The WMO Bulletin: the first 50 years

Article published in Volume 51, No. 2, April 2002

For the first few months of its existence, the World Meteorological Organization utilized as its Headquarters the offices of its predecessor, the International Meteorological Organization, which were in Lausanne, Switzerland. On 10 December 1951, the Secretariat was moved to its temporary Headquarters at Campagne Rigot, Avenue de la Paix, Geneva, Switzerland. This building, which is the cover feature of the first WMO Bulletin, is located just at the side of the entrance to the Palais des Nations ...

The accommodations available in the new location comprise 25 offices including the library and a duplicating and mail room; in addition, there are two large rooms, one of which contains the archives of the Organization and the other will be utilized for conferences. The total area of the building is 10 112 square feet. Sessions of the Executive Committee will be held in the Secretariat and it is anticipated that it also will be possible to accommodate sessions of certain other constituent bodies and working groups of the Organization in cases where the attendance is not large.

Thus began the first issue of the WMO Bulletin (1(1)), which was published in April 1952. It is interesting to note that, 47 years later, the April 1999 issue also carried as its cover photo the new Headquarters building, whose address was once again Avenue de la Paix.

The first issue records that there were 74 Members of the Organization on 31 March 1952. As this present issue goes to press, the Membership on the same date in 2002 is 185. The title page of the first issue stated:

The purpose of the WMO Bulletin is to provide periodically a summary of the activities of the World Meteorological Organization and of developments in international meteorology of interest to Members of the Organization and others concerned with the application of meteorology to the activities of mankind. At the outset the WMO Bulletin will be published quarterly in two separate editions: English and French.

The first issue of the Bulletin showing the WMO Headquarters building in Avenue de la Paix—an address to which it has returned.  

The first issue had 24 two-column pages with one black and white photograph on the cover (of the WMO building) and one inside (of the First Congress of the World Meteorological Organization in Paris, 1951) and four maps, including one of Geneva, showing the location of the Secretariat. The lead article was entitled “Birth of a UN Specialized Agency” and was followed by “Collaboration with other Specialized Agencies”, “Activities of the technical commissions”, “Activities of the regional associations” and “Technical Assistance Programme”. At the end appeared a list of WMO publications (at that time there were nine) and of post-War publications of the former IMO and a calendar of coming events. Scheduled WMO meetings were the first sessions of Regional Association VI (Europe) in Zurich (Switzerland), the Technical Commission for Maritime Meteorology in London (England) and Regional Association I (Africa) in Madagascar.

The first Editor of the WMO Bulletin was Oliver M. Ashford, who carried out those duties in addition to the normal duties of the various posts he held in the Secretariat (although his name did not appear as Editor on the title page until January 1963). Mr Ashford remained Editor until 1975, when a full-time Editor, Martin W. Stubbs, was appointed. The Office of the Secretary-General assumed direct responsibility for the WMO Bulletin in 1976.

The first signed article appeared in the July 1952 issue and concerned the artificial release of precipitation. A new section “News from the Secretariat” provided a description of the internal structure of the Secretariat, noting that staff had increased over the preceding three months from 22 (including 8 temporary) to 35 (including 12 temporary)! The first Bulletin obituary appeared, signed Anders Ångström. Three pages were given to an outline of the provisional Guide to International Meteorological Instrument and Observing Practice.

The last issue of the first volume had already expanded by 30 per cent to 32 pages. WMO Membership had also expanded to consist of 78 Members. The title page informs us that the annual subscription was 4 Swiss francs! This October issue launched the section “News and notes”, which carried news of honorary degrees and university appointments and courses. The book review section was also launched. One feature article, “Meteorology and world events”, covered the 1952 Olympic Games in Finland and the World Gliding Championship in Spain. In this context, readers were invited to submit contributions concerning “meteorological aspects of events of worldwide interest”. Our present issue covers the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, from the meteorological perspective; a comparison of the two reports reveals the extent to which the science of meteorology and public awareness have evolved in the intervening years.

After only one year of existence, an important event for the Bulletin was the introduction of advertising. In July 1953, there were eight pages of advertising (all black and white) as compared to 34 pages of text. The late 1960s and 1970s were the apotheosis of advertising: in 1971, the April issue had 33 pages of publicity for 71 pages of text (an accomplishment repeated in October 1976)! The Bulletin is still one of the official periodicals of the United Nations and its specialized agencies to carry the most advertising.

As WMO grew and its activities diversified, the Bulletin also grew in length, as well as in the range of subject matter.

The first annual World Meteorological Day was held on 23 March 1961 and reported on in the July 1961 issue of the Bulletin. It was an “undoubted success”, with more than 60 countries reporting their activities in celebration of the Day.

In July 1968, the text presentation changed to a single-column page and the transition from two publishing languages to four was announced:

Since its first appearance in April 1952, there have been several changes in the contents, layout and appearance of the WMO Bulletin. These have been accompanied by a steady increase in circulation from about 1 300 per issue in 1952 to about 5 000 in 1967. It has recently been decided to publish the Bulletin in Russian and Spanish also ... It is hoped that this new arrangement will lead to an increased circulation of the Bulletin in Russian and Spanish-speaking countries and we take this opportunity of welcoming new readers in these parts of the world.

Subsequent to a resolution of the Executive Council in 1967, the first of the series on the human and economic impacts of weather events of the previous year appeared in 1968, entitled “World survey of weather in 1967”. In the following year, it was decided to concentrate on “catastrophic events and exceptional weather conditions which resulted in heavy losses of human life or had substantial economic consequences”. Members were invited to submit reports on such events.


The Bulletin was first issued in the four official languages of WMO in 1968. Thirty four years later, the Russian edition is still prepared by Gidrometeoizdat in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation, and the Spanish edition by the National Meteorological Institute in Madrid, Spain.  
The Bulletin was re-designed in 1973 to celebrate the centenary of IMO and WMO.  
The Bulletin cover was re-designed in 1981.  
A radical change of style in 1990 both inside and out with the advent of desktop publishing  

Despite undergoing various title changes, the article still continues to attract unwavering interest, both from the Members which report and among readers. It is interesting to note that the number of contributing countries has remained more or less the same—about 70—for the 35 years of the series' existence. Despite the fact that the number of pages had tripled and that it was published in four languages rather than two, the price of the Bulletin did not change for 18 years.

April 1972 was the 20th anniversary of the WMO Bulletin. The 80 cover designs of the previous 20 years were reproduced in miniature on the front and back covers of the anniversary number. That year was also the beginning of a regular colour photo or other illustration on the front cover (if the photo was available in colour, which in those days was not always the case).

In 1973, the WMO Bulletin was re-designed once more. The former column entitled “The picture on the cover” was replaced by a full page “In this issue” highlighting some of the contents of each issue. The inside front cover now carried the aims and structure of the Organization, which, as of January 1976, included operational hydrology. The inside back cover started to carry a list of useful abbreviations used in the articles. There was now an average of 80 pages of text and 20 pages of publicity.

At the same time as the first Editor retired from WMO in 1977, his successor, Martin Stubbs, returned to the United Kingdom. Robin Perry was appointed Assistant Editor in 1978 and Dr Hessam Taba, Director of Programme Planning and UN Affairs, was appointed Editor in 1979.

A change of cover style came in 1981, together with the use of Arabic numerals to identify Bulletin volumes and issues rather than roman.More significantly, the series of Bulletin interviews carried out by the Editor of the Bulletin began. The first interview was with Dr Robert White (USA). At the time of writing, 86 interviews with personalities in meteorology and related fields from 31 countries had been published.

Colour was used in the publicity section for the first time in the following year and the July issue was 128 pages long. In 1984, a message from the new Secretary- General, Prof. G.O. P. Obasi, became a regular feature in the January issue. (A message from the President had been in place since the April issue just before Congress in 1975.) More colour was being used in the publicity section and subscribers were receiving 92/96 pages per issue. Dr Taba retired in 1984 and was replaced as Editor by Dr Rudolf Czelnai, Director, Supporting Programmes and Activities (and later Assistant Secretary-General), but Dr Taba continues with the Bulletin interviews to this day.

The year 1990 was WMO’s 40th anniversary and a watershed for what was now termed simply the Bulletin. The style was changed once more with the text appearing in two unjustified columns with a central line. In particular, the page layout was now being done in the Secretariat, using a desktop publishing system. An important innovation was the decision to set a theme for each issue; another was to include in the July issue a description of the global climate system of the previous year. The title of Assistant Editor of the Bulletin was changed to that of Associate Editor.

Dr Czelnai retired in 1992 and was replaced by Dr Rodolfo de Guzman. Dr A.S. Zaitsev took over as Editor as of the January 1995 issue and, upon his retirement, was replaced on a temporary basis by Mr W. Degefu and then by Prof. Hong Yan—Editor of this anniversary issue.

The year 2000 marked WMO’s 50th anniversary. The Bulletin was specially re-designed to celebrate the event in a marginally larger format, allowing more text to be printed on the same number of pages (96 on average). The cover for the four issues was white with the WMO-50 logo in grey incorporated in the background of the front and back covers. Placed in chronological order, face down and side by side, as with a puzzle, the WMO-50 logo appears in its entirety across the four covers. Inside, the typeface was changed and, while a twocolumn format was retained, it was with a justified text and no middle line.

As of 2001, the front cover carries an illustration against a coloured background but the inside presentation remains the same as in 2000. The new style is much more flexible and affords more possibilities in the page layout.

The framework of the Bulletin may not have changed considerably but the detailed contents have evolved to adapt to changing times and interests. While concentrating initially on pure meteorology and the activities of WMO constituent bodies, arti- cles soon began appearing on the applications of meteorology, hydrology, climatology and, more recently, environmental concerns. A recent innovation, for example, in July 2000, was the launch of a new, occasional series on women in meteorology and operational hydrology.

  cover cover cover cover
A special series of covers was designed to celebrate
WMO’s 50th anniversary in 2000.

The technological revolution has meant that state-of-the-art articles and up-to-date reports of meetings and programme activities can be included. It has also meant that more illustrations can be accommodated, making the articles both more attractive and more readily understandable. Financial constraints mean that most illustrations inside have to be printed in black and white, even if authors provide a colour version. In many instances, however, such as satellite images, vital information is conveyed by the use of colour and if it is not possible to print in colour, the illustrations have to be omitted.

The Editor of the Bulletin is pleased to consider the inclusion of articles submitted by experts from around the world, even if it is not always possible to do so as soon—or at such length—as the author would wish! Indeed, the number of such articles has increased exponentially over the years. One of the reasons for this is surely the facility of preparing and transmitting material electronically, but we would like to think that it is also a reflection of the interest aroused by the Bulletin and the respect it commands the world over, as well as the recognition of its quality and broad outreach. Another sign of the Bulletin’s success is the growing number of requests to reproduce Bulletin articles in other magazines and as educational aids, both in hard copy and on the Web.



The current design of the Bulletin cover (2002)  

A perusal of the Bulletin’s volumes over the last 50 years reveals a veritable treasurehouse of inestimably valuable information for students, researchers and anybody with an interest in the history and development of the Organization and its Secretariat. And the future? We hope that the Bulletin will be available in electronic form—online and on CD-ROM—in the near future. At present, we post the cover page, table of contents and “In this issue” in the hope that it will whet new appetites! An advantage of going online would be that the colour versions of accompanying illustrat ions would also become available. Above all, we hope that we will be able to continue to serve our readers by providing interesting and informative articles in an attractive manner. We are always eager for feedback about our articles and for suggestions for future issues.

The Editor takes this opportunity to thank all those who have contributed to preparing the Bulletin over the last 50 years and who have made it what it is today, as well as all those whose efforts will combine to make it even better, hopefully, in the future.

Last but definitely not least, we would like to thank you all, our readers, for your fidelity.





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