International Meteorological Organization

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The International Meteorological Organization (1873–1951) was the first organization formed with the purpose of exchanging weather information among the countries of the world. It was born from the realization that weather systems move across country boundaries and knowledge of pressure, temperature, precipitations, etc. upstream and downstream is needed for weather forecasting.


Although there had been significant developments in meteorology in the 18th century, Matthew Fontaine Maury, of the US Navy, instigated the convening of the first true International Meteorological conference from late August through early September 1853.[1] The Conference opened its proceedings at Brussels, Belgium on the 23d August 1853, in the residence of M. Piercot, the Minister of the Interior. The Governments represented at the first International Conference, and the names of the officers who attended were :

  • Adolphe Quetelet, director of the Royal Observatory of Belgium and general secretary of the Academie royale des sciences, des lettres et des beaux-arts with Victor Lahure, navy captain and general director of the Navy, represented Belgium.
  • P. Rothe, navy captain and director of the depot of marine charts represented Denmark.
  • A. De la Marche, hydrographic engineer for the imperial navy represented France.
  • Frederick William Beechey, captain Royal Navy and member of the Naval Department or the Board of Trade with Henry James, captain royal engineers represented the United Kingdom.
  • Marin H. Jansen, lieutenant of the Royal navy represented the Netherlands.
  • Nils Ihlen, lieutenant of the royal navy represented Norway.
  • J. De Mattos Corroêa, captain-lieutenant of the Royal navy represented Portugal.
  • Alexis Gorkovenko, captain-lieutenant the Imperial navy represented Russia;
  • Carl Anton Pettersson, first lieutenant royal navy represented Sweden.
  • Matthew Fontaine Maury, lieutenant of the Navy represented the United States.

Maury's initiative was followed by an International Meteorological Congress in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, in September 1873 which agreed to prepare for an International Meteorological Organization (IMO). The members of that Organization would be the directors of national meteorological services. A Permanent Meteorological Committee was established with Buys Ballot, director of the Dutch meteorological service as president.[2]

A second congress in Rome 1879 decided on the IMO establishment and elected an International Meteorological Committee to prepare for the next Conference of Directors. There was however no separate funding. Also the directors agreed on a collaborative research effort with the International Polar Year 1882-1883. The first International Meteorological Tables were published in 1889.

The 1891 Conference of Directors of Meteorological Services convened in Munich. The organization was further refined by electing an Executive Bureau and deciding upon the first permanent topic Commission, the Commission for Terrestrial Magnetism.

The 1896 Conference of Directors in Paris established more Commissions: The Commission for radiation and insolation, and the Commission for Aeronautics. The same year IMO published the first International Cloud Atlas.

In 1905 the Conference of Directors convened in Innsbruck. Léon Teisserenc de Bort proposed a telegraph-based worldwide weather station network, the Réseau Mondial. Simplifying Teisserenc de Bort’s vision, the IMO decided that the network should collect, calculate, and distribute monthly and annual averages for pressure, temperature, and precipitation from a well-distributed sample of land based meteorological stations, in effect a global climatological database. The distribution standard was two stations within each ten-degree latitude/longitude quadrangle. Ultimately, the network comprised about 500 land stations between 80°N and 61°S. The first annual data set, for 1911, appeared in 1917.

Between the two world wars there was four further Conferences of Directors, 1919 in Paris, 1923 in Utrecht, 1929 in Copenhagen and 1935 in Warsaw. The IMO did not acquire a permanent secretariat until 1926, and the latter’s annual budget never exceeded USD 20,000[3]

The 1946 Conference of Directors acknowledged the need for an organisation supported by governments. Preparations continued with conferences in 1947 in Washington DC and 1961 in Paris. In 1951, the World Meteorological Organization became a specialized agency of the United Nations in direct succession of the IMO. The members of the WMO are representatives of their respective countries, not their weather services.