June 2006 Downloads & Links
Fifty years ago ...

From WMO Bulletin 5 (2), April 1956


The WMO Bulletin of April 1956 carried articles on the first Caribbean Hurricane seminar, the International Geophysical Year 1957-58, activities of the Technical Commissions, utilization of wind power in India, meteorology in Europe, use of micro-opaque cards in meteorology, collaboration with other international organizations, the Technical Assistance Programme, meteorological transmissions in Europe and the international scale of radiation. 

An abridged selection of some of these articles is given here. Others were included in the April issue of MeteoWorld.


The picture on the cover 

The value of an efficient hurricane warning service is well illustrated by the remarkable decrease in loss of life due to hurricanes in recent years.  I.R. Tannehill has pointed out that, whereas the death-roll of a hurricane causing US$ 10 000 000 damage to property at the beginning of this century was likely to amount to several hundred lives, the loss of life nowadays in similar circumstances could on the average be counted on the figures of one hand. Further improvements in forecasting the development and movement of hurricanes depend largely on increasing the scientific understanding of the mechanics of such systems and on spreading existing knowledge. 

One way in which WMO can help in such maters is by arranging seminars under the Untied Nations Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance. … The first seminar of this nature—the Caribbean Hurricane Seminar—was held in Ciudad Trujillo from 16 to 25 February 1956. This cooperative project of the Government of the Dominican Republic, the United Nations Technical Assistance Administration and the WMO was a great success, and it is hoped that it will set an example to be followed in other parts of the world and on all branches of meteorology.  

Among the lecturers was Professor H. Riehl of the University of Chicago who delivered four lectures during the seminar on various subjects relating to hurricanes. The picture on the cover was taken during his lecture on the structure of hurricanes. The writing on the blackboard will no doubt be more understandable to those who did not attend the seminar when the texts of his four lectures are published in the full report of the seminar!

International Geophysical Year 1957-1958 

Although the preparation of the overall programme for the International Geophysical Year is the responsibility of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) and although its execution is largely in the hands of the Nations IGY Committees, the role which WMO has been called upon to play is of great importance. WMO has already been to the fore in the establishment of the meteorological programme and the adoption of a resolution on this subject by Second congress will undoubtedly be of value in ensuring that this programme will be carried out in many parts of the world. WMO has been asked to set up an international meteorological centre for the IGY and this will represent a major contribution to the success of the whole venture. 

Over the past four years a working group under the chairmanship of Prof. J. Van Mieghem has been studying various tasks assigned to it by the WMO Executive Committee. Hitherto, the work of this group has been done by correspondence, but it has for some time been realized that certain questions could best be settled by a meeting of the members. Arrangements were therefore made for the group to meet at he WMO Secretariat from 14 to 17 March 1956 … … 

Meteorological programme 

The main items of the meteorological programme or the IGY have already been published and it only remained for the group to consider a few additions which have been proposed. It was agreed to recommend a slight modification to the radiation programme and to support a proposal by the International Association for Hydrology that the programme should include the measurement of evaporation and evapotranspiration. 

The group had before it a document by the Bureau of the ICSU Special committee for the IGY on the use of harmless radioactive tracers for the study of circulation and mixing in the atmosphere and the oceans. In brief, some countries had proposed that the IGY programme should include some investigations using tritium, in the form of heavy water vapour, as a means of following air movement; for example, the release of heavy water vapour over the Antarctic Continent could contribute to a solution of the problem of the mixing of Antarctic air masses with the rest of the atmosphere. While supporting such experiments in  principle, the Bureau of CSAGI had indicated some uncertainty as to whether their practical plans could be prepared in time for their execution during the IGY. This same doubt was expressed b y the group but was nevertheless recommended that any experiments which might lead to the use of harmless radioactive tracers for meteorological research should be encouraged. 

International meteorological centre 

The working group had been requested by the Executive Committed, in consultation with the Secretary-General, a plan whereby the WMO Secretariat could act as an international meteorological centre for the IGY. The main functions of this centre would be to collect the essential IGY meteorological data and to make arrangements for supplying copies of the data to scientific institutes and to research workers. 

The group decided to recommend that this work should be entrusted to a special IGY Unit within the WMO Secretariat. Under the scheme proposed, meteorological services would be requested to supply data from a certain number of their main synoptic surface stations, from all upper-air stations and from all selected ships. The data would be supplied on standard forms, which would ensure a reasonably homogeneous presentation. In the WMO IGY Unit, the forms would be registered and sent out for reproduction on micro-opaque cards. Copes of these cards would then be made available oat cost price. 

It was realized that in planning the work of the WMO IGY Unit many problems would arise which could only be solved when sufficient practical experience had been gained The working group accordingly recommended that the period 1 to 5 January 1957 should be designated as a trial period for the IGY, during which all meteorological services would be requested o complete the standard forms and to send them to the WMO Secretariat for processing into micro-opaque cards. 

Antarctic questions 

It was reported to the group that the Secretariat had been asked to coordinate the allocation of index numbers to IGY meteorological stations in the Antarctic and the development of meteorological codes to be used by these stations. … 

Information was available about the duties of the Antarctic Weather Central to be established in Little America by the USA.    Other participating countries had been invited to designate respresentatives to work at this central. .. there were sound arguments in favour of having a second Antarctic Weather Central, for example n the Union of South Africa, and the group recommended that this suggestion should be considered at the next Antarctic Conference. 

Technical Assistance Programme 

The year 1955 had seen a remarkable increase n the activity of WMO in the technical assistance field… 

Project during 11955 covered a wide rang of subjects and were  spread over a total of 23 countries, involving the services of 22 experts and, in addition, providing overseas study facilities for 36 officers from various meteorological services. 

… much of the effort in meteorological technical assistance was directed towards the organization of Meteorological Services and most of these projects continue into 1956 and some into 1958. Of the total force of 22 experts in the field duding 1955, at least half were engaged in giving advice and guidance on organizational matters.  

There followed a review of technical assistance projects being carried out in East Africa, Afghanistan, Burma, Pakistan, Chile, Peru, Nicaragua and Yugoslavia. 

… the stress placed on advice and guidance in organizational problems is logical and understandable. It is however reasonable to assume that, in future, the emphasis will move as the technical assistance scheme develops. As services became more soundly organized and more satisfactorily staffed, the emphasis on technical assistance ins expected to shift from these matters to the more fundamental professional and technical problems involved in the application of meteorological knowledge to the economy of the country. This trend is, indeed, already noticeable in that increasing demands are being received for technical assistance in the application of meteorology to the important problems of water resource development and to the urgent needs of agriculture. 

Meteorological transmissions in Europe 

(Outcomes of the second session of the Regional Association VI Working Group on Telecommunications

Radio-teleprinter broadcasts 

There is a constant demand for increasing the amount of information carried by meteorological circuits which in some cases have nearly reached saturation. An effective way of dealing with this situation is by increasing the efficiency and speed of transmission. 

Considering that radio-teleprinter transmissions provide a more expeditious system of dissemination of sub-continental meteorological information than wireless telegraphy (W/T), the working group adopted a recommendation proposing that a radio-teleprinter plan should be established, based on existing broadcasting centres.  

Inclusion of 150 mb and 100 mb levels in up-air messages 

… most of the W/T sub-continental broadcasts cannot at present accommodate this increased material. The working group therefore considered that the only way to comply with the request of the Commission for Aerology to include this additional material in upper-air messages is by reconsidering the degree of priority to be accorded to the various types of upper-air data. Accordingly, a recommendation was passed seeking the guidance of RA VI on this matter. 

Organization of the international meteorological teleprinter
network in Europe

In view of recent modifications in the meteorological teleprinter network in Europe, an ad hoc group was established to draw up a revised plan …[which] was later adopted by the working group and will be published in due course … 

Use of facsimile transmission for meteorological purposes and standardization of facsimile apparatus 

… the utilization of facsimile transmissions for meteorological purposes and the standardization of facsimile apparatus [ensures] the necessary compatibility for international exchange of meteorological information. A list of desiderata to be standardized was adopted [which] will be presented to the International telegraph Consultative Committee as a first contribution by WMO on this important subject. 

Joint WMO/ICAO review of RA VI telecommunications requirements 

There was a measure of opinion among the group that the various steps which have been taken from time to time to provide additional telecommunications facilities o meet the increasing requirements for meteorological information both for aeronautical and general synoptic purposes have not been properly coordinated and that, as a result, the present facilities are neither the most efficient nor the most economical. The working group accordingly recommended that a regional joint WMO/ICAO meeting should be convened as soon as possible with a view to developing a coordinated plan to meet the telecommunications needs of the region efficiently and economically.


Use of micro-opaque cards in meteorology 

An article on the use of micro-opaque cards in meteorology (see item on the International Geophysical Year) extended over slightly more than seven pages. The following is a resume. 

Apart from self-perpetuation, the chief purpose of scientific societies, institutions and organizations is the creation, organization, preservation and dissemination of scientific knowledge for the ultimate purpose of service to man. Scientific knowledge can only be created in the minds of one or two human beings. Teams of men, assisted by machines of ever-increasing complexity, are replacing individuals with pencil and paper, slide-rule or abacus in compiling or organizing scientific information. For several centuries, the printing press and its many specialized successors have done a heroic job of widespread preserving and disseminating information; and, more recently, microfilm and the punched card have proved themselves to be further steps in this direction. The punched card is primarily of value in organization of data but is only economical for analysis and collation of vast quantities of statistical information by those few institutions having adequate facilities for data processing. 

A need has been felt all along for some means of dissemination of information which is cheaper, more convenient and more widespread than can be provided by microfilm, punched card or offset methods and at the same time for a more compact medium for preservation and transportation where from 10-100 or more copies are required. The obvious answer is microprinting and several forms of mciroprinting from originals or negatives have been developed in the last decade. The mirco-opaque card is one form and perhaps the most convenient, for mircroprinting from compact preservation, easy selection of identification and convenient shipment, as well as for reading … other institutions are now considering the use of micro-opaque cards … especially during the coming International Geophysical Year …

From the 30 000 meteorological articles, monographs, etc., abstracted by Meteorological Abstracts in the past 6 years, about 7 500 have been selected for placing on microcards. Each document or article is photographed on 16 or 35 mm film and glossy prints are then made and laminated on the back of standard 3 x 5 inch libra4ry cards containing the bibliographic citations and abstract of the piece. A library of 7 500 such cards can be stored in about 10 ordinary 14-inch filing drawers occupying  2 or 3 cubic feet of space. If unlaminated cards were used, the same material would occupy about half as many drawers. 

The reduction is usually between 17 : 1 and 23 : 1. This makes it possible to identify with the naked eye large, clear illustrations and the general nature of the document. A magnifying glass gives little better resolution than the naked eye. A hand reader enlarges 12 times and permits quick reference to a limited amount of material while sitting at one’s desk or working at a place where no standard reader is available. 

Several models of reader are now in production … [the image] can be read from almost any angle and in a well-lighted room, thanks to the wide-angle lens and flat field lighting. These readers occupy less space and are much easier to manipulate than the usual microfilm readers. A new reader now being developed permits enlarged prints to be made directly from the microcard image while on the screen -  in case one wants to preserve and enlarge a portion of the material for future inspection without the aid of the viewer. The image on the screen in a reflected image, which eliminates the eye fatigue commonly associated with the reading of transparent microfilm. ...

… there is not need to go to distant shelves or to untie rolls of maps or bundles of loose publications. 

Microcards occupy far less space than the original documents and as a rule occupy somewhat less space than microfilm. An entire library of 50 000or 75 000 pieces could be stored in a cabinet which could be loaded in a small truck and moved at short notice, without need for elaborate packing and crating. Furthermore, a number of sets could, if necessary, be stored in widely separated places. Finally, if the microcards are destroyed by fire or flood, exact duplicates can be quickly prepared from the negatives.  

To summarize: the micro-opaque card provides a cheap, compact, durable and easily transported medium for duplication of manuscript or printed documents, articles or data compilations in numbers of from 10 to 100 or more. It enables the user to set up any kind of filing system he desires, without resort to elaborate coding systems and to re-organize or re-distribute the material at will without complicated conversion processes. It also provides for an easy, rapid and economical selection of single units of material for local use or for loan by airmail to any place in the world. It serves with equal facility and at the same relative cost, the large central institution, the small institution or the individual research worker, no matter how isolated he is from the main centers of action of the turbulent and rapidly expanding world of documentation. 

While it cannot replace the printed page, on the one hand, or the microfilm or punched card on he other, it fills a long felt need for medium range distribution of all but the most frequently used material and for preservation of even the most used, as well as the rarest of scientific publications. Microcard readers and microcard libraries are already in use in remote Antarctic meteorological bases and climatological or forecasting and research centres in the Pacific Islands and the Arctic, as well as in major libraries. Within a few years, they will be as universal and perhaps more indispensable than the microfilm and microfilm reader in all meteorological research centres and libraries, whether on an isolated mountain peak, on the Antarctic ice-pack or in a busy metropolis.  


Short printable version English
MeteoWorld archive
50 years ago...
High-impact weather
Related sites
Art gallery
International Polar Year