The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO)
Meteorology Milestones
IMO: The Origin of WMO
The Beginnings of WMO
Future Developments
  The Building  


During the International Geophysical Year an increased programme of weather observations in the higher atmosphere was implemented all over the world. Scientists make sun observations on an ice shelf in Antarctica.


Dr. H. Wexler (USA) and Academician V.A. Bugaev (USSR) discussing the World Weather Watch in the WMO Secretariat in 1962.

 The Beginnings of WMO (1950s-1960s)

On 23 March 1950, WMO emerged as a new intergovernmental organisation and a specialised agency of the United Nations with a unique mandate to co-ordinate and provide an appropriate framework for international cooperation in the field of Meteorology and related fields of environmental concern such as hydrology, geophysics, geochemistry and physical oceanography. WMO's aims include facilitating world-wide establishment of networks of stations for making meteorological, hydrological and other related geophysical observations; promoting the provision of meteorological and related services and of systems for rapid exchange of meteorological and related information; promoting standardisation of meteorological and related observations and ensuring the uniform publication of observations and statistics.

Within this context, WMO's early landmark activities included the International Geophysical Year (IGY) from 1957-58, organised jointly with the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). For the first time, observing stations were set up in Antarctica, of which some have become permanent and are still operational today. The IGY observations covered the entire surface of the Earth and included measurements of solar radiation and atmospheric ozone. Although ozone measurements with the Dobson spectrophotometer began 25 years earlier, the internationally coordinated observations began with IGY, which also included a high-latitude rocket observation programme with the cooperation of the USA, USSR, UK and Japan and the launching of the first satellites by the USSR and the USA. The formulation of a scientific cooperation programme in the Antarctic under IGY led to the signing of the Antarctic Treaty.

Following the establishment of the World Weather Watch in 1963, one of the most ambitious scientific undertakings in the history of meteorology, if not in the whole field of geophysical science, the Global Atmospheric Research Programme (GARP) aimed at revealing the details of unknown dynamics of the atmosphere. Launched in 1967 by WMO, with the collaboration of ICSU, GARP lasted 15 years and its field experiments scored dramatic progress in meteorology, particularly in relation to weather forecasting. One of its major field experiments, the GARP Atlantic Tropical Experiment (GATE), which took place from June to Sept. 1974, was unprecedented in its scale and success.

Some 70 countries participated in the experiment deploying a huge observational system, including over 40 ocean research vessels, a number of meteorological aircraft, balloons and meteorological satellites. The unique results were fundamental to human understanding of large-scale weather systems in the tropics. The crowning achievement of GARP was undoubtedly the Global Weather Experiment (GWE), in which all national Meteorological Services of 170 then Member nations, space agencies and research institutes participated. The results of GWE laid the foundation of the global system of geostationary and polar orbiting satellites, which now form the space-based observing system of WMO's World Weather Watch. GWE's data are still today regarded as the most comprehensive compilation of meteorological variables ever assembled which led to new methods of analysis in operational weather forecasting, stimulated major improvements in the forecasting models themselves and above all in progress made in the accuracy of forecasts.

GARP conducted many other field experiments, some conducted years later. The Alpine Experiment (ALPEX) in 1982 led to greater understanding of cyclogenesis and the mechanisms driving local mountain winds, while the Monsoon Experiments (1978/1979), improved forecasting of regional monsoonal circulation, critical for human well-being and food production in Asia and West Africa. Such historic experiments have contributed to the remarkable headway that has been made in moving the time-scale of skilful weather forecasts using Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) 8 to 10 days ahead in mid-latitudes. As a result, the performance of the NWP improved significantly in providing invaluable services to a wide range of socio-economic activities such as aviation, shipping, transportation, agricultural production and water management and as well as in the provision of early warnings of weather-and climate-related natural disasters.

By the end of the 1960, many countries had joined WMO bringing its Membership to a total of 135 Members. This has strengthened WMO's capacities and expanded its activities to meet new challenges brought by the 1970s, including ozone depletion, climate change, and drought such as severe Sahelian drought in Africa, desertification and food insecurity in many developing countries.