Interview with Dr Vesna Jurcec


Dr Taba recounts:

Natural Sights of Croatia is the title of a book compiled by the Republican Institute for the Protection of Nature. It contains the following passage:

In few places has Nature offered such abundance in such a small area as in Croatia. It is almost as if the almighty hand of nature split all its richness and beauty on Croatian territory in creative ecstasy, which culminated in an abundance of contrasts that are breathtaking.

Those who have been lucky to travel through Croatia will agree that these words about the richness and beauty of the region are not exaggerated.


Vesna Jurcec in October 2000

Croatia is situated on the eastern cost of the Adriatic Sea. It is bordered in the west by Italy, in the north by Slovenia, in the north-east by Hungary, in the east by Serbia, and in the south by Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina. These borders date from the Turkish wars and were restored by the Yugoslav authorities in 1945. The republic has an area of 58 538 km2 and a population of 4 800 000 inhabitants. The most densely populated area is the central part, which includes the capital Zagreb. The least populated area is the mountainous region of Lika. Zagreb is the only city with more than one million inhabitants. Sunshine amount in Dalmatia is almost as high as in Andalusia, Spain, which is considered the sunniest place in Europe. Winter temperatures in the Croatian islands and on the coast seldom drop to 0°C and the Adriatic is considered one of the most beautiful seas in the world.

The University of Zagreb was established by a charter of Leopold I in 1669, and gradually developed studies in philosophy, law and theology. In 1876, natural sciences were included in the programme. The University of Zagreb has close links with other universities in Central Europe. In the early days, the Department of Mathematics and Science was part of the Faculty of Philosophy. In 1946, an independent Faculty of Science was created. Today, it has seven well-equipped departments, some 3 550 students, 155 professors and more than 188 assistants supported by some 30 technicians. Twenty professors are full members of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Faculty members have received more than 80 national and international prizes and awards for their scientific achievements. The Faculty of Science is present in the everyday life of the country through its Geophysical Institute, which announces the correct time every hour. Graduates of the Department of Geophysics are physicists oriented to geophysics and specialized in either meteorology and physical oceanography or seismology and physics of the solid earth.

The first hydrological station in Croatia was set up in 1817 on the Sava River, near Stara Gradiska and, by 1918, there were 114 stations. Systematic meteorological observations started in 1851, when the data from Dubrovnik were published in the meteorological yearbook for the Austrian Empire. By 1900, 168 meteorological stations had been established in Croatia. Agrometeorological services started with the establishment of Krizevci station in 1860. The establishment of a maritime meteorological service is linked to that of the Hydrographic Institute in Pula in 1862. An aeronautical meteorological service was started in 1923. From its establishment in 1817, until World War I, the Hydrological Service was administratively under the Central Hydrological Office in Vienna. In the period between World Wars I and II, all hydrological activities were supervised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Waters and the Ministry of Construction of Yugoslavia. During World War II, hydrology was set up within the Ministry of Construction of Croatia. The administrative status of the Meteorological Service before World War I was less comfortable since the Croatian territory was under the jurisdiction of Vienna, Budapest and Rome. In 1901, the stations in central Croatia came under the supervision of Zagreb-Gric Meteorological Observatory. The latter became the Geophysical Institute and remained responsible for meteorological services in Croatia until 1947.

In 1991, in the independent Croatia State, after separation from Yugoslavia, the title “Meteorological and Hydrological Service” was officially approved and Croatia joined WMO one year later. A Climatological Atlas of Croatia was compiled covering the period 1931-1960 and this work has been continued to cover the period 1961-1990. The main customers of meteorological services are the public and water- and power-management authorities. The activities of the Service include biometeorology, protection of the environment, agrometeorology, weather modification and research.

Our interviewee in this issue, Dr Vesna Jurcec, was born and brought up in Slavonski Brod. Her primary school years passed without much incident but secondary school coincided with World War II and its consequent tragedies. She joined the Department of Mathematics and Physics in the Faculty for Natural Sciences of the University of Zagreb in 1948 and graduated in 1952. She then joined the Hydrometeorological Service in Zagreb and was the first female meteorological forecaster. In 1959, Vesna went to the USA and enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for an M.Sc. under Prof. E.N. Lorenz1, which she obtained only a year later. Although Vesna liked the scientific and social atmosphere in MIT, she was not financially comfortable. During a conference in Boston, she met Prof. J. Bjerknes of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). She subsequently enrolled at UCLA and obtained her Ph.D. Later, Dr Jurcec worked for six years as a WMO expert in Egypt.

Readers will discover the details of Dr Jurcec’s professional life in this interview. I have known her for more than 25 years and have always admired and respected her knowledge, friendliness and enthusiasm. I was happy to see her once again to conduct this interview, which took place in Zagreb in August 2000.

H.T. — Tell us about the date and place of your birth, your parents and your childhood.

V.J. — I was born in 1927 in the industrial town, Slavonski Brod, on the River Sava, bordering with Bosnia. My maternal great-grandfather came there from Germany sometime during the 19th century and started the first shoe factory in that part of the country. He extended his investments to real-estate, buying houses, vineyards and land, and became a rich man. In 1926, my father, a young bank executive from Zagreb came to Slavonski Brod with his soccer team and met my mother. Soon afterwards they were married and my father started to work as an executive in a steel factory, where my mother’s family had an investment. My parents had two daughters, myself and my younger sister Georgia. We had a wonderful childhood. My father had a beautiful singing voice and his love for opera stayed with him throughout his life. My sister and I started piano lessons when we were six years old and I was a good accordionist. On excursions, I used to play the accordion while the rest of the children danced. At a local charity competition, I played accordion and my father sang the Italian song “Mama”: we won first prize. My father encouraged physical activities and we were all athletically inclined. We were members of the rowing club and three friends of mine and I won the national rowing competition in 1943. My sister loved to play ping-pong. She competed in tournaments and won the junior national tournament in 1949. Every Sunday, after church, we went to our vineyard in the hills beyond the town. My parents always invited lots of their friends to come with us. There were always many children and we all had a wonderful time. I took part in snow sports in winter and the summers were spent by the Adriatic Sea.

H.T. — What about your primary and secondary schooling.

V.J — I do not remember much of my primary schooling, but it was more or less a continuation of my happy childhood. I was a good pupil and I liked to go to school.

The first two years of secondary school went well. Then, in 1941, our tragedy started with World War II and continued for many years. Schooldays were difficult. Lectures were held in cinemas or other public areas, even in the park, and were frequently interrupted by sirens and bombings. My immediate family survived the War, but afterwards, with the change of regime, our world became one of pain and broken lives. We lost almost all our belongings. My father lost his job. I married a young Croatian officer from Zagreb, hoping to continue school privately. We had a son, Vladimir, but the marriage did not last and we divorced three years later. My father decided we would go back to Zagreb, where he got a job as an adviser to a company. My parents took care of my son and I went back to school. In 1948, I graduated from secondary school and my education in science started.

H.T. — What subjects did you study at university? Who were your professors?

V.J. — I started my undergraduate studies in the Department of Mathematics and Physics, Faculty of Natural Sciences, at the University of Zagreb. I had planned to study mathematics, but that very year, a new course started—geophysics, including meteorology—for which a fellowship was offered to good students. Since I did not know anything about geophysics, I went to discuss it with Prof. Josip Goldberg, the chairman of the Geophysical Institute. He explained to me in some detail the four-year study of geophysics and with such enthusiasm that I forgot my earlier plans. I was totally fascinated by his lectures and I learned one thing which stayed with me throughout my life: it is not sufficient to know your profession well; it is essential to know how to transfer your interest and your knowledge to others, especially to young students.

Dr Jurcec with Prof. G.O.P. Obasi, Secretary-General of WMO, and Mrs Obasi at a reception in 1993

After all, they may become even better than you one day and might do more for our science and its application for the benefit of mankind.

H.T. — What was your first employment? Can you describe the structure of the Meteorological Service in those days?

V.J. — I graduated in 1952 and started work as weather forecaster at the Hydrometeorological Service in Zagreb. There were six departments: Synoptic and Aerological, Climatology, Agrometeorology, Data Collection, Instruments, and Administration. I was the only one with a university diploma working in routine daily forecasting. It was difficult at the beginning and, whenever my forecast went wrong, I was on the verge of tears. My colleagues tried to comfort me and to convince me that it was impossible always to make a good forecast, but I could not believe that better knowledge would not improve forecasting skill. I decided that it would be a good idea to specialize in agrometeorological forecasting. The Agrometeorological Section was composed of people with diplomas in agriculture only. I thought their knowledge of mathematics and physics was inadequate to understand the atmospheric processes necessary for improving the forecast. I entered the Faculty of Agriculture and worked at weekends or in the afternoons so as to be able to attend as many lectures as possible. I started well and passed some exams with good grades.

After two years, in 1956, I had to interrupt these studies, when the Synoptic and Aerological Sectors were separated and I became the Chief of the Synoptic Section. I thought it would be a good opportunity to improve the daily weather forecasting by injecting more theoretical studies. I was fortunate enough to be able to employ the services of Prof. Branko Maksic to give a series of lectures in advanced forecasting problems and techniques. These lectures, although useful, were not adequate; I wanted a much more systematic and energetic approach. I kept asking myself why my colleagues and collaborators, both inside and outside the Service, were unable to understand that forecasting weather variations was a highly scientific problem. It would be impossible to understand all the intricacies of the weather and its daily variations through practical work only. I had heard something about forecasting the weather numerically in the USA and some other countries. Finally, when I was sufficiently disheartened and angry at my colleagues’ remarks—and particularly their laughter—I decided to apply for a graduate study scholarship in the USA. I chose the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, almost unbelievably, I was offered an assistantship.

H.T. — Tell us about your work at MIT.

V.J. — I arrived at MIT in September 1959 and enrolled for an M.Sc. That year, only two foreign students had been accepted in the Meteorology Department: myself and the current Secretary-General of WMO, Prof. G.O.P. Obasi. My boss was Prof. E.N. Lorenz and I was working on the project of statistical weather forecasting, which was also the subject of my M.Sc. thesis. The title was “Surface pressure prediction by means of statistics and the vorticity principle”. The pressure data from the previous two-month period were expressed as a sum of products of empirical orthogonal functions of time and space. The purpose of the research was to explore the possibility of improving the statistical surface-pressure prediction through the use of 500 hPa vorticity data. To improve the results, it was suggested that the temperature or thickness field be included in the statistical prediction. It was clear that the success of this method would require many more data and, consequently, a larger computer than we had available.

An earlier portrait of Vesna Jurcec

With great help from Prof. Lorenz, I completed my thesis and requirements for M.Sc. in one year, including the summer semester 1960, and I was ready to leave.

Besides my project work and the course in statistics, I enjoyed listening to lectures on the general circulation of the atmosphere given by Prof. Victor Starr. We had many discussions, particularly about atmospheric energy and I decided that I would like to take it for my Ph.D. thesis. The most interesting course to me was synoptic meteorology, especially the practical part given by Prof. Sanders. Of course, I had some advantage, since I had already spent seven years as a weather forecaster. I also attended some other courses and was delighted to talk to well-known personalities such as Charney, Phillips and Saltzman, as well as some visiting professors, among whom I appreciated Prof. A Brewer from England. I made many friends.

H.T. — Why did you leave MIT?

V.J. — I decided to leave MIT because the tuition fees were so high. I had only US$ 75 per month on which to live, or rather, survive. I also wanted to work on a synoptic project and take my Ph.D. in that subject. During a conference in Boston, I met Prof. Bjerknes, “the father of synoptic meteorology”, and asked him about the possibility of continuing my graduate studies in California. Again I was lucky. I received a letter telling me that I was accepted at UCLA. My life changed completely. With a salary of almost US$ 500 I began to live normally. I was not the only female student as at MIT. I met Miss Marlies Oberlander (now Mrs Phillip Emig) and we rented a nice little house in Calver City. Some of my male professors helped me a great deal and influenced my work and studies. Above all, I would like to mention M. Neiburger, J. Holmboe, L. Gates, A. Arakawa, T. Bergeron, E. Palmén2, P. Welander and A. Eliassen3.

Prof. Bjerknes was a nice person to work with and I enjoyed listening to his lectures in synoptic meteorology for undergraduate students. Unfortunately, my project work was not synoptic as I had expected, but air-sea interaction or, more precisely,  El Niño research.

H.T. — This is an interesting subject. Everybody is talking about this phenomenon today. What was the result of your study?

V.J. — El Niño is considered the culprit for too many of the world’s catastrophes. I prefer to consider it as a temporary anomaly in the atmospheric general circulation among all the other consequences. We studied the case of 1957/1958, which was not as strong as some later occurrences such as 1998, but was sufficiently representative. We thought that El Niño was caused by a weakening of the trade winds of both hemispheres from 1955 to 1958. The dominant meteorological factor was attributed to anomalies of atmospheric heat advection, leading to strong ocean-to-atmosphere heat transfer and warming of the ocean due to subnormal intensity of such heat transfer in the trade-wind belt. The manuscript of our paper was submitted to the Oceanographic Institute in La Jolla, which sponsored the research. The work was rather boring as all the analyses were done by hand and much of the sea-surface data were erroneous. Finally, with some help from Prof. Palmén I succeeded in convincing Prof. Bjerknes before he left on sabbatical leave in Norway to give me some money for computer time to proceed with the next project “California rainfall”. Upon his return, he was astonished that I had spent all the money. I tried to tell him that I could not explain the rainfall distribution without having a reliable field of vertical motions. I had support in this work from Palmén and Bergeron, I also had to admit that I was doing this work for my Ph.D. thesis, spending even all my free time since I arrived to UCLA, without ignoring the Bjerknes project. For my Ph.D oral exam I had the valuable help of Prof. Neiburger. I explained to the Committee members what I had done and believe it convinced them since my Ph.D. thesis was accepted. I felt confident during the exam as I had already explained to Prof. Eliassen what I was doing and he told me I could go to Norway if my thesis was not accepted at UCLA.

H.T. — What was the subject of your thesis and who was your supervisor?

V.J. — The title of my thesis was “Non-geostrophic vertical motions and energy transformation” and my supervisor was Prof. Morton Wurtele, who lectured in dynamics. The problem to be solved related to conditions under which large-scale disturbances tend to amplify and develop into an intense storm with all the consequences for local weather phenomena. For this purpose, a 10-level numerical model was developed for the calculation of spatial distribution of vertical motion which, in correlation with temperature, indicates the area of kinetic energy release. This represented a new tool in synoptic meteorology characterized by the availability of high-speed computers. The model was applied to a case-study of a California storm indicating good agreement with the storm development. With the help of Prof. Wurtele I completed my thesis almost one year after my oral exam and, in March 1964, I returned home.

H.T. — How did you get to know Prof. Tor Bergeron?

V.J. — In 1953, Prof. Bergeron came to Belgrade to give  a one-month course in synoptic meteorology, accompanied by his wife Vera—his “portable secretary”, as he used to say. It was a wonderful course and a colleague and I enjoyed watching his map analysis and explanations and transferring to others. They were invited to Zagreb, where Tor gave a lecture in the Academy of Science. We became friends and I always told them what I was working on. I often received answers with comments, such as not to write “orographic” vertical motions, but “orogenic” since the former were described only in conjunction with the mountains and the latter were caused by the mountain. We met again in Los Angeles twice and I was their “private driver”, going with them to parties.

H.T. — You returned to your country and before long you were sent to Egypt as a WMO expert. Could you tell us how this came about?

V.J. — I was not really sent to Egypt; I went there because I was not happy with either my work or my financial situation, although I had some savings from my student’s salary in the USA. I applied for a WMO mission and asked Profs Bjerknes and Wurtele for references. Again, I have to be grateful to Prof. Wurtele; he replied quickly and informed me that a research and training institute was being established in Cairo. He remembered that I had talked to the Bergerons about wanting to visit the pyramids and he suggested that I apply for a post. I did not write as he suggested but, with the few savings I had and the help of my Service, I went to Moscow to attend a conference on the Global Atmospheric Research Programme. Many of my professors from the USA were there, as well as scientists from all over the world, including Dr I. Holmstrom from Sweden, who was the project manager in Cairo. He talked to my professors from the USA and, on his return to Cairo, proposed to Mr M. Taha4, who was Director of the Meteorological Service, the services of a synoptic expert. In 1966, I was riding a camel at the pyramids.

H.T. — Why was this such a special time for you?

V.J. — I consider my time in Egypt the most pleasant time of my life for several reasons. First of all, it was my dream to visit Egypt and it was exciting to see the pyramids, to go to Luxor, Aswan, Alexandria and Port Said. I was even lucky enough to visit Sinai before the war in 1967. Secondly, I soon made many friends in Cairo—Egyptians and foreign experts, as well as compatriots. At the Institute, everyone was friendly and my students were interested in their studies. Some of them even took their master’s degree while I was there. The other factor was the considerable improvement in my living standard and a far better salary. Since I could not take Egyptian pounds outside the country, it was useless saving them, so I decided to live a luxurious life, buying many things, including beautiful pieces of furniture which I brought home. I remained in Cairo for six years and I enjoyed every single day of my stay there. I was happy teaching whatever I knew theoretically from my courses in the USA and from synoptic work at home. I taught synoptic and dynamic meteorology and Dr Victor Sadokov from Moscow, who became project manager after my arrival, taught numerical weather prediction. For the last two years of my stay there, I replaced Victor until he returned to Cairo at the beginning of 1972. I completed my assignment and went back to the Meteorological Service in Zagreb .

H.T. — How was it working as a female expert in a non-European country?

V.J. — I have only the experience of working in Egypt but I felt from the first day in the Institute that I was welcome and I tried my best not to think that I was the only female meteorologist there. I concentrated on what we were told at a UNESCO course before leaving on mission. They told us that we were going to a foreign country to help, that the locals knew their country better than we did and knew why they had asked for an expert. Thus, we should never push and impose our ideas, only make suggestions on what to do and how to do it. Perhaps at times it was an advantage to be a female, since I never argued with the Directors but waited patiently for my ideas to be accepted.

H.T. — Were your years of work and experience in the USA and Egypt put to good use at home?

V.J. — As soon as I returned home, I was nominated principal delegate of Yugoslavia in the WMO Commission for Atmospheric Sciences (CAS). My first CAS meeting was in Paris. As well as old friends, I made new acquaintances, including a lady (a rare occurrence in those days), Dr Zenobia Litynska from Poland. We met later on in many other meetings and have remained friends. In 1974, I was nominated principal delegate to a Commission for Basic Systems (CBS) session in Belgrade and so remained until my retirement. At the CBS session in 1992, however, I attended as principal delegate from Croatia, since Croatia had become an independent State from Yugoslavia. I enjoyed those meetings for the opportunity to meet people from all around the world. I was also active in the CBS Working Group on the Global Data-processing System and some smaller working groups. Besides my international activities, I was a delegate of the Hydrometeorological Service in the Scientific Union of Croatia which provided financial support for research projects, as well as partial financial help to attend international conferences. Through these activities, I met scientists from different countries and exchanged experiences of common research problems. I also met some of my professors from the USA, who asked me why I had left. One reason, I replied, was that there was a better chance to see them in those meetings. As the saying goes: “better to be first in the village than last in the city”.

H.T. — What did your research work comprise?

V.J. — After Cairo, my first job was a research project for investigating droughts jointly with hydrologists. This project was sponsored by the National Science Foundation of Croatia. So, even at home, I did not have the possibility to choose the problem I wanted to investigate. At the beginning, I did not know what to do on my own and was happy when my colleague Dr Josip Juras agreed to participate. Dr Juras is now working in the Geophysical Institute, University of Zagreb, and is the foremost specialist in statistics in Croatia. We started with statistical studies and he suggested the use of the Markov chain probability model for investigating long dry spells from the series of precipitation data. In addition, I studied rainfall deficiency over a longer period of time with the methods used in the theory of extremes. Finally, I looked into the relation between drought and the anomalies in the general circulation of the atmosphere, the interaction between troposphere and stratosphere and, in particular, droughts associated with stratospheric warming.

H.T. — You received an award for your work. Please tell us about it.

V.J. — On the recommendation of my colleagues from Belgrade University, I received for this work a WMO award from the Borivoje Dobrilovic Trust Fund. Dr Dobrilovic had been a professor at Belgrade University and served for many years as a WMO expert. When he died, his mother and sister commemorated his work by establishing the Trust Fund in his own country, Yugoslavia, and in Burundi, Guinea and Zaire, where he had served. The grants are intended to serve as encouragement to the selected individuals who have chosen meteorology as a career and to support their training and research activities. In the case of recipients in Yugoslavia, the Secretary-General of WMO took into consideration the recommendations received from the authorities of the University of Belgrade and of the Senior Maritime College, Kotor. Afterwards, I was chosen as a member of the committee for recommending scientists from Yugoslavia for this award. I am sorry that the award has not been granted to nationals of Yugoslavia since 1992 and to nationals of Burundi, Guinea or Zaire since 1993. I was proud to receive this award, which I used to travel  to Manila in addition to the funds I obtained for participation in the CAS session. This gave me the chance to meet my CAS colleagues, to visit the Philippines and to enjoy the hospitality of Dr R. Kintanar5.

H.T. — How did you come to work on the Adriatic Bora?

V.J. — Prof. Liljequist from Uppsala (Sweden) invited his friends to write articles for the Bergeron Memorial Volume. He learned about my friendship with Mrs Vera Bergeron and asked me to write a paper about the Adriatic Bora. I had never studied this problem before and the time was short for submitting the paper. I suggested writing about the mesoscale distribution of precipitation in the area of Zagreb, which I had almost ready for publication, instead. Prof. Liljequist answered that he was just interested in the Bora wind and offered me some more time to complete such a study. I worked day and night (not for the first time) collecting data, checking them, plotting the figures and writing the paper, which was mainly descriptive, leaving many questions without answers. This was published just in time for the preparation of the Alpine Experiment (ALPEX), which investigated the Bora wind.

H.T. — How did this work develop into an international project and what were the conclusions?

V.J. — Prof. Roland Smith of the University of Yale was working on the Bora problem during the ALPEX field phase and later on he wrote a paper on severe downslope winds and the serial observations of the Yugoslav Bora. I realized that he had read my paper in the Bergeron Memorial Volume. During the Conference on Alpine meteorology in Opatija (north Adriatic coast), I contacted him and suggested a joint project. The project was approved and we were happy to welcome Prof. Smith for a visit in Zagreb. We also invited Prof. Zdravko Petkrovsek  and his colleagues from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, to participate. The basic programme was the application of Smith’s mathematical model of severe downslope wind to several Bora cases with aircraft data from ALPEX, as well as from some archived cases with extreme Bora speed and gusts.

Vesna Jurcec with, from left to right, Jim Neilon (USA), Zenobia Litynska (Poland) and Doug Gauntlett (Australia) at the extraordinary session of CBS in London, United Kingdom, October 1990

The result of this study was a large step forward toward understanding the Bora phenomenon and its generation. However, the popular idea that the Bora is a “fall wind”,i.e. a wind which accelerates due to its low temperature as it moves downslope, has not been verified. The data supported Smith’s internal hydraulic mechanism with the mountain controlling the flow upstream. After the first phase we applied for an extension of the project and invited Prof. Fedor Mesinger and his colleagues from Belgrade University to work on the project, applying their numerical model for investigating three-dimensional features in the Bora occurrence. Unfortunately the war in Croatia interrupted this cooperation and we completed the project work with some modification.

H.T. — What about your activities in the field of training?

V.J. — I was employed part-time as a lecturer in synoptic meteorology in the Geophysical Institute of the University of Zagreb until my retirement in 1992. One year, I gave a course for graduate students in meteorology at Ljubljana University, Slovenia, travelling there once a week from Zagreb. I enjoyed teaching and, in particular, I was happy to supervise theses for master’s and doctor’s degrees even after my retirement.

H.T. — Do you maintain contact with the Meteorological Service in Croatia?

V.J. — I visit my former students and colleagues in the Service or they come to see me at home and we discuss problems or work on some joint paper. I also attend seminars, lectures and  other activities at the University. In 1998, I participated in a symposium dedicated to Academician Andrija Mohorovicic (1857-1936), one of the greatest Croatian scientists ever. Most of his work was related to the Meteorological Observatory in Zagreb, but later on his interest shifted to seismology. His demonstration of the existence of a boundary plane, named “The Mohorovicic Discontinuity” which separates the Earth’s crust from its mantle, was an epoch-making discovery. If you go one day to the moon, you will find a crater which bears his name.

Vesna Jurcec with students in Cairo, Egypt, in 1970

I wish we would also have a symposium dedicated to Academician Josip Goldberg (1885-1960) whom I mentioned earlier. He gave brilliant lectures, not only in meteorology, but also in geophysics and astronomy. I wish I could name a star after him.

H.T. — When you started your meteorological career, there were not many female meteorologists. Was this an advantage or a handicap?

V.J. — When I started work, there were only six meteorologists with a university diploma and two of us were female, but I was the only female forecaster. That was a real handicap because there was nobody to talk to or consult before giving the weather forecast to the public. For a while, before going to the USA and again when I returned from Cairo, I was giving the weather forecast on television. That was perhaps the advantage of being a female. However, I do not think there is a difference now between male and female forecasters. In our Service there are as many women as men and the Research Unit consists mainly of women. The situation was different in the USA when I was there. For example, in one class at MIT, I was the only woman among 45 students but I did not feel it either an advantage or a handicap.

H.T. — Do you have some memorable moments in  your professional life to share with us?

V.J. — I will tell you two anecdotes in connection with your previous question and my time at UCLA. The day, I went to the administration office with the required papers after completing my Ph.D, the lady refused to take them,saying “everybody must bring them personally”. It took me some time to convince her that it was my thesis and for her to grasp the fact that there was a woman Ph.D. in the Engineering Department. During a visit by Prof. Eliassen to UCLA, Prof. Yale Mintz organized a meeting at his home. My friend from Zagreb, Dr Nadezda Sinik, was at that time in UCLA working with Prof. Mintz and we were also invited. The rest of the participants were men. When we arrived, Prof. Eliassen said: “Oh! ladies are coming!” and Mrs Mintz quickly explained to him: “No, they are not ladies, they are scientists!”.

H.T. — What are you doing nowadays?

V.J. — I am still writing papers and preparing lectures. I like to work in my garden in Zagreb and to go to my weekend house some 25 km to the south. But most of all, I like to spend time with my granddaughter—even if I do have to take care of her cats and dogs! When I retired, my friends suggested I write my biography. I had no intention of doing so, but after all, thanks to you, I am doing it now!

H.T. — Would you like to say something about your family?

V.J. — My father died in 1973 and my mother in 1993. My son, who was an artist, a graduate of the Academy of Art, died of cancer in 1996. He left behind a beautiful daughter Lamjana, whom I love very much. As a 14-year old teenager, she is already toying with the idea of becoming a fashion model, but she is good at school. Her mother is also a meteorologist. Two years ago, Lamjana and I visited my sister Georgia Petrovic and her family in Los Angeles. She enjoyed Disneyland and the other attractions that California has to offer. It was a good change for a child who was going through the terrible war in Croatia and the death of her father. My sister’s life also took a special turn. She studied at the University of Zagreb, majoring in English language and literature. She was not as ambitious as me; she loved to write poetry and preferred a life of leisure! At the end of her university days, she married a lawyer who was also a national tennis champion and Davis Cup player. They left the country in 1955 and after three years in West Germany, they moved to  Los Angeles, where they still live. My sister continued her education there. graduating from college and also studied at UCLA. She still writes and the US National and International Library of Poetry has published some of her poetry and even put some on the Internet. Here is a fragment of a poetic letter she dedicated to me:

Now, that we live at such distance

I think of you, whenever the “weather man”   announces

the rain, yet the sun shines, bright!

Well, I remember you telling me,

one cannot always be right!

So, I wish all of you, the “weather people” all the best.

H.T. — Would you like to send a message to young women who might consider the atmospheric sciences as a profession?

V.J. — Certainly. Young ladies, if you are looking for an attractive career, ready for hard work and possible self-sacrifice—follow me and believe in success. Many men are disparaging about women scientists, but do not argue with them today, show them tomorrow how wrong they are. When you ride a camel around the pyramids, or drive through pineapple fields in Hawaii, or watch the beautiful clouds on the Adriatic coast, remember me and agree that atmospheric science is true poetry.

H.T. — What more is there to say? Thank you for giving this interview and for encapsulating the rewards of meteorology so eloquently.


  • 1 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 45 (2) and winner of the IMO Prize in 2000 [back]
  • 2 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 30 (2) [back]
  • 3 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 46 (4) [back]
  • 4 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 34 (2) [back]
  • 5 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 43 (4) [back]



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