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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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The negotiations in Brussels lasted only a day. In the morning, WiinNielsen met with Dr Süssenberger, Director of Deutcher Wetterdienst (DWD) — the German Weather Service, Dr Schregardus, Director of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), Mr Gosset, Deputy Director of Météorologie Nationale, France, and Mr Zipcy, administrator of COST. They summarised: if terms could be agreed, the job was WiinNielsen’s. Iversen was well prepared. He had earlier briefed Wiin-Nielsen on the outcome of enquiries he had made on salaries given to others in comparable positions. When the question of the salary arose, Wiin-Nielsen produced a document stating the required salary, with reasons for the figure proposed. Eyebrows rose on the other side of the table. It was clear they had not thought of a figure of this magnitude. Iversen asked “So how much had you been thinking of?” When this much smaller figure was put forward, Wiin-Nielsen received a slip of paper from Iversen: “Say no”. This he did. The parties agreed to have lunch separately, to give time to think things over.

Discussions started again after lunch. The negotiators were willing to accept the well-researched demands, and the remaining issues were quickly resolved. Wiin-Nielsen could say that he was ready to start in January 1974.

As the first person to be recruited for the Centre, Wiin-Nielsen now had to take on the task that would face many future staff members: making arrangements to move his family to the United Kingdom. The list of issues to be tackled would become familiar to many later recruits: temporary and later permanent housing, schooling for the children in a new system with the unusual British O and A Level examinations and where the “public” schools were very much private, separation of all the family members from their friends of long standing, and more. One difficult change had already been made: his family was already living in an English-speaking country.

The day after conclusion of the negotiations in Brussels, Wiin-Nielsen travelled to Denmark to visit his parents and his close family. He then returned to Ann Arbor, where he had many discussions with his wife Bente as to how to arrange the family move to the UK. Their eldest daughter Charlotte had already started university at Ann Arbor, and was in her first year.

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Marianne their next daughter was in her last year at high school, and the youngest, Karen Margrete, was at the same school. It soon became clear that they would stay at Ann Arbor for the rest of the academic year at least.

Bente would stay with them until they had sorted themselves out, after which she would join Wiin-Nielsen in England. She stayed with them until March, when she sold the house and rented an apartment their children could share.

On 9 January 1974, the COST secretariat was able to send a note to the

COST Members:

On 21 December 1973, Professor Aksel C. Wiin-Nielsen informed the Secretariat that he agreed to take up the post of Director of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts on the basis of the terms of appointment dawn up by the Interim Committee and approved by the Committee of Senior Officials on Scientific and technical Research. He took up his duties on 1 January 1974.

Wiin-Nielsen was at this stage the Director-designate; he did not formally become Director until 4 November 1975, when he was appointed by the first Council session. He spent his first few weeks in his new position in Brussels, to familiarise himself with the procedures of the COST secretariat. Initially the Centre would function under COST, since the new organisation would not come into existence as a legal entity until sufficient States had become Member States by ratifying, accepting or approving the Convention. This could take some time, and in fact was completed only on 1 November 1975, almost two years after Wiin-Nielsen’s appointment. In the meantime, the future Member States were keen for preparations to proceed with deliberate speed. The different bodies, the steering committee — the precursor to the Council — and supporting advisory committees, were to be set up and running, with financial support coming officially through COST for the interim period.

While staying in Belgium, Wiin-Nielsen lived at the Hotel Metropole on the Place Brouckère. He knew when he arrived that he would be there for some weeks, and he insisted on choosing a room himself; he would need furniture that would allow him to work from the room. The hotel was well known in scientific circles, as it had been the location for many of the famous Solvay scientific conferences of the early decades of the 20th century, which brought together many distinguished physicists in Europe.

The Solvay conferences on physics were particularly noted for their role in the development of theories on quantum mechanics and atomic structure.

In this hotel, many important discussions between Bohr and Einstein had The first Director 7 taken place. Pictures of the scientists who had attended the meetings were available for purchase in the hotel lobby.

During these few weeks, the Danish mission to the EEC, which was close to the building where COST was based, provided an office at its premises for Wiin-Nielsen’s use.

Wiin-Nielsen’s contact at COST, Mr Moys from the UK, acted as an administrator for the first few months until the Centre received its own budget during the course of 1974. Wiin-Nielsen found his knowledge and experience in dealing with the bureaucracy in Brussels to be most helpful.

Wiin-Nielsen and Moys made rapid progress, and submitted budget proposals, which were considered at the first meeting of the interim Council, so that Wiin-Nielsen could start working from England.

In his first weeks in Brussels, Wiin-Nielsen and Moys arranged the first meeting of the temporary Scientific Advisory Committee, to which Dr Heinz Reiser of Germany was appointed Chairman. This was very helpful to the recruitment process Wiin-Nielsen was due to start once he moved to England. The Committee members could support him in a number of respects, especially since at this time Wiin-Nielsen was not that familiar with European meteorologists. He was glad to note that the Committee members were both highly interested and very helpful, even if some of them appeared at times to be rather upset. Wiin-Nielsen suspected that they would perhaps have liked to be considered for some of the posts themselves!

At the beginning of February, Wiin-Nielsen moved to Bracknell. This town is 15 km east of Shinfield Park, Reading, where the Centre building was to be constructed. The top two floors of Fitzwilliam House, an office building about 10 minutes’ walk from the headquarters of the UK Meteorological Office, had been set aside for temporary use by the future staff of the Centre. At the beginning of course there was only Wiin-Nielsen.

The accommodation was above the local government offices of the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS), so there was constant activity in the building.

Wiin-Nielsen arrived in Britain in the middle of the first major oil crisis.

There were restrictions on use of electricity and heat. Wiin-Nielsen remembered the DHSS caretaker keeping a close eye on his use of power! As it was winter, there was sometimes not enough light. He used an east-facing office in the morning and moved to a west-facing one after lunch. He was invited to take his lunch in the cafeteria at the Meteorological Office, in the separate room for higher civil servants, irreverently known to junior staff as “the Golden Trough”.

That suited him: it meant he could do some shopping, and visit the bank and Post Office, en route between the two buildings at lunchtime.

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At the beginning, he wrote his own letters and documents, until he employed a secretary, Jane Khoury, who, he recollected, “must have been one of the best typists in the world”. The financial regulations were still to be adopted. Initially, no funds were available for capital expenditure, only for consumables. He couldn’t for example buy typewriters; the financial constraints were such that he had to hire them. Following long discussions in the Finance Committee, this was done, but with the option to buy during the first two years.

He stayed at the Royal Ascot Hotel, but soon rented a small terraced house on the south side of Ascot. His wife Bente arrived in the spring.

They started looking for a family house immediately, and found a suitable one in Finchampstead. It would be June before his finances were sorted out; as a foreign national he could not use the standard UK mortgage arrangements. Finally, Barclays Bank arranged a suitable loan. They had moved into the house by the time their children came from Ann Arbor, one by one over the course of the summer. The two eldest had arranged summer vacation jobs there.

Wiin-Nielsen was determined that the Centre would not become dedicated solely to meteorological research. He agreed with the objective that the Centre would instead move as quickly as possible to become an operational source of real-time weather forecast information for the benefit of the National Meteorological Services of the Member States. He believed that there was no point in re-inventing the wheel, so to speak. Instead of planning to spend the first decade developing its own model, he set a target date of August 1979 for the first operational forecasts, using whatever means were available.

His first difficult task was to assemble a well-qualified group for the development work ahead. He took the view that he wanted people who could in principle join the permanent staff once the Convention came into force. Talent is rare, and he knew that he needed to attract the best in their fields from among the scientific and technical staff of the future Member States. As the Centre was to be both a scientific and an operational institution, Wiin-Nielsen decided there should be three Departments: Research, Operations and Administration.

It was time for the COST secretariat to be relieved of responsibility for the Centre. An early priority was given to getting administrative assistance.

James Clark of the UK Meteorological Office was appointed temporarily to help deal with administrative issues.

It was clear that Lennart Bengtsson was very interested in coming to work at the Centre. Wiin-Nielsen had known him very well over the years.

The first Director 9 A graduate of the Universities of Uppsala and Stockholm, he had been interested in meteorology from his teens. For his military service, he had taken advantage of a new arrangement set up by Prof Carl-Gustaf Rossby, under which two months of basic military service was followed by academic studies under “excellent and inspiring teachers” including Bert Bolin, Bo Döös and Aksel Wiin-Nielsen. Bengtsson remembered WiinNielsen teaching him the Fjørtoft Graphical Technique, a manual method of numerical weather prediction. After a spell as assistant to Tor Bergeron at the University of Uppsala, Bengtsson joined Bo Döös in setting up a numerical weather prediction unit at the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI).

In the 1960s Bengtsson became involved with planning for the First GARP Global Experiment (FGGE), visiting the United States several times.

He explored the need for global data assimilation and collection of the global data for FGGE. Another of his activities was being Chairman of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Working Group on Numerical Weather Prediction. In addition he had published a number of papers on numerical forecasting, and had been involved in the Global Atmospheric Research Programme (GARP). Bengtsson was an ideal candidate for the post of Head of Research at the Centre. While Wiin-Nielsen and Bengtsson rapidly agreed on terms, his appointment formally had to await Council approval.

Meanwhile, Jean Labrousse of France had been highly recommended to head the Operations Department. Like Bengtsson, Labrousse had been an active member of the Interim Planning Staff for ECMWF. When WiinNielsen approached him, however, he was non-committal on the telephone;

Labrousse appeared to be somewhat reluctant to take a post at the Centre.

During a visit to Paris, Wiin-Nielsen and Labrousse got down to serious negotiations. Labrousse explained that while he wanted to come to the Centre, there were two problems. One was that his immediate superior Mr Mittner was unwilling to grant the leave of absence required. The other was Madame Labrousse, Janine, who perhaps understandably couldn’t imagine living isolated in the British countryside! Wiin-Nielsen made an appointment with Mr Mittner and Mr Gosset, who was deputy to the Director-General. Mittner argued that he couldn’t do without Labrousse, because they were on the brink of moving the department to Toulouse.

Gosset explained that the transfer wouldn’t happen for at least some two years, and Labrousse was given leave of absence for that period. He agreed with his wife that they would live in an apartment in west London.

Labrousse would “reverse-commute” against the flow of traffic, leaving London in the early morning and returning in the evening.

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Wiin-Nielsen was highly satisfied with the appointments. The three worked together outstandingly well on building up the Centre in the next few years. They complemented each other excellently. It was clear that Bengtsson was not happy at the beginning about the idea of living in Britain, as there were major differences between general attitudes in Britain and Sweden. He frequently referred to an article in the Swedish press, which said that any Swede who had lived in Britain for two years or more could never go back to Sweden, because he would have lost all his efficiency!

Wiin-Nielsen was amused to note that Bengtsson eventually retired to live in England, continuing his research at the University of Reading, in an office just a couple of miles from the Centre.

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