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


The First International Meteorological Congress held in Vienna in 1873.


Representatives of 31 countries signed the Convention of the new WMO at Washington D.C. in 1947.

IMO: The Origin of WMO

The Brussels Conference also planted the seeds of the First International Meteorological Congress, which was held in Vienna in 1873. The Congress resulted in a major breakthrough in the history of meteorology-- the creation of the International Meteorological Organization (IMO) to coordinate the collection and international exchange of meteorological data and information. Although a non-governmental organisation, IMO provided the framework for international cooperation in meteorological data collection, research and service provision until the end of World War II.

Among the landmark achievements of IMO was the First Polar Year (1882-83) programme, a joint effort of twelve countries (the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, UK, Canada and the USA) to establish and operate 14 stations surrounding the North Pole. In addition to strictly meteorological measurements, observations were made in connection with geomagnetism, auroral phenomena, ocean currents and tides, structure and motion of ice and atmospheric electricity. Over 40 observatories across the world participated in this effort by undertaking expanded programmes of observations.

In addition to its scientific programmes, IMO's Second Polar Year (1932-33) programme placed a new emphasis on studying the extent to which observations in the polar regions could improve the accuracy of weather forecasts in other parts of the world. Additionally it tackled the problem of how better knowledge of meteorological conditions at high latitudes would help sea and air transport. Forty-four nations participated and a vast amount of data was collected which led to the creation of the world data centres.

IMO's efforts also expanded southwards with the establishment of new meteorological stations in the equatorial zone but no permanent stations yet in the Antarctic. With the expanded use of telephones and electricity in the early part of the century classification and processing of data led to further technological advancements. Indeed the origins of today's digital age date back to the basis of numerical prediction laid by Lewis Fry Richardson in 1910 and illustrated in his book "Weather Prediction by Numerical Process", published in 1922.

IMO served the cause of international meteorology well for about three-quarters of a century. But towards the end of that period it was becoming increasingly evident that its non-governmental status as the focal point of international meteorology was incompatible with the importance which meteorology was then assuming in the context of a vast national economic development and rapid technological discoveries and advancements. Full exploitation of such advancements through international cooperation - which would involve considerable investments - was not possible without the direct intervention and support of governments. As a result, most of IMO's activities with the exception of those of its Commission for Aeronautical Meteorology, which had become an inter-governmental body with a more official status than IMO itself, were largely affected. Therefore, an extraordinary Conference of Directors (of national Meteorological Services) of IMO was held in London in February 1946. The Conference took the first step "to bring IMO back into operation, to ensure its cooperation with other international organizations and to resume the study of constitutional and other questions the settlement of which had been prevented by the war". The major task was to initiate action for the preparation of a new International Meteorological Convention.

On 11 October 1947, representatives of 31 countries attending the Eighth Conference of Directors of IMO in Washington D. C. endorsed the transformation of IMO into a new inter-governmental World Meteorological Organization (WMO). After a long debate, the Convention was voted unanimously. Nevertheless it did not actually come into force until 23 March 1950, that being the thirtieth day after the date of the deposit of the thirtieth Member's instrument of ratification and accession. This birthday, 23 March, is celebrated every year by all WMO Member countries, as World Meteorological Day.