call from the RMS Titanic. Record of this transmission was lost to history for almost 100 years, and was only discovered in 2009 during a restoration project when it was found rolled up in a wall as insulation.

Our understanding of the policies of the US Weather Bureau would have suggested that the operators of the Hatteras Weatehr Bureau would have forwarded this message to their regional officein New York City. At this point, we are unable to track this communicaton outside of its reciept at the Hatteras Weather Bureau Station. Unfortunately the location of the TItanic, and distances between the Titanic and other nearby ships, would have precluded this message from allowing any substantive rescue effort to occur outside of what was already happening.

The record of the transmission is on display at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras Village, NC.

Open Transcript 


Today's story. Is different than any of those. And today, as many of you in this room know.

Is the 111th anniversary. Of the subject of this story, and I doubt there's anybody in this room that doesn't know what this type, what the subject is. Go ahead and tell me, what is it? Yeah, if you have not turned on a television or the Internet in the last couple of days, you have heard plenty about that.

So one of the first things I did in the book was to make this claim and I want to want to read that from the book. It says

this. We are not here to advocate for certain theories or explore mysteries of this disaster. It seems unlikely that anything could be added to this massively covered saga.

And also in the book I quoted of the number of movies and documentaries and articles and it's called. So we all know that story. In fact I've probably everybody in here could give me the first paragraph of what happened. The largest man made object in the world launched from England in 19th and April 1912, the name the RMS Titanic.

I'm gonna stop here because my background is a teacher and I can't help but mention this. Does anybody know what the RMS stands for? Airtime ship. That's pretty close. That's even closer. I haven't heard the correct one yet, but we're close. It's the Royal Mail steamer.

Now, when I'm writing, one of the great things about writing is that you have a chance to stop and think. And when I was writing, I thought, do I know what that means? I'm not sure, so I had to look it up.

And that's just like we used all of our lives. We. You and I both probably thought s s America meant steamship, but I mean, it doesn't mean screw steamer. So we're learning anyway. So we know that story and we know what happened to it. But I want to emphasize that what this program is, excuse me, is about, is about the connection between that tragedy.

And us? Who can tell me when I say us had resigned? Who can tell me what that connection is?

They heard.

You know, because you read the book.

My grandfather was one. That's right. That's right. That's right. She she's not allowed.

Your connection. Is this building? You're just you're sitting in the connection between the RMS Titanic.

The most widely covered shipwreck in the history of the world, and right here.

So another reading from the book which I have put on a paper and a little larger font.

Working late into the night on Sunday, April the 14th, 1912. Station operators Richard Daley and Horace Gaskins received an urgent telegram message at 11:25 PM.

The message contained the words CQD have struck iceberg. It was from the RMS Titanic.

Daily and Gaskins immediately forwarded the message to the

Headquarters New York station. It was received by 21 year old David Sarnoff, who became the future president of RCA.

Like everyone else at the time, sort of knew that the Titanic was unsinkable.

So he's severely chastised the senders in his response. He said that the senders were troublemakers, just quote

clogging up the lines, and they were to refrain from any further communication. End of quote.

This will directly relate to over 1500 deaths. Another little lesson, we're going to interrupt CQD.

What does that mean?


Come quickly. Distressed. Alright. We've heard that all

over our lives, right? Congregation shows.

I stopped again and I thought that's what it meant. But I

thought I better be sure. Guess what? It doesn't. It doesn't, and it's an interesting little side note.

The Marconi stations were operated with a code and

everything was in code and one of the codes was, if a message is particularly important that you really need to pay attention to, we're going to market as a secured message.

Well, keep in mind that the international language at the time was French. And the French word for secure, secure.

Well, English ears hear SECU is ohh. That's CQ now they did later in later into putting a D on it to mean distress, but it still didn't. It did not mean come quickly and insecure distress. confusing, and here's another

side true, because that was a little confusing, they quickly, about the same time, decided to go try another emergency message and they came up with SOS.

Now we've spent all over our lives knowing what that means. Who can tell me what SOS stands for? "Save Our Ship" Of course it does.

But it doesn't.

All my life, of course, that's what it means. But what it means is.

It was the three quickest Telegraph notes that say distress. So just like 911, we all know what that means. Does

that mean call 9 and call one and call one, does that mean no, it means emergency, so SOS just means SOS. Back to the reading.

So they have been severely chastised. And did not.

Send that message further.

Page 156 tragically, the error is compounded. There was a second chance the steamship RMS Carpathia.

Was the nearest ship to Titanic's reported position being only 67 miles away. They had received the distress

messages from the Titanic in Hatteras village. Weather Bureau operators daily and Gaskins also received this second message.

Due to their previous reprimand, they did not forward this message to the New York office. Fortunately, the Carpathia does respond, but almost too late nevertheless. She saves 701

survivors now, the next part of this story. Is the way I put it in the book is if Hollywood was making a movie out of this, which they did?

At this point, when they're talking about this, which they did not include, and I'll talk about more than about that

later. If they included, what I'm about to tell you is in the next part of the story, you would go, oh, come on, they're making this up. That can't be.

This building was originally built in 1901. First day of service was January 1st of 1902.

Over the years it has had a number of different functions. It was used by the Park Service, it was used by the Coast Guard.

It was used by Duke University, NC State University, and for a while, unfortunately, it was abandoned, and that's never a good thing for an old building.

So finally and I have some notes here and I think 2001.

They started restoration.

Yeah, 2001.

And it was finished in 2005. Now I want to read another.

Short reading from the book, page 158 in the course of the Restoration in 2005.

Workers were removing old newspapers and crumpled

documents from the walls which had been used as insulation. Some of the original pages that had been ripped from the station

logbook were discovered. They were sent to the NPS headquarters in Harpers Ferry for restoration and then

returned to the NPS and menu where they remained unseen for another 18 months.

Cape Hatteras Seashore historian, retired Doug Stover, who was a friend of mine.

Later began to go over these papers. He strained to make out the barely legible reading. Then, and this is a quote from

Doug, I noticed right away that it said Titanic CQD. That was his quote. It proved to be a monumental discovery. Although

it made national headlines at the time, this aspect of the Titanic tragedy remains largely unknown to the general public.

And I know we've all been seeing a lot of these documentaries and and and.

Movies and whatnot and stuff on the Internet.

And I have watched quite a few of them myself. And what the

thing that has stunned me the most.

Well, the two things. One is that.

You see in every one of these documentaries they talk about

the CQD sent at 11:40 and want you to notice that the next time you watch once you even show the clocks. Every one of them says

1140. Our telegram says 1125. And and we're not just making that up. We have the telegram.

They act now. This is a copy, of course, but the actual telegram

is in the graveyard of the Atlantic, just a few feet over here. The actual telegram, it says 1125. Nobody else. Has a record of receiving this message at 11:25. Of course it was ignored, and that may be why nobody else said anything about it.

But my contention is, OK, that's only 15 minutes. But so many little things can make so many differences. One, we all know that great tragedies don't have a single cause. Almost

invariably there's this line of small connections, and they're

hideous connections, that if any one of them were missing, the tragedy would not have occurred. But it's just precisely that

connection that doesn't, and in this case, ended in a tragedy of Titanic proportions.

But the other thing that amazes me and all these documentaries

and they're always looking for ohh look we found this ohh look, nobody knew about this. They're all the nobody. I have not seen

1 documentary that mentions this telegram and it's the real thing and folks.

If you wanna get a bone chilling moment. You can go upstairs. Betty's going to show you the the actual

room where this Telegraph was received. On April the 14th at 11:25 PM 1912. My name is Keeper James and I'm a storyteller.

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12 minutes, 1 second

Hear from James Charlet the amazing story of the connection between the RMS Titanic and the Hatteras Weather Bureau Station.

Last updated: May 3, 2023

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