Nearly 70 years ago on Oct. 1, 1951, the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) hosted an international water resources conference that drew in over 230 scientists from around the world—including Washington, D.C., New York, St. Louis, Texas, California, Montreal, and Australia—to discuss water supply, weather and radar technology, and sedimentation. The event also marked the dedication of a new $400,000 water resources building on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus.
Keynote speaker Clark M. Eichelberger, director of the American Association for the United Nations, declared that many underdeveloped nations engaged in conflict are also fighting unstable water supply.
Because this was the first conference on radar weather since 1947, there were 50 radar-weather projects from 15 states represented. This includes the Signal Corps’ B-17 “flying laboratory,” a flying weather station equipped to take rapid observations at airplane speeds. It included a complex network of indicating and recording instruments that could be operated on a closely coordinated schedule in rough air and at high altitudes by only three observers. At the time, it was said to be the most completely equipped weather plane in the nation.
The Dow Chemical Company and the U.S. Weather Bureau introduced attendees to a novel use of radar technology that is considered to be the first radar used for hurricane tracking in the United States. The radar equipment at the Dow chemical plant could detect rain 320 miles away and give information about the radius of dangerous winds, maximum wind velocity, and changes of movement within 150 to 240 miles away. This alerted the company to shut down plants and evacuate personnel when a storm was imminent. It also helped to avoid unnecessary or premature plant shutdowns.