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«Medium-Range Weather Prediction Austin Woods Medium-Range Weather Prediction The European Approach The story of the European Centre for Medium-Range ...»

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When summarising past events, one has to rely in large part on documents written at the time by others. Plagiarism is copying someone else’s work. Using material from many contemporary documents can I hope be called ‘research’. Much of this kind of research has gone into this book.

I could not have written this book without help. The enthusiasm of those associated with the Centre at the prospect that its story would be recorded was evident. I thank all those who gave of their time and otherwise assisted me. I thank Dr Lars Prahm, at whose suggestion I started to write this book. I hope that I have not disappointed anyone with the resulting work.

I express particular gratitude to Dr Erich Süssenberger who gave me a great deal of practical help and answered many queries. He was kind enough to extend his encouragement to my writing. He had reached the normal retirement age of 65 on 13 February 1976, but his continuing interest in and enthusiasm for the Centre was clear when we met in late 2004.

The Centre’s past Directors Prof. Aksel Wiin-Nielsen, Mr Jean Labrousse, Prof. Dr Lennart Bengtsson and Dr Martin David Burridge CBE, and the current Director Mr Dominique Marbouty, were generous with their time and support, and patient in dealing with questions and queries. So also were Sir John Mason, Director-General of the UK Meteorological Office when the Centre was being established, and Mr Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization and a former member of the Centre’s staff.

The COST Secretariat in Brussels and the German Weather Service DWD kindly made their invaluable archives available to me. Detlev Frömming of DWD gave me a great deal of practical assistance. The UK Met Office also made contemporary documents available. Prof. Anton Eliassen and Mr Magnús Jónsson helped to clarify issues relating to Norway and Iceland respectively.

John Wilmot of the UK Ministry of Supply 1945-47 said: “What I like about scientists is that they are a team, so that one does not need to know their names.” Many current and former staff members of the ECMWF team, delegates to the Centre’s Council and its Committees, and others within and xiii

xiv Acknowledgements

outside the Centre, allowed me to interview them or provided documentary material. Some gave particular help in supplying important and useful material, and improving the text as it progressed: Tony Hollingsworth, Adrian Simmons, Martin Miller, Walter Zwieflhofer, Philippe Bougeault, Gerd Schultes, David Anderson, Tim Stockdale, Sakari Uppala, Peter Janssen, Horst Böttger, Tim Palmer, Manfred Klöppel, John Hennessy, Roberto Buizza, Mariano Hortal, Bob Riddaway, Anabel Bowen and Rob Hine. I thank them all.

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The first Director Professor Aksel Wiin-Nielsen, the ideal candidate for Director of the soon-to-be-established European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), was not particularly interested in the post. This was regrettable. However, it was understandable.

Wiin-Nielsen was in an enviable position. He had had an interesting and productive career. His working life started as a secondary-school teacher in his native Denmark, before joining the Danish Meteorological Institute in

1952. In 1955 he went to the International Meteorological Institute in Stockholm, Sweden as a student. Within six months of his arrival, he was invited to present lectures. One of his students was Lennart Bengtsson from Sweden, who was to become the first Head of Research of ECMWF and later its third Director.

Wiin-Nielsen went to the United States in 1959, first to Suitland, Maryland to join the staff of the Joint Numerical Weather Prediction unit.

He moved to Boulder, Colorado as scientist at the new Laboratory for Atmospheric Science (LAS). This was part of the new National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), which at the time owned neither buildings nor computers. Years later, he was to recall his time as Assistant Director of LAS: “there were so many practical things of building and changing and getting equipment and installing it... and we were all equally inexperienced in all these things”. But what excellent experience for the future first Director of ECMWF!

Wiin-Nielsen had moved to Michigan in 1963. In 1969, when in his mids, he first heard of the plans to establish the Centre. He was visiting professor at Copenhagen University for a year, on sabbatical leave from his post as Professor and Chairman of the prestigious Meteorological Department of the University of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Department had several full Professors specializing in specific areas of atmospheric sciences.


2 Chapter 1

His wife Bente and three daughters were settled in the USA. Life was pleasant in these American university towns in the 1960s. Schools were good; his daughters were progressing through the system. Cultural interests were well catered for, with visits from renowned European and American orchestras, artists and theatrical groups. Leisure activities included tennis, a favourite exercise for Wiin-Nielsen; he played tennis regularly with his grandchildren well into the new millennium, when he was in his late 70s.

He had an excellent professional and family life in the USA. The Beach Boys put it well: “This is the way I always dreamed it would be”. The activities concerning the planning for ECMWF had registered as only a small blip on Wiin-Nielsen’s personal radar, especially as progress was slow.

Suggestions were tentatively made that he consider becoming Director of the planned Centre. He twice rather firmly turned them down.

The choice of Director was discussed on 8–9 May 1973 at the third informal conference of the Directors of the National Meteorological Services of the States interested in COST — European Cooperation in Scientific and Technical Research; we will discuss this further in Chapter 3. This was two months after the decision to site the Centre in the United Kingdom. At the invitation of Dr John Mason, later Sir John, the Director-General of the UK Meteorological Office, the conference was held at the Headquarters of the Meteorological Office at Bracknell. The conference expressed the wish that the Centre be set up quickly and efficiently. It was decided that a provisional Council of the Centre should be established, if possible before 1 August, to act as ruling body. This would remove responsibility for the Centre from the COST Senior Officials, who up to now had carried responsibility for establishing the Centre. The provisional Council could then make the decision on the Director, on the basis of technical and scientific criteria. If the Council had not been established, the COST Senior Officials would decide.

Now who should be chosen, and how?

The world of meteorology has always been rather small, well informed and well connected. It had been recognised that “above all [of the other essential conditions which had to be fulfilled to establish a viable Centre], an outstanding and particularly energetic scientist had to be appointed Director of the planned institute”. All the researchers in the field, all conceivable candidates, were well known to COST. No advertisement of the vacancy was required.

Three possible candidates all well qualified in the field were considered:

Prof B. Döös from Sweden and Prof F. Wippermann from Germany as well as Prof Wiin-Nielsen. However, the general opinion of the conference “was in favour of Professor Wiin-Nielsen”. There was agreement that a group The first Director 3 should be set up as soon as possible to provide the nucleus of the staff of the Centre. This would comprise the provisional Director and four others.

These would be experts in the fields of numerical prediction, computers, telecommunications and administration, also to be appointed provisionally.

Mr C. L. Silver, President of the COST Senior Officials, noted that the “support for Wiin-Nielsen was very much greater than that for the other two”. Döös and Wippermann requested that their names be withdrawn.

Wiin-Nielsen’s position now left those planning the Centre with a real problem. It was not simply that he was the best candidate. In a sense, we see that he was now in fact the only candidate.

It would appear that the choice of Wiin-Nielsen was made without any political considerations. Some readers may perhaps find it beyond credibility that any major European decision can be made without political considerations. For their benefit, we can find just a flavour, just the smallest hint, of politics. We will see in a later Chapter that in the vote on the site for the location of the Headquarters of the Centre, Denmark was in second place after the UK. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the decision was made that the Headquarters of another European organisation — the European Patent Office — would go to another hopeful contender, Germany. Now what about Denmark? Would it not be entirely appropriate that the first Director would come from Denmark?

Lennart Bengtsson, who was visiting the USA at this critical time, was aware of Wiin-Nielsen’s reluctance. Knowing Wiin-Nielsen to be “a competent and born leader”, he visited him in Ann Arbor. Bengtsson informed Wiin-Nielsen that he, Wiin-Nielsen, had been nominated for the post of Director of ECMWF, and frankly told him that one of the objectives of the visit was to encourage him to apply.

Meanwhile, for Wiin-Nielsen, times and circumstances were changing. In early summer 1973, he had been offered the position as Department Head at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, a position created by the departure of Philip D. Thompson. In addition, George Benton, Deputy Director of the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA), successor to the US Weather Bureau, wanted Wiin-Nielsen as Director of the various research laboratories under ESSA, which would also have meant him moving back to Boulder.

Wiin-Nielsen had been at the University of Michigan for ten years. After much reflection, he decided that it was time to move on; there was now a growing sense of inevitability about it. He decided that “if I am going to move anywhere, it has to be to ECMWF”.

4 Chapter 1

He had always had a special interest in setting up new institutions: “in one way, it’s easier: you don’t have to fit in with something that already exists”.

In addition, the new Director recruits his own staff. He does not have to “take over a group of people who have been used to someone else’s style”.

Wiin-Nielsen felt that “you avoid having to take on the weight of the past, which can be hard to bear at old institutions”.

Not quite sure how best to proceed, on 31 July 1973, Wiin-Nielsen wrote to Mr Silver at COST. He informed him that he was aware that he had been nominated for the post of Director of the projected Centre. He expressed his great interest in being considered, being “fully inclined to accept the post if it was offered”. He was aware that it was planned that a group, including the Director-designate, would be established in late summer or early autumn 1973 to make initial plans for the Centre. Wiin-Nielsen enquired into the state of the project, and requested any other information judged useful.

The reply from Silver on 14 August was positive, and outlined the reason for the delay in completing the work on the Convention. Matters concerning the organisation, its programme and its financing had all been settled.

What remained was without great significance to the Centre itself, but had assumed great importance to some future Member States, given the precedent that could be set for future organisations: the determination of the official and working languages of the Centre. [Some thirty years later, when consideration would be given to amending the Convention for the first time, the same question of languages was to prove the most difficult to resolve.] Since little would normally be accomplished in Europe in the summer period, the matter was unlikely to be resolved before mid-September at the earliest. The signing of the Convention could be expected soon after the problem was resolved, and the Director appointed provisionally a few weeks thereafter. He was not in the position to tell Wiin-Nielsen the date on which the post would be offered, nor even that it would be offered to him.

However, he did inform Wiin-Nielsen that “you are held in very high esteem by all the experts in the field”, and that “they would be greatly disappointed if you would accept another post that would exclude the possibility of you taking on this important function”.

Soon after, Wiin-Nielsen was invited to go to Brussels for a meeting.

From his sources, he was aware that the other two potential candidates had withdrawn their names from consideration. He knew that either they could nominate him or they would have to advertise the position. It also became clear that these were serious negotiations: he was told he should bring an assistant with him. The Danish mission to the European Economic The first Director 5 Community (EEC) in Brussels offered Mr Henrik R. Iversen to assist at the negotiations, an offer accepted by Wiin-Nielsen with gratitude. This would turn out to be a wise decision.

Dr John Mason of the UK Meteorological Office wrote asking WiinNielsen to stop off in Britain en route to Belgium, so he could see where the new Centre would be built and the temporary offices that would be made available immediately.

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