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“50th Anniversary of the WMO’s World Weather Watch” Remarks for the WMO’s World Meteorological Day Event WMO HQ, Salle A – Geneva, Switzerland Thursday, 21 March 2013 0900 – 1030 Geneva Time Dr. Kathryn Sullivan – Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting NOAA Administrator Length: about 15 minutes Platform: Recorded Speech (Video) Introduction Hi, I’m Kathy Sullivan, Acting Administrator of the U. S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. I’m pleased to join you today to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the WMO’s World Weather Watch program. As I thought about this anniversary, I looked back at how the World Weather Watch came into being, noting in particular key points at which the U.S. played a significant role, and reflected on its continued relevancy in today’s world. Weather information seems ubiquitous today. It is widely – often instantaneously – available to both professional and amateurs alike. In the U.S., weather even plays a starring role in major TV productions! It wasn’t always so. Back when the World Weather Watch was created, meteorology and weather prediction were the purview of the very few: small communities of professionals in atmospheric science, in aviation and navigation, and perhaps a handful of amateur weather buffs. Today, major decisions are made every day, and across all economic sectors, that depend on reliable weather information and predictions. This has been made possible by an unprecedented and unparalleled level of international collaboration, involving both science and operations. Every single day, 24 hours a day, through times of peace and war, weather observations are made, processed and shared among WMO members around the globe. No WMO member – not a single one - would have benefitted from the past half-century’s advances in 1 WMO World Meteorological Day Event


science, instrumentation and modeling without the collaboration established under World Weather Watch. The World Weather Watch Program: How it came to be Let’s look back briefly at this development. Flash back to the 1940s, just after World War II. As the daunting task of rebuilding war-torn countries began, major societal transformations were also underway, reshaping our lives in many ways– economically, socially and scientifically. Even amid the challenges of reconstruction, there was a renewed spirit of innovation and progress. One outcome of this was an enormous expansion of civilian air services, starting in the United States. This required focused attention on aeronautical meteorology and this, in turn, made clear the need to share weather information between countries and continents. How could this global sharing of weather information come about? At the time, the cause of international meteorology was advanced by a non-governmental body: the International Meteorological Organization (IMO). It soon became clear, however, that the full exploitation of the technological advancements of that time in the service of global weather prediction would require a scale of international cooperation that could only be reached through the direct intervention and support of governments. A change was needed. Enter the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Much like the birth of NOAA, the WMO was forged from something that had already existed – it built upon the aforementioned International Meteorological Organization (IMO). The U.S. played an important role in the creation of the WMO. It was Dr. Francis Reichelderfer, Chief of the U.S. Weather Bureau, who spearheaded the U.S. drive to transform the IMO and who, once the WMO was formalized on March 23, 1950, was elected as its first president. The WMO spent the first decade of its existence achieving uniformity of meteorological practices, primarily through technical regulations to which all Members were, and still are, required to adhere. These efforts laid the groundwork for developing a global 2 WMO World Meteorological Day Event


weather observing network, which subsequently led to the formation of the World Weather Watch. The idea of a World Weather Watch was first mentioned in a report by the U.S. National Research Council in 1961. The concept in this report included worldwide coverage of observations from meteorological satellites, automated land stations, ocean buoys, balloon systems, merchant ship soundings and commercial aircraft. It also included a global system for near-real time telecommunication of data. The National Research Council report also embraced the scientific fervor of emerging capabilities to observe and monitor the globe as a whole, capturing the historic achievement of the first operational meteorological satellite, TIROS-1. When U.S. President Kennedy addressed the United Nations General Assembly later that year he called for "a cooperative effort between all nations in weather prediction." The President’s remarks were based on the scientific consensus in the U.S. that the best hope for advances in weather prediction lay in the emerging field of numerical weather prediction. This required more complete global data sets to initialize the numerical models. Providing these was the underlying premise of the World Weather Watch. In April 1963, the Fourth World Meteorological Congress approved the World Weather Watch concept and launched in earnest the activities needed to meet its goals. Finally, in 1967 WMO’s Fifth World Meteorological Congress adopted the World Weather Watch Plan and the Implementation Program for 1968–1971. Benefiting from the World Weather Watch Program One cannot overstate the significance of the World Weather Watch globally, nor what it has meant to NOAA. Well before there was an agency called NOAA, the U.S. recognized the significance of what could be accomplished by creating the World Weather Watch. I’ve seen first-hand the mutual benefits NOAA and the World Weather Watch have gained from each other, something that continues today. Just look at the user community and how it has grown over the decades. The number of people using weather and climate forecasts has sky-rocketed since the inception of the World Weather Watch, actually outpacing the number of 3 WMO World Meteorological Day Event


products being produced and proving the just how important the World Weather Watch has been to society. Today’s World Weather Watch includes nearly all WMO Members. It brings to bear a coordinated global observation system – including both surface-based and space-based instruments - to provide a near-real time volumetric assessment of the state of the atmosphere. At NOAA, these data initialize our Global Forecast System (GFS) and our Climate Forecast System models, providing accurate shortterm weather forecasts and longer-term climate outlooks on a seasonal basis. NOAA uses GFS output data to run specialized models for hurricane prediction and flood forecasting, and in support of civil aviation and maritime activities. These GFS outputs would not be possible without the data coming from the World Weather Watch. The value of this partnership to our nation is very clear when you look back at 2011 and 2012: Though the U.S. experienced a combined 25 billion-dollars in disaster losses. The toll on life and property was mitigated by timely accurate weather forecasts and warnings put out by NOAA’s forecast offices – all thanks to World Weather Watch data. The weather in the U.S. is the result of atmosphere processes occurring far from the U.S. Mainland, such as El Nino and atmospheric rivers coursing in from the Pacific, and the clashes between the warm, moist Gulf of Mexico air masses and cold, dry polar air. The World Weather Watch provides the means to monitor these phenomena and predict the resultant weather. It also supports scientists and users who want to examine climate information to track and understand the climatological changes that are happening today globally. For example, 2012 set the record in the U.S. for the warmest year, a full degree warmer than the prior record, set in 1998. Putting that in wider perspective, each year of the 21st century has ranked among the 14 hottest globally since record-keeping began in 1880. The global community is able to see information like this openly and freely thanks to the World Weather Watch. The Future of World Weather Watch and Our Science

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We find ourselves again at a pivotal moment in time. Society’s needs for weather, climate and other environmental information are growing steadily, as we address the increasingly complex challenges of living safely, wisely and well on this dynamic planet. These confront us with decisions that are linked intimately to the environment. Making these decisions requires more timely and reliable information and, therefore, greater connectivity and interoperability among our systems. So the new challenge that our community faces is how to provide global data to multiple sectors for impact-based environmental products that aid in this decision-making. This is surely a more daunting problem to solve than was the single-sector challenge of an emerging aviation industry fifty years ago. The dimensions of this modern challenge that are quite unlike those of the past include: The diversity of methods we use to observe and interpret our environment and the sheer amount of data we must deal; the complexity and inter-dependence of our observing platforms and data analysis systems; and, finally, the challenge of communicating the impact of weather phenomena and environmental change across many different technical and economic sectors and linguistic and cultural barriers. All these are surely more daunting that the challenge of the 1940s, and also far more critical to surmount. As was the case 50 years ago, the solution to this new global challenge will require broad attention by governments, NGOs and inter-governmental bodies. We need once again to create the space to integrate the complex solutions and marshal our resources – just as the WMO and the World Weather Watch did half a century ago. If we take a broad perspective and marshal the necessary support to meet our challenge, then future generations will look back 50 years from now and see a record of achievement like the one we celebrate today, with scientific and technological accomplishments of similar scale. Future generations of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – the so-called STEM disciplines – will find the challenge of understanding and predicting our planet every bit as attractive and exciting as we all did, and they, too, will play major 5 WMO World Meteorological Day Event


roles in advancing the frontiers of knowledge and meeting the global challenges lie ahead. My hope is that the half-century ahead is marked by a renewed sense of innovation and commitment to progress; that this stirs our meteorological institutions, our halls of scholarly science and, most importantly the hearts and minds of our youth. For while those of us here today may set in motion certain plans for the future of our field and the Earth observing community, the question of whether these are achieved lies squarely in the hands of the younger generation. Let us pass to them the clear vision, a strong community and robuts tools they will need to meet their challenges. Thank you.

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