«Medium-Range Weather Prediction Austin Woods Medium-Range Weather Prediction The European Approach The story of the European Centre for Medium-Range ...»
GARP led to the establishment in 1979 of the World Climate Programme, which included the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), under which many important experiments and programmes were developed. As a result of GARP, the performance of NWP models improved significantly. Invaluable services could be provided to a wide range of socio-economic activities such as aviation, shipping, agricultural production and water management, and early warnings given of weather and climate-related natural disasters.
In 1968 however, this was all in the future. GARP had been launched only the year before. Although meteorologists were optimistic, even excited, at the prospects promised by GARP, concrete evidence was needed and sought to justify establishing the “computer centre”.
Pioneering work in NWP in the previous years, some in Europe but more especially in the United States, showed that the time was right for Europe to combine its scientific and technical resources in meteorology to make best use of the powerful computers that could be foreseen.
While L. F. Richardson had laid down the scientific basis of NWP around 1920, exploitation had to await the development of fast computers. In 1950 John von Neumann assembled a group of theoretical meteorologists at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). The “Meteorology Project” ran its first computerised weather forecast on the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC) computer in 1950. The group’s model, like Richardson’s, divided the atmosphere into a set of grid cells and employed finite difference methods to solve differential equations numerically. The 1950 forecasts, covering North America, used a two-dimensional grid with 270 points about 700 km apart. The time step was three hours.
Results, while far from perfect, justified further work. The pioneers of NWP activity at that time include Prof Joseph (Joe) Smagorinsky, Jule Charney and Norman Phillips.
About 1952, von Neumann, Charney, and others convinced the Weather Bureau and several research and forecasting agencies of the Air Force and Navy to establish a Joint Numerical Weather Prediction (JNWP) Unit. The
28 Chapter 3JNWP Unit opened in Suitland, Maryland in 1954, under George Cressman.
It began routine real-time weather forecasting in May 1955. However, it was well over a decade before numerical methods began to outstrip the accuracy of the “subjective method” employed by human forecasters.
Europe developed a great deal of expertise in NWP during the 1950s and 1960s. Meteorological research was part of the mission of the National Meteorological Services, and was funded at a relatively high level. In Europe, there was no divide between theoreticians and applied meteorologists — that is, the “bench forecasters” — as was generally the case in the United States. Europeans were in a position to develop meteorological theories and to try out the results in practice. Visiting European scientists played a significant role in the developments taking place in the United States. Theoretical advances such as air-mass analysis and the polar front theory of the Bjerknes’s Bergen School were used daily in operational forecasting offices. Meteorology as a science was able to advance at a steady pace.
Indeed the same philosophy of applying the results of research rapidly to the operational forecasts, accepted without question as being the natural way to do it, was surely an important factor in the later success of ECMWF.
Research scientists at the Centre were justly proud when operational implementation of a change to the assimilation system, the model physics or the numerical scheme, gave an upward slant to the graphs quantifying the forecast skill.
Europeans also viewed meteorology as a science on a par with astronomy and other physical sciences. The concept of geophysics — the methods of the physical sciences being applied to the phenomena of the earth’s atmosphere and ocean — was already well established in Europe.
Meteorologists such as Bert Bolin, Fred Bushby, John Sawyer, Arnt Eliassen, Ragnar Fjörtoft, Rainer Hollmann and Heinz Reiser were making important contributions to the advance of NWP both in research and operations. Often they had help and encouragement from their American colleagues, though for some their technical facilities were not generally as advanced as those in the American institutes. And as we have seen, another scientist working in the field at that time was Aksel Wiin-Nielsen.
The Royal Swedish Air Force Weather Service in Stockholm was the first in the world to begin routine real-time numerical weather forecasting, with the broadcast of forecasts in advance of weather. The Institute of Meteorology at the University of Stockholm, associated with Carl-Gustaf Rossby, developed the model. Forecasts for the area covering Europe and the North Atlantic were made three times a week on the Swedish BESK Meteorological developments 1967 to 1971 29 computer using a barotropic model, starting in December 1954. In the years following, work on NWP was actively underway in Finland, Germany, France, Belgium and the UK.
We return now to the Expert Groups established by the Council of Ministers of the European Communities. Their work came to a stop at the end of February 1968, when the Communities reached a political crisis. The hiatus lasted for several months. Work started again at the end of 1968 when the Council of Ministers requested the Groups to continue their work and to submit their reports by early 1969. In the Reports, the possibilities of co-operation with European States not in the EEC were to be taken into consideration.
The proposals submitted by the Expert Group for Meteorology in April 1969 centred around six main points. The inclusion of non-Member States was considered desirable. Two of the proposals met with the approval of the
• major operations in modern meteorology, and
• meteorological equipment projects.
Taking into account the international nature of meteorology and the considerable financial effort involved in such major operations, it was suggested that Europe’s future major contribution to the World Weather Watch should be made jointly by the European states. The Group also considered the development and operation of meteorological satellites.
At this stage, it had become generally accepted that one of the “major operations in modern meteorology”, the establishment of a meteorological computer centre in Europe, was scientifically justified and was likely to be successful. As Dr Süssenberger later noted: “all agreed on a project for a medium-range weather forecasting centre — an issue close to the heart of all National Meteorological Services, but one they could not realise alone because of the lack of scientific ability and computer capacity”. In its Report the Expert Group on Meteorology gave pride of place to its proposal to establish a joint meteorological computing and research centre. It would be equipped with sophisticated information processing hardware and would mainly be engaged in medium-range weather forecasting, with the name “European Meteorological Computing Centre for Research and Operations”.
The second proposal concerned the joint development, standardization and purchase of meteorological equipment, for example automatic meteorological stations, radiosondes and balloons.
At around this time, a new institution was being established for the promotion of European research beyond the framework of the European Communities: “European Cooperation in Scientific and Technical Research”
30 Chapter 3or COST. Nineteen States formally established COST in 1971. Mr C. L.
Silver, President of the COST Senior Officials, noted at the first session of the ECMWF Council in November 1975 that his predecessor as President, Dr Rolf Berger of the Research and Technology Ministry of Germany, “was the man who above all drove this project through the political difficulties that assailed it in those days”. He spoke of Dr Berger’s “persistence, which for some of us was rather tough”.
The Report from the Working Group on Policy in the Field of Scientific and Technical Research mentioned in Chapter 2 was finally published in
1969. The Report gave another impetus to the development of the Centre, although it mainly considered projects in six non-meteorological areas.
The Expert Group stressed that while the projects being considered were of great potential use to the Member countries, participation of other European countries was also very desirable. European states not belonging to the European Communities should be invited to participate. Meteorological problems needed to be tackled over large geographical areas. This was particularly important as well because the United Kingdom, which did not belong to the European Communities at that time, had good meteorologists with significant expertise in the field. The UK Meteorological Office had been producing and disseminating numerical forecasts of pressure, winds and temperature at 1000, 500 and 200 hPa to 48 hours ahead since November 1965. Its DirectorGeneral, John Mason, had outlined to the WMO Congress and Executive Committee in 1967 his impressive plans for modernising and re-equipping the Meteorological Office.
In October 1969, the Council agreed to extend the scope of the projects beyond the European Communities. Its President addressed a letter to nine European non-Member States: Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, in which he informed them that the Member States of the Communities would welcome their participation in the planned operations in the field of scientific and technical research. In their replies all the non-Member countries agreed in principle to participate. Thus the way was open for the work to extend to 15 countries. Later, at their request, Finland, Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia participated. In 1970, representatives of all the participating countries examined the project. A new co-ordinating body called the “Committee of Senior Civil Servants” was set up.
The existing outline plans had to be formulated as detailed proposals before consideration for final approval by the Ministers of the participating Meteorological developments 1967 to 1971 31 countries. In particular, cost/benefit analyses had to be carried out. The different meteorological Projects were dealt with as separate COST Projects.
The various Projects were now considered in a new framework. The joint development, standardization and purchase of meteorological equipment was awarded to a new group on “Oceanography-Meteorology”. The Project for a European meteorological satellite was postponed pending developments at the European Space Research Organization (ESRO), which had been created in the early 1960s.
The remaining Project, the establishment of a “European Meteorological Computing Centre for Research and Operations” was allocated for exclusive handling to a special Expert Group. The object was to prepare a Project Study, with the clear objective of allowing the Conference of Ministers to decide whether the Project should be realised or not. The Project Study, chaired by Dr Süssenberger, and with Vice-Chairman Mr R. Schneider of Switzerland, started its work in April 1970 and completed it in August 1971.
Amongst the more than 50 experts who took part in various sessions of the work of the Group were two future Directors of ECMWF, Jean Labrousse and Lennart Bengtsson. Daniel Söderman, a future Head of Operations and Deputy Director, was also a member, as were future Presidents of, and national delegates to, the ECMWF Council.
Years later Süssenberger stressed the excellent co-operation in the Expert Group. The team spirit of the Group allowed the work to be carried out in a very harmonious atmosphere from the outset: “a positive outcome was almost guaranteed”. The group was determined to achieve results.
Discussions were extremely focussed. According to Süssenberger, “the results were highly appreciated by the high-ranking European authorities”.
The starting point of the study was the fact that while scientifically European meteorology was far advanced, it no longer played a significant political role on the world stage. In modern language, it was punching well below its weight. For example, the two World Meteorological Centres of the World Weather Watch in the Northern Hemisphere were situated in Washington and Moscow; the highly developed countries of Western Europe did not have similar institutions in spite of their progressive National Meteorological Services and research institutes.
At their meeting on 23 April 1970, all of the delegations to the Expert Group expressed their interest in principle in the proposed European Meteorological Computer Centre for Research and Operations. They recognised the need for international co-operation, but stressed that the technical requirements must be detailed, and account taken of the work of
32 Chapter 3other organisations. Reservations were expressed by the delegation of Norway: the work of the Centre must not duplicate the work of other meteorological centres of similar character, must be within the framework of the World Weather Watch, and not become an obstacle to the development of National Meteorological Services. The United Kingdom also expressed a reservation: because of the comparatively advanced state of its work in this domain, the best contribution of the UK would be to facilitate the exchange of personnel and scientific information between British organisations and the envisaged European Centre. By May 1970, the Centre had been renamed the “European Meteorological Computing Centre” or EMCC.
A Working Party suggested to Ministers on 10 June 1970 inter alia
confirm the interest shown by all delegations in the setting up of the EMCC (Project 70) whose purpose will be to provide public services, to carry out research directed towards improving these services, principally in the field of medium- and long-range weather forecasting, and to train the scientific staff of the national meteorological centres and to state their agreement to take part in a detailed study of the project;
The first reactions of the political bodies of the European Communities indicated that this project was considered to be of particular interest.