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From WMO Bulletin 5 (4), October 1956


Fifty years ago, the main items in the October Bulletin included a survey of current control practices concerning basic weather data, a report of the 22nd session of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, plans for the meteorological programme of the International Geophysical Year 1957-1958 and reviews of activities of the regional associations, the Technical Assistance Programme and technical commissions. There were also reports of a meeting on radar and meteorology (Essen, Germany, June 1956) and the World Power Conference (Vienna, June 1956), on the creation of a new international society for the study of bioclimatology and biometeorology, the world comparison of radiosondes (Payerne, Switzerland, June 1956) and of the Symposium on Atmospheric Ozone (Ravensburg, Germany, June 1956). Finally, there were articles on water resource development, the question of WMO extending its mandate to include hydrology, and on sferics in Sudan. Preparations for the International Geophysical Year 1957-1958 were included in write-ups of almost all WMO activities. 

An abridged selection of some of these articles is given here. Others will be included in the next issue of MeteoWorld in December 2006.


The picture on the cover  

In accordance with the protocol to the agreement between the Swiss Confederation and WMO, a series of six postage stamps were to be issued in honour of the Organization on 22 October 1956. The stamps of value 5c, 10c and 40c were designed by Donald Brun (Basle) and those of CHF 2 by Eric Poncy (Geneva). They would be made available for use on official WMO correspondence and for private correspondence placed in a special letterbox. The stamps would be cancelled for a short period after issue by a special postmark mentioning WMO and subsequently by the normal postmark of the United Nations, Geneva. For philatelic purposes the stamps are on sale, either mint or postmarked, from the Service philatélique de la Direction des PTT, Bollwerk 8, Berne, Switzerland. 

As pointed out some time ago by F.E. Dixon (Weather, Vol. II, No. 2, p. 34), a specialized collection of stamps with some meteorological connection offered a wide field for the philatelist. Apart from the new WMO issue, there would be considerable possibilities of enlarging such collections in the near future when special stamps are issued by various countries for the International Geophysical Year. 

The cover also carried a reproduction of the WMO emblem. The Executive Committee recently decided that the official WMO seal should be based on this emblem and that it should be used as a distinctive sign on WMO publications and documents. 

Basic weather data: a survey of current control practices

To discover what was being done to integrate all basic weather data into the files of Meteorological Services and what was being done to make those data accessible to interested workers, the chairman of the Working Group of the Commission for Climatology on Arrangements for International Exchange of Historical Weather data requested the Secretariat to carry out a survey of current data collection, annotation and dissemination procedures in National Meteorological Services. This article was a summary of a report prepared by the working Group on the basis of replies received from 55 countries. 

International data control centre 

The principal conclusion was that it would be to the advantage of all Services to establish at the WMO level a data control centre for basic data which would discharge two principal functions: (a) it would act as a data information centre on the availability of weather records; and (b) as a records receiving, reproducing and disseminating centre. Such a centre would receive weather records in the agreed format and, upon request, reproduce and disseminate the records in micrographic form to all concerned. 

… such an activity on the part of WMO would stimulate meteorological research to an extent which is highly restricted today by the expensive and necessarily highly selective process of publishing basic data. At the same time it would tend to eliminate current cumbersome procedures of service-to-service requests for basic data. 

National data control 

… a necessary preamble to this project was the establishment of data control authorities within the National Meteorological Services.  … the group believed that these authorities were not yet firmly established … their immediate purpose [therefore] was to suggest improvements in data control procedures at the national level … the IGY Meteorological Data Centre in the WMO Secretariat meanwhile would serve as a pilot project (see “Fifty years ago” in the August 2006 edition of MeteoWorld). 

Collection procedures 

Do you collect all your domestic basic weather data for permanent retention? Fifty out of 53 Services indicated Yes without qualification. 

… replies to subsequent questions indicated that the encouraging replies were probably based on a narrow interpretation of what constitutes basic data. … weather data were recorded by scholastic institutions, business firms and corporations, research foundations and similar institutions of both governmental and non-governmental character. The group did not propose that the National Services should physically collect the material but suggested that they should (a) recognize that they were not collecting all of it and (b) attempt to set up a mechanism in each Service which would be responsible for maintaining cognizance of all data being recorded, whether by the Service itself or by others within the geographical area of responsibility. This would require extensive coordination between the official Services and other institutions taking observations. 

Punching programmes 

Twenty-four Services indicated punching programmes in effect as of 1954.

The group recommended that WMO periodically survey Members with regard to the status of their punching programmes with the object of fostering international exchange of punched cards and preventing duplication of effort. 

Annotation procedures 

Do you maintain detailed inventories (catalogues or indexes) of all your domestic weather data? Less than 50 per cent of the Services replying indicated an unqualified Yes.  … inventories, either detailed or otherwise, were not available for many types of data of potential research value. Some types of special data for which the survey asked specific questions were: solar and terrestrial radiation, aerial reconnaissance, auroral phenomena, turbulence, cloud thickness, icing permafrost and evaporation. 

It was a widespread practice to delegate the annotation (searching and cataloguing) responsibility to libraries or other divisions of the Meteorological Services which were independent of the collection division which acquires the basic data. The dissemination function is delegated to a less extent. 

The collection and annotation functions, as well as the dissemination function, should be assigned to a single data control authority within the Service. The fact that the data information service, an outgrowth of the annotation function, was not widely developed at the national level, was one of the principal obstacles in the way of an international data centre. 

Dissemination of basic data 

The vast majority of the Services replying indicated that they filed their weather records near a centre of weather research activity, and that the records were so located that, in the majority of cases, researchers were able to use them at the site of collection rather than wait for delivery of copies. 

… a dissemination service to provide copies of the records was usually essential.  Examples were the production of Photostat or microfilm copies of the records upon the request of research agencies … this type of function would be an important responsibility of the proposed international data control centre and, if discharged by WMO, would enable the Organization to contribute important data support to worldwide meteorological research. 

… publication of observational, data would not entirely solve the dissemination problem, because of the ever-increasing volume of records. Requirements for basic data might best be met by an international data control centre which would include a depository to which all Members could contribute and from which they could draw copes upon request. Such a system would not necessarily replace the international exchange of published selected data which would undoubtedly continue to satisfy certain groups. But to the researcher, interested in more elements, more observations and greater coverage than is available in the publications, such a system would offer copies of original records, containing a wealth of information not ordinarily available except through cumbersome service-to-service requests. 

… only 50 per cent of the Services replying indicated that they published complete weather observations for any of their weather stations. 


… A common theme … was the difficulty of acquiring funds, trained personnel, space and equipment with which to perform the data functions. … these difficulties [were traced] to a lack of general awareness in many cases of the value of the records collected, of the importance of their accessibility and the complexity of processing the data. Also, because some records did not lend themselves readily to classical concepts of climatological summarization, they were often considered of little value subsequent to the taking of the observations for some specific forecasting, research or operational problem. 

Other problems raised were: 

  Centralization of weather records can cause loss of record in times of war; 

  Sheer volume precluded collection of all basic data by at least one Service and
 required a choice of what to inventory and publish

  A complex geographical distribution of weather stations posed an administrative
   collection problem for some Services; 

  Changes in sites, codes and times of observation affect the value of the records
   collected and make the cataloguing of records more difficult.

Economic and Social Council of the United Nations—22nd session
(Geneva, 9 July to 9 August 1956) 

Water resource development 

There had been in recent years an increasing realization on all sides of the importance of this subject in the development of many countries, particularly but not exclusively in arid and semi-arid regions. ECOSOC had given careful consideration to this subject and had adopted several important resolutions. 

… meteorology and hydrology were closely interrelated … WMO had for many years accepted various aspects of hydrology as falling within the purview of the Organization … the role which WMO could play was becoming more clearly defined, particularly in relation to the efforts in this field of the Untied Nations and other specialized agencies. 

The Executive Committee of the Organization … had established a panel of six internationally recognized experts to advise the Organization on water-resource problems. … [It had] envisaged a programme which was fully consistent with the agreements reached at [various] inter-agency meetings and which was in complete harmony with the spirit of the resolutions of ECOSOC. 

… the Organization …would be of real assistance in serving the common task of undertaking water resource projects which were so necessary for the economic development of many countries of the world. 

… the policy established by the Executive Committee reaffirmed the close relationship between hydrology and meteorology and accepted in a more formal way that the activities of the Organization must be concerned with certain aspects of hydrology. The policy included the encouragement of full coordination between National Meteorological Services and the corresponding National Hydrological Services … . 

International Geophysical Year 

… the information derived from the programme of the International Geophysical Year would yield substantial benefits to the science of meteorology and to other scientific disciplines and this in turn ought to enable workers in these fields to give increased assistance, by the application of their specialized knowledge, to many of the world’s social and economic problems. 

Technical Assistance Programme 

… in a few countries, it had been possible to help establish Meteorological Services where previously none had existed. The first requirement in such cases was the establishment and operation of a network of meteorological stations by means of which the important but unspectacular process of accumulating meteorological records proceeded. It was these records which constituted the sum total of a country’s knowledge of its weather and climate and it was this knowledge which in turn was needed in many ways to assist in economic development. One example of the application of such knowledge was to water resource problems … 

… meteorology was essentially a subject in which the same problems arose in more than one country, for weather and climate paid no respect to man-made frontiers. Thus many meteorological problems were essentially regional in character and it was felt that more attention should be given to regional projects in meteorological technical assistance. 

Peaceful uses of atomic energy 

… WMO policy on the meteorological aspects of the peaceful use of atomic energy had recently been established by the Executive Committee and provided for WMO playing its full part as a specialized agency in advising international agencies and Member countries on the meteorological aspects of atomic energy. A panel of four experts had been nominated to advice on these matters. One of the main preoccupations of the panel would be the use of radioactive materials to help the science of meteorology itself. There were wide possibilities of valuable techniques being developed for meteorological purposes such as, for example, the measurement of the large-scale circulation of the atmosphere over the Earth’s surface by the use of harmless radioactive tracers … the new international atomic agency would be able to give valuable assistance to WMO and the National Meteorological Services in such work

The other aspect of WMO’s interest in this field was the cooperation with other agencies and committees with a view to solving any questions relating to atomic energy which might involve meteorological factors. One of these questions was the movement in the atmosphere of radioactive waste products from reactor plants whether arising from routine or accidental discharge. The standardization of methods of measurement of atmospheric radioactivity both on the Earth’s surface and at great heights might perhaps be facilitated by reference to existing meteorological observational procedures and possibly the use of existing networks of meteorological stations throughout the world. 

International Geophysical Year 1957-1958 

The previous issue of the Bulletin had reported on decisions in connection with the meteorological programme for the IGY (see MeteoWorld, August). In the intervening months a good deal of the work of the Secretariat had been directed towards the realization of these decisions. 

Standard forms, selected stations, Antarctic codes 

Surface synoptic observations from land stations would be made on a standard form allowing for 20 successive observations at 6-hourly intervals from one station.

Provisional lists of selected surface synoptic stations had been drawn up for the northern and southern hemispheres, each list giving an average density over land areas of about four stations per five-degree square. These lists, which contained approximately 1 500 and 600 stations respectively, were circulated to countries for comments and alterations. A final list of selected stations was expected to be issued at the end of 1956 with the brochure containing all relevant details of the IGY meteorological programme. 

New meteorological codes were based on the international meteorological codes representing the best practical solution to the various problems specific to the Antarctic. They would come into force officially on 1 July 1957, the opening date of the IGY.

Arctic Conference 

The Arctic Conference met from 22 to 25 May 1956 in Stockholm. The agenda included the distribution of Arctic stations, the coordination of observations and transmissions and the standardization of working methods. 

… it was recommended that the sensitivity of instruments should be increased so that measurements could be made using moonlight, that a standard method of measuring the ozone content of surface air should be developed and that every effort should be made to establish ozone stations at latitude 65°N or higher from 19°E eastwards to148°W. The establishment of an aerological and actinometric station on the Greenland ice cap was strongly recommended whilst countries planning to make actinometric measurements in the Arctic were advised to examine the results of the comparisons of radiation instruments made in Hamburg in September 1955 and May 1956. 

… It was recommended that daily charts for 50 mb should be published for the northern hemisphere and as much of the equatorial region as data permitted. Every effort should be made to improve the quality and quantity of radio transmissions of synoptic observations from the Arctic, particular attention being paid to aerological observations from high altitudes.

Antarctic Conference 

The resolutions on radio transmissions and on actinometric and ozone measurements adopted for the Arctic applied equally to the Antarctic. There were significant gaps in the observational network of the southern oceans. Various solutions proposed included the use of weather ships, increased whaling ships’ reports, the use of expedition ships and warships on passage or a special ship circumnavigating between latitudes 45 and 55°S. Another possibility was reports from aircraft reconnaissance flights. The USA intended to station a weather ship at about 55°S 170°E during the summer months of the IGY. 

The Conference expressed the hope that the complete scientific results of the Norwegian-British-Swedish expedition to Maudheim, which would be of considerable importance in planning the analysis of data to be collected during the IGY would be made available by the autumn of 1957. 

The conference re-examined the earlier plans for radio communications in the Antarctic and regrouped the stations to secure a more reliable network capable of carrying all the meteorological data. A number of trials in connection with radio blackouts, interference and the failure of intra-Antarctic communications were decided upon. A radio manual containing the stations, call signs, frequencies and working procedures was under preparation. 


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