But how unexpected was that experimental result really?
I learned only recently that by 1998 it might not have been so much of a surprise. Already in 1990, Efstathiou, Sutherland and Maddox, argued in a Nature paper that a cosmological constant is necessary to explain large scale structures. The abstract reads:
"We argue here that the successes of the [Cold Dark Matter (CDM)] theory can be retained and the new observations accommodated in a spatially flat cosmology in which as much as 80% of the critical density is provided by a positive cosmological constant, which is dynamically equivalent to endowing the vacuum with a non-zero energy density. In such a universe, expansion was dominated by CDM until a recent epoch, but is now governed by the cosmological constant. As well as explaining large-scale structure, a cosmological constant can account for the lack of fluctuations in the microwave background and the large number of certain kinds of object found at high redshift."By 1995 a bunch of tentative and suggestive evidence had piled up that lead Krauss and Turner to publish a paper titled "The Cosmological Constant is Back".
I find this interesting for two reasons. First, it doesn't seem to be very widely known, it's also not mentioned in the Wikipedia entry. Second, taking into account that there must have been preliminary data and rumors even before the 1990 Nature paper was published, this means that by the late 1980s, the cosmological constant likely started to seep back into physicists brains.
Weinberg's anthropic prediction dates to 1987, which likely indeed predated observational evidence. Vilenkin's 1995 refinement of Weinberg's prediction was timely but one is lead to suspect he anticipated the 1998 results from the then already available data. Sorkin's prediction for a small positive cosmological constant in the context of Causal Sets seems to date back into the late 80s, but the exact timing is somewhat murky. There is a paper here which dates to 1990 with the prediction (scroll to the last paragraph), which leads me to think at the time of writing he likely didn't know about the recent developments in astrophysics that would later render this paper a historically interesting prediction.