History of IMO

History of IMO

The International Meteorological Organization (IMO) finds its origins in the 1873 Vienna International Meteorological Congress, which tasked a Permanent Meteorological Committee to draft the rules and statutes of an international meteorological organization to facilitate the exchange of weather information across national borders. The task was completed in Utrecht in 1878 and the IMO came into being at the International Meteorological Congress held in Rome the following year. It remained in operation until 1950, when IMO formally became the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).



Prof CHD Buys Ballot, 1st IMO President, 1873-1879


"It is elementary to have a worldwide network of meteorological observations, free exchange of observations between nations and international agreement on standardized observation methods and units in order to be able to compare these observations."


Professor C H D Buys Ballot (Netherlands),
1st IMO President from 1873 to 1879



In Leipzig on August 1872, 52 meteorologists met to discuss the possibility of forming an international meteorological cooperation. Professor Buys Ballot, director of KNMI (The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute) at the time, compared his vision about the future of meteorology with his fellow meteorologists. In his essay Suggestions on a Uniform System of Meteorological Observations, he described in detail what he thought was the way forward for meteorology as a proper science. Most of his fellow meteorologists agreed and adopted his ideas. What Buys Ballot initiated here would eventually become the normal standard in synoptical meteorology. As a result of the meeting in Leipzig, the first International Meteorological Congress was organised a year later in Vienna. 


The Permanent Meteorological Committee

An important outcome of the 1873 Vienna International Meteorological Congress was the formation of a Permanent Meteorological Committee – a group of seven distinguished meteorologists, all directors of meteorological services – who took on a number of tasks, one of them the drafting of the rules and statutes of an international meteorological organization. Professor Buys Ballot was elected as President of Committee. The committee completed the drafting at their meeting in Utrecht in 1878 and the International Meteorological Organization came into being at the International Meteorological Congress held in Rome the following year in 1879. 

The committee also considered two proposals which in the 1870s were far ahead of their time: one that an International Meteorological Institution be established – a worldwide meteorological organization with a paid secretariat; the other that an International Meteorological Fund be formed – a fund for the establishment of meteorological observatories at remote locations on the earth’s surface. The committee supported these proposals in principle but considered them both premature, mainly because of their daunting administrative and financial implications. However, the proposals were discussed repeatedly over the years, and the seeds planted in the 1870s eventually bore fruit.


The International Meteorological Committee

A resolution of the Rome Congress was that an International Meteorological Committee be formed, with terms of reference similar to those of the Permanent Meteorological Committee that it replaced. All nine members of the committee were directors of meteorological services. The Director of the Central Geophysical Observatory in StPetersburg, Swiss-born Heinrich Wild, was appointed President, and the head of the British Meteorological Office, Robert Scott, was appointed Secretary. In essence, the terms of reference were to promote international co-operation in meteorology, encourage meteorological research and establish uniformity in operational practices, with particular respect to weather observing and reporting and the exchange and publication of data.

The commitment of Wild and Scott to international meteorology is shown by the length of their service: Wild until 1896, Scott until 1900. With great skill and enthusiasm, they built upon the foundations laid by Buys Ballot and others and worked tirelessly to formulate and foster international co-operation in meteorology. Indeed, commitment and enthusiasm have been hallmarks of those who have helped to shape the history of IMO and the body which succeeded it, the World Meteorological Organization. 


Successors to IMO's first President, Professor Buys Ballot:


Heinrich Wild, IMO President (1879-1896)

Heinrich Wild (Russia)
E Mascart (1896-1907)
Éleuthère Mascart (France)
W Napier Shaw (1907-1923)
William Napier Shaw (United Kingdom)

E van Everdingen (1923-1935)

Ewoud van Everdingen (Netherlands)

Th Hesselberg

Theodor Hesselberg (Norway)
Sir Nelson K. Johnson, IMO President 1946-1951
Sir Nelson K. Johnson (United Kingdom)


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