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Meteorological Society

of New Zealand

©Mark Thompson

The first 21 yearS by Alex Neale


This Document was compiled in 2000 by Alex Neale.

A celebration upon reaching the age of 21 years has been a human tradition handed down through generations. Even today it persists, despite having lost much of its original significance as a time of attaining maturity and of being handed a key to the door of the family home, with all that these implied. Therefore it is a pleasure to acknowledge the fact that the Meteorological Society of New Zealand has attained the maturity that twenty-one years of age implies.  Also, it is a convenient time to look back at how the Society came into being, and what it has achieved since its formation.


During much of the earlier part of the 20th century, meteorology was almost exclusively the preserve of the New Zealand Meteorological Service - a government organisation. By the middle of the century, the idea of forming a Meteorological Society in New Zealand was raised occasionally. While some viewed the creation of such a Society as unnecessary duplication, since it would draw adherents mainly from the Meteorological Service, others thought that a Society would "be a good thing for professionals to have - in fact, should have" .

During the next two decades preceding the mid 1970's, meteorology in New Zealand underwent rapid development. Its scope within the community had widened considerably, to the point where the Meteorological Service was no longer almost the sole authority on the subject that it had once been. Universities had established meteorology within their faculties, and in many government departments, and in industry, there was increased interest in such topics as crop and plant physiology, water supply, air pollution and wider environmental issues, all of which have close links to meteorology. The Meteorological Service, too, had been broadening its meteorological expertise in order to respond effectively when fulfilling its responsibilities to advise the government on all matters relating to meteorology. Thus, the two factors - diversity within the Meteorological Service, and meteorological capability outside it - added weight to the argument for the formation of a Meteorological Society. The late Dr Tom Steiner was one who was particularly interested in the formation of a Meteorological Society, and it was he who applied his considerable energy and intellect to the task. He had many discussions on the subject with the Director of the Meteorological Service, John Hickman, particularly with regard to the relationship which such a Society would have with the Service. Encouraged in the direction of forming a Society, he also obtained very good support from an acquaintance who had experience in setting up similar organisations, and who was able to provide a lot of assistance with formal matters such as developing a constitution. Out of these formal and informal discussions, it was Tom Steiner who, along with a few others, were instrumental in arranging to hold a meeting in the Weather Office in Wellington on 11 October 1979. It was well attended by meteorological office staff and interested persons from other walks of life. Those present were in agreement that such a Meteorological Society of New Zealand be formed, and that its objectives be to "encourage an interest in the atmosphere, the weather and the climate, particularly as related to the New Zealand region". Membership was to be open to all those, both professional and amateur, with an interest in the objectives of the Society.

An executive committee was formed, with Tom Steiner as first President, and immediately set about the task of establishing the Society's presence throughout New Zealand, as well as attracting a membership which would include, not only professional meteorologists, climatologists, and hydrologists, but also yachting and tramping enthusiasts, glider pilots, people involved in the aviation industry, agriculturalists, professional weather forecasters, ecologists, economists, farmers, engineers, and those who keenly observer and recorder weather in their own area.

The first President made the point, in 1981, that the decision to Include the weather watchers, those dependent on the weather, and the weather scientists in a single Society was a deliberate one, taken in recognition that in a country of less than four million people, there was not room for both a professional 'learned ' society and also a more practically oriented group.


The first Committee (Officers of the Society are listed in Appendix I or on the Committee Members ( page) had the task of promoting the new Society both throughout New Zealand as well as overseas. In this, they received valuable assistance from Stuart Taylor, of the Printing Department of Victoria University of Wellington, who helped produce a brochure outlining the aims of the Society. Also, John Hickman, Director of the New Zealand Meteorological Service, arranged to have copies of the brochure distributed to the 300 climate station observers, and the 1400 rainfall station observers in New Zealand. Nationally, promotion was facilitated by ensuring the presence of at least one committee member in four cities: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The President being located in one (initially Wellington), and a Vice-President in each of the other three centres.

The Society's Journal and Newsletter

Early in its deliberations, the committee agreed on the name "Weather and Climate" for the title of the Society's journal. Already, the editor, John Maunder, was engaged in discussions with several people concerning aspects of the Journal, including soliciting for articles and selecting a suitable printer. Considering the magnitude of the task, it was quite an achievement to have the first journal issue published within eighteen months of the Society's formation. In time for that first issue, the committee adopted a Society logo, designed by Society member, Mr. Phil J Dickson. The design featured a cumulus cloud beside a map of New Zealand, and while some purists wondered whether cumulus was the most appropriate type of cloud, there was no doubt about the logo being both eye-catching and clearly identifiable symbol. The first Editor achieved a high standard in regard to both the articles published and their reproduction; a standard that has been maintained during subsequent years. However, despite the best efforts of later editors, the number of papers offered by authors for publication fell short of what would have been ideal for the two journal issues annually. As a consequence publications often fell behind the due dates. The lack of papers was not, at least initially, due to any shortage in the amount of meteorological research taking place, but because of some reluctance by authors to commit their efforts to paper, and because, when papers had been written, the greater prestige perceived by having them published in leading overseas journals resulted in their being offered there in preference to the Society's journal.

While the journal catered primarily, but not entirely, for those with a professional interest in the science of meteorology, there was a great need for a Newsletter, which would be issued more frequently (at three-monthly intervals), cater for the more popular aspects of meteorology, and regularly keep all Society member's in touch with matters of mutual interest. From the outset, 'Letters to the Editor' were encouraged, and members were urged to send in any items of meteorological interest which they came across; their reproduction in the newsletter was for the benefit of all. The first newsletter appeared six months after the Society's formation. As time went on it expanded and increased in stature.

The Society's Annual Conference

Another major task facing the first committee was the matter of an annual conference. For more than twenty years the Meteorological Service's annual conference had been the only regular forum for the discussion of meteorological topics. Now the Society would be launching a similar conference and venue for discussion. To avoid any possible clashing of the two events, a meeting was arranged between the Society and the Director of the Meteorological Service, Mr Hickman, to plan how to arrange for the two conferences to complement one another, and so enhance the knowledge of meteorological topics. It was agreed that every second year the Society and the Service would hold conferences in Wellington in the same week, one conference following on from the other. In the intervening years, while the Service's conference would continue as before In Wellington, the Society would hold its conference in a centre other than Wellington. The Society's first conference, held in the year following its formation. was in the lecture room of the Meteorological Service, Wellington. A list of the Society's conferences is given in Appendix 11. On occasion, when the opportunity arose to hold a joint conference with a Society which had close links to meteorology, It was not always possible to hold strictly to the principle of having the Society 's conference in Wellington in alternate years. Nevertheless, as envisaged, half of the Society conferences have been held in the capital.

The Presidential Address has, from the beginning, been a feature of the Annual Conference, and has usually been delivered after the Conference Dinner - a procedure which normally does not favour the presentation of deeply scientific or abstruse topics. Nevertheless, most have woven the address around their most favoured meteoro logical topic, though sometimes the need has arisen to air meteorological events of particular importance to that scientific discipline. Initially, Presidential Addresses were reproduced in "Weather and Climate", but after several years this practice faded away.

Appendix 111 gives a list of the titles of those Presidential Addresses which did appear in the journal. Often a field trip was Included as part of the conference activities. The most ambitious undertaking of this sort was a two-day study tour through Central Otago. It took place during the Dunedin conference in 1983, and retraced the route taken by miners during the pioneering gold rush days. Places visited included the, then new, Maniototo irrigation scheme, Ophir (where New Zealand's coldest temperature has been recorded), Lauder Atmospheric Research Station, and the construction site of the, then building, high dam on the Clyde River. The newest and largest coach available in Dunedin was used for the fifty or so participants. Rough, unsealed roads were encountered early on the first day, travelling through the deserted, undulating country side, with no sign anywhere of habitation, we encountered unscheduled excitement. The coach descended steeply to a ford across a narrow stream, then began the equally steep ascent on the other side. As the front bumper of the coach scraped along the rough road on one side of the stream, the rear overhang of the coach did likewise on the other. The bus hung suspended over the ford with its wheels just off the ground. Fortunately, once all passengers had alighted from the bus, the released suspension was enough for the wheels once again to make contact with the ground, and the trip continued. In the early years, three Items - journal, newsletter, and annual conference - provided the most visible evidence of the Society's presence, and they have remained prominent elements of Its activities throughout succeeding years. In particular, the conferences grew in stature year by year to become, by the 1990's, a major event on the Meteorological calendar. A little over a year after its formation, the Meteorological Society became an affiliate of the Royal Society of New Zealand. In subsequent years the Royal Society Rooms have frequently been the Wellington venue of Society Conferences.

All this was achieved despite a number of unavoidable changes to the composition of the first committee, necessitated by the departure overseas of some members. However, in the following twenty years changes to annually elected committees have been few. Two significant innovations were found to be necessary to relieve burdens placed on some office holders. In 1984 a Circulation Manager was added to keep membership records updated; and in 1989 the burden on the Editor of being responsible for both Journal and newsletter (even when assisted by several Assistant-editors who were available to advise on such matters as editorial policy) became too great, the position of Newsletter Editor was created, thereby releasing the Editor to concentrate on the production of "Weather and Climate".

Weather on Television

A topic which was continually to the fore of the Society's activities for many years following its foundation was the manner in which the weather forecast was presented on television. As part of the Society's first Annual Conference, a panel discussion took place on 'weather Information and the media'. Panelists represented the views of Radio New Zealand, Television New Zealand, the Evening Post newspaper, the New Zealand Meteorological Service, the University of Otago, and Lincoln College (representing the 'man on the land'). It was clear from audience participation during the discussion which followed, that Society members' main concern was with the television weather presentation. As a consequence, following the conference, a subcommittee from the Society, having collected information on overseas televised weather presentations, met with the Controller of News, Current Affairs and Sports for Television New Zealand to discuss members' concerns. It was encouraging to note that, subsequently, satellite cloud pictures were introduced into the early evening weather telecasts, and that the Meteorological Service began providing forecasters to present the weather on late evening television.

From meetings such as these it soon became apparent that, when Society committee members met with other organisations, the latter were sometimes - even often - under the misconception that they were talking to representatives of the Meteorological Service. This impression was difficult to dispel since many committee members were also employees of the Meteorological Service. Thus it was a large impediment, on occasion, for the Society to appear credible when attempting to promote itself as presenting an independent and unbiased opinion concerning meteorological matters. Indeed, in his Presidential Address in 1982, Dr W J Maunder no doubt had this very problem in mind when he made the pertinent comment, "Although much has been accomplished, there is still a great deal to do. The challenge, as I see it , is to become a truly independent Society, respected both Inside and outside of the meteorological and climatological professions."


Four years on, the flurry of activity and hard work related to setting up the Society had eased off. Next began, in the run-up to the mid 1980s, a period of consolidation, building on the sound foundation set in place by the first two Presidents. Now committees were able to concentrate on keeping the status quo operating efficiently while, at the same time, promoting new ventures where these fitted into the aims and aspirations of the Society. It was, looking back, a period of relative tranquility with little, if any, hint of the turbulent times ahead for meteorology and the Society. Membership had stabilised.
Although fluctuating somewhat from year to year, it remained in the vicinity of 300 individual members through the first half of the 1980s; during the same time institutional membership rose to over 5O.

Meteorological Society Calendar

The first Meteorological Society Calendar, for the year 1984, went on sale in 1983. It arose from a decision taken at the Annual General Meeting two years earlier. Through the newsletter, members were asked to send in copies of any photographs which they had taken of clouds or other weather events, for consideration as calendar illustrations. Judging the best twelve for inclusion in the calendar was undertaken by a group of members under the leadership of the Christchurch Vice-President, Dr Hamish Sturrock. They did such a good job, that in subsequent years the judging of photographs, and arrangements for printing, continued to be handled by the Christchurch group. It was the first major Society activity to be delegated outside Wellington, the centre from which, at that time, most activities were conducted.

By 1984 Society activities in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch had increased to the extent that meetings were being arranged throughout the year for members who lived in these regions. When, on 4 April 1982, after a long, hot, dry summer, a severe hailstorm swept the whole of the Canterbury Plains, accompanied by much lightning and thunder, it provided an excellent opportunity for the Society to call a meeting of Canterbury Branch members, and to invite other interested people, to discuss the storm. Speakers detailed the development of the storm and its subsequent passage across the Plains. The Meteorological Service assisted at this meeting by providing information which they had gathered on the storm. This was just one instance of the generous and continuing assistance which the Society received from the Meteorological Service. In addition to these main centre meetings, a group of Society members in Hawke's Bay combined with the Amateur Radio Transmitters Association to organise a seminar on 'Weather and Climate', and arranged for both visiting and local speakers. Encouragingly, some seventy people attended this seminar held in Taradale in August 1984.

Wellington Weather Watchers

Early in the 1980s a group of weather enthusiasts coalesced around a sizeable number of people who voluntarily made and sent weather reports to the Geography Department of Victoria University of Wellington. The Wellington Weather Watchers (WWW) was the result. Soon about sixty people were involved on the mailing list of WWW. Regular meetings began to be held, often in members homes, from late in 1982. Many WWW members, finding enjoyment within the relaxed environment of their group's meetings, had no desire to formally join the Meteorological Society. They had little or no interest in the sort of articles found in "Weather and Climate", or in attending Society conferences. However, as time went on, a much closer association developed between WWW and the Society. When topics were suitable, combined meetings of the Wellington Branch of the Society and Wellington Weather Watchers were held. For a time, the WWW newsletter was included in the Society Newsletter mailed to Society members living in the Wellington region. Such initiatives were entirely compatible with one of the Society's objectives: " encourage an interest in the atmosphere, the weather and the climate..."

During its 11-year existence, WWW was never formally incorporated into the Meteorological Society, but existed alongside it in a mutually beneficial capacity. One of the more memorable WWW field days was held in April 1985 at Bob Gyton's farm on the Paekakariki Hill Road; a picnic lunch was followed by an energetic walk around the hill-top farm above Paekakariki, with participants frequently pausing to take weather observations. The farm top-dressing airstrip could have doubled for an Olympic skiJump. The fact that the day was unusually calm and mild must indicate how important it is to have influential weather watchers all praying for good weather!

However, the social and economic circumstances of New Zealand were changing, and attendances at WWW meetings declined by the end of the 1980's. The last recorded meeting of the group was in 1993.

In 1983 a new concept was trialed for the Annual Conference: a combined conference with the New Zealand Hydrological Society, held in Dunedin. This arrangement proved so successful that two years later the Society held its Conference in conjunction with the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural Science (NZIAS) Convention in Christchurch. It was advantageous to have this much larger group of scientists together in the one event, increasing the exposure of the Meteorological Society and of the science of meteorology. The only disadvantage of the arrangement was that the Society tended to be overshadowed by the larger presence of the NZIAS. On balance the experience was considered to be of benefit, encouraging the committee to join with the NZIAS again the following year in Auckland. That the Society had joined with other organisations three times in four years showed that the Society was moving out and broadening its contacts with other academic organisations.

The size and quality of the Newsletter improved over the years, though that improvement suffered the occasional setback. At times the quality of reproduction fell off, necessitating the search for a better printing firm. In later years the committee spent much time trying to find a suitable means of condensing the great quantity of numerical climate data which threatened to overwhelm the publication. A more appealing graphical format was sought.

Meteorological calendar's rise and fall

This first calendar (1984) sold between 400 and 500 copies, and returned a modest profit to the Society. For several years thereafter receipts from sales more or less balanced the costs of production, and they were a popular way of keeping the profile of the Society visible both to members, and introduced It to others as they either bought a calendar for themselves, or received one from their Society friends for Christmas. Eventually, however, the calendar market became overcrowded with 'specialist subject' calendars, and the Society calendar sales - which depended largely on the efforts of members - declined to the point where losses on their production could no longer be sustained. In an attempt to keep the calendar alive, the committee gave consideration to entering into a mutually beneficial commercial arrangement with a printer, but no satisfactory agreement could be achieved that would shield the Society from incurring an unacceptable loss on the project. With regret, the last Meteorological Society Calendar appeared In 1990. Weather presentations on television continued to occupy the Committee. Following a motion at the Annual General Meeting in 1985 that ' The Society continue to make representations as appropriate on the quality, regularity and type of weather presentation on television', a delegation from the Committee me from time to time, with those in television who were responsible for controlling or producing the weathercasts. However, these latter proved to be as changeable as the weather, no sooner had a rapport been built up with a particular producer, than he/she would vanish to another programme - or even, on one occasion, to another country - and the process of cultivating a meaningful relationship would begin all over again. Maybe these efforts eventually paid off with a complete revamp of weathercasts late in the decade.

Nuclear Winter

An entirely new topic burst on the meteorological scene in the mid-1980s: Nuclear Winter. Atmospheric scientists envisaged a possible scenario that would follow a conflict, whether initiated by accident or design, that unleashed nuclear weapons. The ensuing destruction and conflagration could shroud the globe in smoke dense enough to seriously reduce sunlight, lower temperatures and threaten the continued existence of many plants, animals and even humankind. Naturally, global models of the behaviour of the atmosphere were involved in attempting to quantify the seriousness of the threat, and at the Society's 1984 and 1985 conferences there were sessions dealing with nuclear winter topics. At the Annual General Meeting in 1984, Society members were urged to learn more about the possible atmospheric effects of nuclear war and its potential consequences. As a result, newsletters carried a number of articles on this topic, and branches held meeting at which this subject was aired. While this new, and hitherto unexpected, threat to life on earth grabbed the headlines, there had been, in the (Southern Hemisphere) summer of 1982/83, an unusually strong El Niño event whose impact on New Zealand's weather that summer was so great that the name El Niño came into common usage almost overnight. And while the Nuclear Winter idea proved to be something of a 'one day wonder ' and soon sank without trace, El Niño was here to stay. As a most important component of the climate scene in the New Zealand region, both El Niño, and its opposite, La Niña, have featured frequently in Society newsletters journals and conferences ever since. The mid 1980's also brought the first reports of scientific findings concerning a loss of stratospheric ozone over the Antarctic.  Articles appearing in scientific magazines were quickly picked up by the press which spread the news to a much wider public, making use of the rather inappropriate, but no doubt evocative term 'ozone hole'.

In any event, governments reacted with considerable speed to take actions which would arrest the loss of stratospheric ozone caused by human activity. Clearly this threat to life on earth was seen as very real, and quite different from the remote possibility of a nuclear winter. In any event, there was no need for the Society to take any action on the ozone hole problem, though it has since often been featured in papers presented at conferences.

A topic which did involve much of the Society's time, was coming into prominence along with the ozone hole, and that was 'Global Warming'. Burning fossil fuels had been adding ever more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. This and other so-called "greenhouse gases' have the potential to warm the atmosphere and thereby bring changes to the climate worldwide. Not all scientists were convinced that there was likely to be global warming, and In these circumstances the global warming debate was destined to be around for a longtime. Meanwhile, the first signs of the coming turbulent times for science and research appeared when the Government announced the commercialisation of research in line with its 'user-pay' philosophy. Of particular importance to meteorology was the consequential policy of cost recovery by the New Zealand Meteorological Service.

However, just before the full impact of Government driven social and economic change arrived , the American Meteorological Society, the Meteorological Society of New Zealand, the New Zealand Meteorological Service, and the World Meteorological Organisation co-sponsored the Second International Conference on Southern Hemisphere Meteorology. Held In Wellington on 1-5 December 1986, it marked a significant milestone for the Society in being a co-sponsor of such an important event. One hundred and fifteen participants came from sixteen countries. Among the 96 papers presented, considerable attention was focused on global-scale circulations anomalies, such as the extremely powerful 1982-83 El Niño - Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event, and their relationship to global weather forecasting.


Now began an era in which the Meteorological Society became increasingly Involved with monitoring and providing submissions In response to a variety of working party reports which affected meteorology. Similar vigilance was necessary concerning Government policy initiatives - sometimes responding to proposed changes, at other times reacting to fait accompli actions.

Probably the first of these was a 1986 submission In response to an invitation from a ministerial working group on science and technology, headed by Sir David Beattie. The main points of the Society's submission were:

  • Meteorological monitoring and fundamental research are long-term activities with widely diffused and often long delayed benefits. They are therefore properly done as a state service in association, where applicable, with the universities.
  • A country like New Zealand needs to maintain a corps of atmospheric scientists so as to be able to evaluate threats to the environment, to take appropriate action, and to apply information from overseas. This can only be done by maintaining a strong state Meteorological Service, and by supporting university research and teaching in meteorology and climatology.
  • New Zealand's international commitments in meteorology should be maintained, and its co-operation with , and assistance to. smaller Pacific countries expanded.

The Beattie report, when it was released, was compatible with the Society 's submission.

A request from the President of the Royal Society to Member Bodies, resulted in the Meteorological Society providing Information to the Science and Technology Advisory Committee on the topic of Strategic Research. In its response, the Society saw a need for an ongoing programme of Climate Monitoring and Research, further development and application of both satellite and ground-based remote sensing technologies to data gathering, and the development of improved data assimilation and numerical weather prediction models.

Global Warming takes centre stage

By the time of the Society's 1987 conference, regular updates on the ENSO cycle were appearing in the Newsletter. At the conference itself there were papers not only on ENSO, but also the Antarctic ozone hole. Climate research reports were numerous, in particular the impact of human-generated greenhouse gases on global temperature s. Indeed, the phrase 'global warming' was overtaking the appearance of El Niño in the daily papers. In a new initiative, the last day of the conference - a Saturday- was set aside for topics and activities appealing more to amateur members.

By the end of the year (1987) the Hon Geoffrey Palmer, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Environment was calling attention to global warming. At about the same time the Meteorological Society put out a 'media release' on Climate Change. This followed the release to the press a month earlier of Society comment on the perennial topic - Poor Television Weather Presentation. Until this year, Society presidents had all been employees of the Meteorological Service. As noted earlier, this had caused some difficulties since it gave the impression that the Meteorological Society was not an independent organisation, and had connections to the Meteorological Service . It was appropriate, therefore, that Dr Jim McGregor, of Victoria University of Wellington, was elected President at the 1987 AGM. This proved to be most fortuitous as the Society soon found itself forced to react vigorously to Government proposals which impacted on the Meteorological Service. The newly elected President was able to do this more effectively than if the President had been employed by the Meteorological Service .

Early the following year (1988) a deputation from the Society met Mr Bill Jeffries, Minister of Civil Aviation and Meteorology, to raise with him the Society's concerns regarding :

  • Television weather presentations not making the best use of modern technology.
  • That global warming, due to increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, would be an important environmental issue for the next three to five decades.
  • The need to ensure long term research activity related to climate monitoring and evaluation of future climate trends.
  • The way in which the Government's 'user pays' policy was impacting on the availability of weather and climate data.

At the meeting, the minister thanked the Society for supporting his own earlier critical public statement on television weather presentations.

In mid-1998, Television One introduced a new style of weather presentation to their early evening Network News programme. Long-time weather presenters, Sue Scott and Veronica Allum, were succeeded by new faces belonging to Aucklanders Jim Hickey and Penelope Barr, both of whom had received meteorological training from the Society 's fourth President, Graeme Ward. The new format was well received by Society members who appreciated the move towards a more comprehensive presentation that included computer graphics, animated satellite pictures, selective use of temperatures, and regional forecasts. However, there were critics, as indicated by some letters to newspapers.

A new era for the Meteorological service

In the middle of 1988 the Government restructured the Ministry of Transport, of which the New Zealand Meteorological Service was a part. This resulted in a twenty per cent cut in the Service's budget, the retirement of the then Director, John Hickman, who had been, from the beginning, a staunch supporter of the Meteorological Society. In a letter to John, the Society's President, Dr James McGregor stated, in part, that: " We (the Society) would not be in our present strong position without the leadership you have given to your staff for their whole-hearted co-operation in our activities."

With his retirement, and the appointment of Dr Malcolm Grant, previously deputy to the chief director of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research's industrial group, as General Manager, the Meteorological Service, for the first time, was not headed by a meteorologist.

At this time, Margaret Bazley was appointed to the position of Secretary of Transport. Reacting to her comment that "The Met Service is an integral part of marine transport and civil aviation and is a service organisation. It is not a scientific research organisation.", a delegation from the Meteorological Society immediately sought a meeting with Margaret Bazley to express its concerns about the future capability of the Meteorological Service. A discussion paper, sent to Ms Bazley prior to that meeting, included extracts from a resolution passed by membership of the Society at the 1988 AGM: "... an effective, efficient and adequately funded comprehensive Meteorological Service is a national necessity ... " and that " ... any reduction of the nation's weather services would be a gross error of judgement and a very costly false economy'.

Other main points raised with MsBazley were:

  • Any rundown of the Meteorological Service would threaten the Service's ability to provide adequate warning of weather events which could be destructive and may cause casualties.
  • Longer term studies must continue on climate change, greenhouse gases, and ozone depletion. For these to be reliable, data gathering systems need to be maintained.
  • The position of the Service as a centre of excellence for meteorological research and development must be acknowledged and should not be compromised.
  • The wider implications of restructuring should be carefully considered and assessed. The views of users of meteorological information and services, and other interested parties, need to be properly canvassed.
  • The traditional free of charge interchange of meteorological data between nations is now under very close scrutiny internationally. Any move to charge for this data would have disastrous consequences for New Zealand.

A little later that year, four Society members (President, Dr James McGregor; Secretary, Dr Jim Salinger; Assistant Editor, Dr John de Lisle; and former executive member, Mr Phil Dixon) met the Minister of Transport, the Hon. Bill Jeffries. They explained to him the Society's concerns, which had earlier been passed on to Ms Bazley, Secretary for Transport.

By the end of 1988 and into 1989, reaction to the staff cuts within the Meteorological Service, and the closure of observing stations, had reached deluge proportions in the press, both as regards leader article comment, and as letters to the Editor. Subsequently, it was announced that there would be retention of meteorological observations and climate monitoring In the Pacific Islands, that the Government was committed to research in atmospheric science, and that some upper air observations, which had earlier been terminated, would be reinstated. A letter from the Society's president, to the Prime Minister and Minister tor the Environment, Right Honourable Geoffrey Palmer, welcomed these indications of a commitment to meteorology.

A much more satisfying event in 1988 was the Meteorological Society's Annual Conference, held in conjunction with the Agricultural Science Annual Convention in Havelock North, Hawke's Bay. The organisation by Society members in Hawke's Bay of the very successful seminar there In 1984, prompted the Society's committee to decide on their first conference outside the four main centres. As often happens outside the main population centres, there was a large amount of coverage of the conference by the local print media. The Government's 'user pays' policy now being applied to the Meteorological Service under its General Manager, Dr Malcolm Grant, had reached the point in 1989 where the Meteorological Society felt it necessary to write to Dr Grant. In the letter the Society pointed out that, while it currently had no policy on the commercialisation of the Meteorological Service, it invited Dr Grant to explain the Service's commercialization policy in an article that would be printed in the next Society newsletter.

In his response, Dr Grant stated that the purpose of government funding for meteorology was to protect public safety. This involved:

  • The issue of warnings of severe weather which, in turn, required a national observation network, participation in international exchange to receive reciprocal data, receive satellite data, acquire numerical prognoses, and must be able to make and issue forecasts . And do research to Improve this capability.
  • Research in the public interest which, at present, consists entirely of investigation of climate change. All else, said Dr Grant, is commercial, and places New Zealand at the commercial end of the spectrum among the world's meteorological services.

At the 1989 Annual Conference, held in Wellington, the Society was very fortunate to have the opening speech delivered by the Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment, the Right Honourable Geoffrey Palmer, who spoke to the theme "The Effect of Climate Change". That climate change should be high in the government's thinking was very encouraging for the Society. However, publication about this time of priorities in a report, "Atmospheric and Climate Change Research ", which would be funded under the New Zealand Climate Change Programme, caused some misgivings. Many items concentrated on the secondary or tertiary impacts of climate change, at a time when scientists had yet to confirm what those changes were likely to be.


With its push for commercialisation of the Meteorological Service , the Government gave every indication of wanting to distance itself from involvement. The Society felt that it was imperative to state, in a Society 'Policy Statement'; what it believed the role of the State was in meteorology. Having canvassed members on their views regarding State Funding of Meteorological Services, the Society's committee proceeded to incorporate this information in a draft policy of the Meteorological Society on the Role of the State in Meteorology. It stated, in summary, that the role of the state is:

  • The protection of life and property of all citizens (with respect to military action, civil unrest, and natural events - seismic, volcanic, meteorological and hydrological), and to foster their social and economic well being.
  • The state also has a very important international role in the protection of the global environment. Therefore there is a core of functions in meteorology and climatology which must be carried out by a state meteorological service. Only in this way can continuity, integrity and excellence be maintained for the public good.
  • There are other activities, outside the core functions, which can be carried out by private enterprise, or by the state meteorological service. However, commercial work by the state service must not compromise the core functions.

The next revelation came with the Government 's Civil Aviation Law Reform Bill which made drastic and, indeed, alarming proposals for changes to the structure of meteorology in New Zealand. In particular, the Bill allowed the Minister discretion in the provision of meteorological services such as the making and recording of observations, the collection and preservation of meteorological records, the conduct of meteorological research and investigation , and other important activities.

The Society made a submission to the Select Committee considering the Bill. There was also a joint submission from John Hickman and John de Lisle, both former Directors of the Meteorological Service. These submissions were partially successful in that the functions which were at the discretion of the Minister were made mandatory, but the Society 's request for a full independent review of meteorological services in New Zealand was ignored.

Yet, when the Bill came before Parliament, there was a new twist to the saga. Those clauses relating to meteorological services were enacted separately as the Meteorological Services Act , 1990. The effect of the Act was to remove the statutory definition of the New Zealand Meteorological Service and to make the provision of all meteorological services contestable. The President of the Society, writing in the Newsletter stated "What differences this will make in practice have yet to be seen".

Media Awards

Amid all this hurly burly, the Society found time to encourage a better standard of weather presentations by the media. A third television channel had recently started broadcasting, and was carrying weather Information in its evening news programme. For the first time since television began, there were now competing weather programmes, and the Society thought that an award "for excellence in weather presentation" could only encourage a better style of weather telecasts. Through the Newsletter, a call was made for nominations for a 'TV/Radio Weather Presentation Award', following which the Society judged the nominations. At that year's Annual Conference (1990), the Society presented Ken Brierley (of Radio 91 FM) with an award for the quality, and the informative way in which he relayed the weather. Louise Pagonis was highly commended for her weather presentation on Television One.

Following some discussion of this topic at the next AGM, a decision was taken to widen the scope of the award by adding newspapers to television and radio. This was done but, unfortunately , so few nominations were forthcoming in 1991that the committee was forced to abandon the project and to make no presentation.

However, it did decide that one more attempt should be made to revive the 'Media Award for Excellence' idea.\

Therefore, in 1992, a much more structured procedure was adopted which, it was hoped, would ensure the success of the venture. Because of the considerable difficulty in truly comparing presentations from all three media together, only one of the media was chosen - newspapers. A panel of three judges was appointed, each expert in their field, one representing the Meteorological Society, one specialising in written material, and the other concentrating on design layout. National newspapers were advised of the project, and asked to forward an example of the ' weather information' they published daily. However, in case their response fell short of our hopes (and to avoid the previous year's non-event), eleven Society members from throughout New Zealand were selected and asked to post to the Society's Secretary an example of the weather information printed in their local newspaper(s).

An Award for Excellence was duly made, at the Society's Annual Conference (1992), to the "Dominion", Wellington. The "Daily Telegraph", Napier was Highly Commended. Excellence was deemed to involve both the information content and the clarity of the presentation; the whole effect one that would be both appealing, and informative to the general public. All the judges found the experience interesting, and congratulated the Society on promoting the idea.

This success encouraged the continuation of Awards for Excellence, selecting a different media each year. After newspapers, awards were considered for radio (1993), television (1995), newspapers (1996), television (1998), and newspapers (2000). However, the Committee was not unanimous in the decision to continue with the awards, some arguing that it would be more meaningful if the criteria concentrated on forecast accuracy rather than the way forecasts were presented. While acknowledging this approach had considerable merit, the Society had neither the resources to collect the observational data required for checking forecasts accuracy, nor those needed to physically carry our the verifications. To be meaningful as a true measure of forecast accuracy, the verifications would need to cover a period of at least six months , and preferably a year.

The procedure adopted by the Society closely followed the "Seal of Approval Programme' which the American Meteorological Society began in 1960. Their goal was to continuously upgrade radio and television weather programmes. They stated that, among other criteria , information value was not intended to deal with forecast correctness, but rather it was concerned with the technical excellence of the meteorological information dispensed. During the time that the Society has been promoting Awards for Excellence, there have been very significant improvements in the presentations by television and newspapers. Animation has increased to television, and colour is now almost universally employed by newspapers. Maybe some of these developments have been encouraged by the Society's activities. Similar improvements to weather presentations via radio are difficult to find. Whereas presentations in newspapers and by television are quite structured and relatively simple to sample. Radio weather information, on the other hand, is often not so formal; there are many stations broadcasting, and numerous weather 'slots' daily. These problems of sampling are the major reason why the Society has not surveyed this medium since 1993.

Climate Change

The challenge presented by climate change was different from either the nuclear winter scenario, which came and went without capturing the attention of either the public or politicians, or the ozone hole, which posed so imminent and serious a threat to human well being that governments worldwide responded by agreeing to initiate remedial action. The seriousness of the consequences of climate change was open to debate, indeed some scientists even denied that it would happen. However, the media made the most of the more extreme pessimistic scenarios while playing down the substantial uncertainties inherent in the global models which created those scenarios. The Society saw its role as one of keeping both politicians and the public appraised of the real story of climate change. It did this through papers presented, by means of panel discussions held in conjunction with its conferences, and by talks given at regional meetings of the Society. In addition, information was presented in the Newsletter, and it was that publication which carried a discussion document on the 'Policy options for New Zealand in responding to Climate Change'.

In summary , this document noted that the evidence in favour of global warming was significant, and that the Society supported the following policy options:

  • A broad range of limitation policies to be applied comprehensively for all greenhouse gases, and considering both sources and sinks.
  • Adaptation policies of national, sectional and regional impact studies and climate sensitivity studies.
  • Endorses the Maori perspectives.
  • Core climate research involving modeling, improving instrumental climate records and updating of regional scenarios .
  • Specific climate Impact and sensitivity studies.

For nations occupying low-lying islands or atolls in the South-west Pacific, climate change and the prospect of the rising sea levels which would follow, presented them with a very real threat. Consequently they took an active part in the Society 's Annual Conference In 1991, "South Pacific Environments: Interactions with Weather and Climate". It was well attended overall, attracting contributors and participants from around the Pacific; included five workshops on various conference topics, which enabled more detailed information to be presented, and also allowed participants greater opportunities for discussion. The conference, which had by now become well established as a major event in the meteorological calendar, received considerable media publicity.

Pending a review of the Royal Society Act, to be conducted by the Ministry of Research Science and Technology, the Royal Society itself called a meeting of Member Societies (the Meteorological Society is one, and was represented at the meeting) to consider how best the science constituency of New Zealand could be represented. The outcome was a proposed Federation of Scientific and Technological Societies (FOSTS), in which the Meteorological Society would come within the Environmental grouping. The new structure was to operate for a year, then review its own activities. Within the revised structure that evolved for the Royal Society, the Society nominated in 1998 its Past President, Jim Salinger, to a position on the Royal Society of New Zealand Electoral College, and were successful in having him elected as a representative of the Earth /Atmosphere/Astronomical Sciences.


In 1991, a Government-appointed science task group recommended that seven nationally-based Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) should replace the country's major science institutions. The New Zealand Meteorological Service, which had since corporatization continued to give generous support to the Meteorological Society, was one of the institutions affected. The Meteorological Society made a submission to the Science Task Force on the proposed Crown Research Institutes.

In brief, its submission favoured the formation of a CRI embracing meteorology (or atmospheric science), which should include, at least, the present activities of the New Zealand Meteorological Service, and those units of Department of Scientific and Industrial Research presently studying aspects of atmospheric science. Strong practical advantages exist for having meteorology and hydrology in the same institution, there being international precedents for such an association. Oceanography, rapidly becoming highly relevant to many aspects of meteorology and atmospheric science, could also be included. Also, meteorology is a challenging scientific discipline and properly belongs in the university system. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the CRI responsible for meteorology establish formal arrangements for co-operative and joint research with the Research School of Earth Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington.

The Government Partitions Meteorology

Following wide public discussion, the Ministerial Science Task Group for Crown Research Institutes proposed that the whole of the New Zealand Meteorological Service should be part of an Institute for Atmosphere and Water. The Society made a further submission which, in general, welcomed the proposal. However, in October 1991, without any public discussion, the Government separated the research and weather forecasting functions of the Meteorological Service. The former to be located in a CRI, the National Institute of Atmosphere and Water (NIWA), while the latter became a State­ owned Enterprise (SOE).

The Government's rationale for this, as explained in a letter to the Society from the Associate Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Maurice Williamson, was that the Service's forecasting activities provide a service, ie. a commercial activity, which did not fit happily within a research organisation. Moreover the (forecasting) SOE, through a contract with the Ministry of Transport, would be funded by Government to provide, for the 'public good' a service consisting of public warnings of severe weather, and of a basic public weather forecast service. Also, recognising the need to maintain the supply of data to research, the Government agreed that the following condition would apply to this contract: "the State-owned Enterprise will provide to NIWA for archiving and research purposes, at the marginal cost of provision, all Crown-funded meteorological data that NIWA requires. NIWA will be free to use this data for any purpose from 48 hours after acquisition time. This arrangement will also apply to any data obtained internationally through World Meteorological Organisation agreements by the State-owned Enterprise as agent of the New Zealand Government, except where other conditions are imposed by supplying countries."

This decision by the Government, taken without any discussion or debate with the main interested parties, was not taken lightly by the Society. It expressed its concerns through the media, and through a joint meeting of the Meteorological Society, the Wellington Branch of the Royal Society, and the New Zealand Association of Scientists. A resolution arising out of that meeting, called for the Government decision to be rescinded. The resolution was conveyed formally by letters to the appropriate Ministers. The letters were acknowledged, but no action was taken by Government.

The Society then sought meetings with the Ministers and with the Chairman of the Board of the Forecasting SOE in order to highlight to them the Society's particular concerns. The Society received a courteous reception, and acknowledgment of its concerns but, again, no other response. Some members of the Society's committee argued for the Society to express its total opposition to Government policy that was driving the changes, while others considered that to do so would damage the Society's credibility to the point where future submissions on specific points would simply be ignored. After some debate the committee decided to adopt the latter option. Indeed, since the partition of the New Zealand Meteorological Service into a Crown Research Institute and a State Owned Enterprise was clearly a fait accompli, the Meteorological Society committee proposed to wait out a 'settling down' period for the new arrangement before passing further judgement on the changes. In his 1991/92 President's Annual Report, Ray Smith commented on the split up of the Meteorological Service,  "Although the provision of weather information of various kinds may be on a sounder financial basis than previously, access to information by the public and by researchers is now poorer. There are fewer detailed forecasts available to the public through radio, the most flexible and up-to-date medium, and high costs for data have restricted research in the universities."

A meeting which a group of Society committee members had with John Lumsden, the Chief Executive Officer of MetService (the name adopted by the Forecasting SOE), proved to be encouraging. He indicated that his organisation saw merit in the existence of the Society, and indicated that MetService would continue to offer assistance and support, and would not be upset by constructive criticism of its activities.

Meteorological library to Split

One consequence of the split up of the Meteorological Service was a proposal to divide the library also. The Society viewed this development with profound regret since the library represented the most complete assemblage of material on atmospheric science in the country. The library, in its totality , was a valuable resource which would be diminished if part went to NIWA and part to MetService. Some time was to elapse, during which the committee kept in touch with developments, before the actual division of library contents was made in the mid 1990's.

In response to a letter from the Society expressing its concerns about the sundered library contents being less valuable than when held as a single resource, the Chairman of MetService (R A Westlake), explained what would happen. About a quarter of the contents would be retained by MetService, the remainder would be held by NIWA. A significant amount of material existed as duplicate copies, and in this case one copy would go to each organisation. It was not thought that the value of the library would be diminished greatly by holding it in two collections. Furthermore, in practice very little use was made of the library by people other than employees of each organisation. In future, if either MetService or NIWA wished to dispose of any of its holdings, an agreement ensured that they would first offer them to the other party. This should prevent indiscriminate disposal of library contents.

In 1995 there was a footnote to the library problem. The separate collections held by MetService and NIWA were placed on the interloan system, so that material would be available through the normal interloan procedures at local libraries. In addition, Society members introduced by NIWA or MetService staff would have access to these organisation's respective collections, provided no undue burden was placed on library staff. MetService agreed to allow the Society to hold its small collection of journals and newsletters in their library.

The split of meteorology between NIWA and MetService had yet another consequence - the cessation of the annual conference run by the Meteorological Service. Henceforth the only annual conference which would provide a forum for the exchange and discussion of meteorology would be that organised by the Meteorological Society.

Wairarapa Weather Watchers

In May 1990 the Wairarapa Weather Watchers (WaiWW) was inaugurated, patterned on the earlier successful Wellington Weather Watchers. It would hold six evening meetings a year in Masterton, and produce six Newsletters a year. The WaiWW had an association with the Meteorological Society similar to that of the Wellington Weather Watchers, and includes in its membership all Society members living in the Wairarapa district. Membership grew from the eleven founding members to thirty-eight at the time of its tenth anniversary in May 2000.

WaiWW has held some picnic field days. A particularly enjoyable one took place on a sunny summer 's day, at the invitation of the Jury Hill Gliding Club. It was held at their base just east of Greytown, and was attended by about twenty people from both Wairarapa and from Wellington Weather Watchers. Gliders were winchlaunched, and many of those attending were able to take a trip aloft.

One of the submissions which the Society was called on to make was on 'Development of Research Strategy for Climate and Atmosphere' by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. The submission was required at such short notice that the whole Society membership could not be consulted, and reliance had to be placed on expertise within the committee, augmented by advice from appropriate acknowledged experts. In brief, the Society agreed with the main thrust of the proposal, and with most of the detailed proposals. However, overall, it was felt that there was too much emphasis on greenhouse gases, and not enough emphasis on climate forecasting, and on climate as a hazard or as a resource. There was concern over the suggested reduction in funding for present and past climate research. An alternative funding profile was offered. Climate was to the fore again in the 1992 Conference, held at Lincoln University in conjunction with the Agricultural Sciences Convention, and titled "Weather and Climate: Opportunities and Risk". The title turned out to be prophetic. Amid the excellent lecture room facilities, the comfortable accommodation, and the peaceful rural setting, no one anticipated the BIG WHITE which produced up to 10 cm of snow at dawn on the last day, and which effectively brought Christchurch and region to a standstill. Talks on that last day edged toward the farcical when the electric power supply failed. Near-windowless lecture rooms now proved to be useless as conference venues; even when rooms with windows were located, those unfortunate enough to be presenting papers, coming armed with no doubt revealing and enlightening overheads or slides, were reduced to handwaving and word pictures. Then there were those presenters who, living in Christchurch and dependent on public transport, found that there was a very long, and very cold, wait at a bus stop in the hope that. eventually, a bus might arrive. Verily, a conference to remember - or never forget!

The following year (1993) the Annual Conference returned to Wellington after being held out of the capital on the previous two years. Meteorological scientists, now divided between NIWA and MetService, had endured the upheavals inherent in this reorganisation of meteorology. In addition, they now found themselves so heavily committed in sustaining their activities in the new science funding regime, that they had little spare time to devote to preparing and offering papers for a conference. Nor could those who were also committee members devote much time to help organise a conference. In such circumstances the 1993 conference was reduced, reluctantly, to only one day.

Despite its reduced size, the conference proved to be very successful, and drew about fifty participants. Of particular interest was an informative panel discussion on "The impact of new structures for meteorology in New Zealand: background and performance". The three panel members were Tom Steiner (Ministry of Transport ), Neil Gordon (MetService NZ) and Gary Betteridge (NIWA Atmosphere), with Jim McGregor (Victoria University of Wellington) as Chairman.

Certification of Meteorologists

With an increasing number of organisations now providing weather forecast services, the Society began, early in the 1990's, to explore the feasibility of some means of certification. Such a scheme would enable prospective customers of these organisations to have some means of assessing the likely quality of the products they offered. A small sub-committee was formed to look into the matter. After much effort - and several years - was spent considering how some overseas Meteorological Societies deal with the situation, the committee decided, as had the Australian Society, that it was not feasible for a small Society such as ours to become involved in accreditation of forecasters.

A year of two were to elapse before the topic of accreditation was again referred to the committee. New investigations revealed that an expensive option for accreditation was available through the Royal Meteorological Society in England. A survey of opinion among New Zealand Meteorological Society membership and the meteorological fraternity indicated no strong demand for such a scheme. Although the extra qualifications would be nice to have (except for the high cost involved), there were no 'teeth' in the scheme to handle those who did not gain accreditation. After further overseas surveys and options, it seemed that the only realistic option available was the registration scheme operated by the Royal Society of New Zealand. An applicant's professional details would be registered with the RSNZ, and the applicant would agree to support the objects of the RSNZ, which include the administration of a code of professional standards and ethics in science and technology.

At the 1999 AGM it was agreed that the Meteorological Society urge its membership, especially professional members, to apply for, and start using, the letters MRSNZ in their publications, forecasts and news releases so that the media and listening public will, gradually, associate these letters with a degree of quality regarding meteorological matters.

Meanwhile the Society committee was having some concern regarding how the public in general viewed the changes taking place in the organisation of meteorology in the country. For instance, how did they regard the standard of weather forecasts? Or, how influenced were they by weather research findings presented by the media? Through the Newsletter, members were asked to fill in a questionnaire which aimed at gauging the perceived accuracy of public weather forecasts. Thirty-seven replies were received, but coming from a biased group, did not necessarily reflect the views of the general public. The returned questionnaires showed that, in 1992, almost three-quarters of these people rated the accuracy as less than adequate. About the same number thought that the accuracy had deteriorated. Nearly half the respondents came from the Auckland region. Often it is the dissatisfied who respond more readily than the satisfied to questionnaires.

Some media presentations of atmospheric research, especially with respect to climate change and ozone depletion have disturbed the committee. Television documentaries which allow sound scientific findings to be jumbled with more extreme opinion from environmental groups, give the latter undeserved credibility, and could overstate the problem in the minds of the public. There seemed little the Society could do apart from promoting sound scientific findings through its own media releases, meetings and publications.

Observing station Closures

Early in 1994 NIWA announced that over 40 climate stations throughout New Zealand were to be closed. The Society was very upset that such a step was being taken without any prior consultation with either the Meteorological Society, or with important user groups, such as Regional Councils. The issue was one that could, and should, have been more widely debated. While there was a case for rationalisation of the number and location of climate stations, no attention appeared to have been given to future national and regional needs.

When climate studies feature prominently in research activities, it was inexplicable that closed sites include Leigh with its long record of air and sea temperatures, and Alexandra which is located at the heart of the most distinctive climate region in the country.

The Society wrote to the Minister of Transport, as well as the Boards of MetService and NIWA on this matter. In response, the Chief Executive Officer of NIWA advised the Society that if in future any cuts were proposed then at the very least the Society would be consulted. Not long after the climate station closures, MetService announced the cessation of upper air balloon soundings from Cambell Island, ending more than 50 years of operation. However, in this case, the Society believed that the decision was made after careful analysis in order to verify that the absence of Campbell Island data would not adversely affect the accuracy of global weather prediction models. The action was taken on the assumption that upper air balloon soundings from Australian-operated Macquarie Island would continue (the Australian Bureau of Meteorology stated that they have no plans to close their station) .

During the mid-1990's, the Society continued to provide submissions on the various documents referred to it.  On the 'Environment 2010 Strategy', the Society supported the general thrust of the proposal, and agreed that the government of the day should accept some responsibility for protecting the natural environment, and recognised that agreements such as the Framework Climate Change Convention have a large political component, as well as being built on science. The submission was prepared by members of the Society who are international experts in the fields of air pollution, climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion. Another submission was to the Science Priority Review Panel, which was establishing science priorities for the next five years. The Society's submission was limited to commenting on the sections of the review which concerned Marine Environments, and Climate and Atmosphere. The Society was very supportive of the recommendations in the review, which proposed growth of science funding away from areas that support economic development and towards environmental and social sciences.

After the restricted length of the previous year's annual conference, the one held in 1994 saw a welcome return to more normal circumstances. There were 63 participants, 29 scientific papers presented, two brief explanations of poster displays, and a workshop for scientists involved in the Southern Alps Experiment - a research project to discover how and to what extent the Southern Alps affect the distribution of meteorological elements in their vicinity.

The conference in the following year (1995) was held in Christchurch, fortunately without any repetition of the snowstorm which was such a feature of the 1992 conference at Lincoln. On this occasion, the memorable event occurred at the conference dinner, when the guest speaker was the Christchurch Wizard, who explained with great gusto some of his successes in the field of rain-making. As visible proof he vigorously waved newspaper cuttings acclaiming his prowess. He did, however, draw a veil of silence over any failures that there may have been.


The Christchurch conference was so successful, both meteorologically and financially, that it was possible to set up a special Student Conference Fund. With this fund it would be possible to assist worthy students to attend future Society Conferences. Some two years later, five students had their attendance at the Australasian Atmospheres and Oceans Conference subsidised from the Society's Students' Fund. The success of that particular conference enabled the Society not only to reimbursing the Students' Fund, but also to put aside funds towards a proposed 'Awards Fund'. The concept of a Merit Award, to be given to a person making a significant contribution to the science of meteorology, was first mooted some time In the 1980's. John Hickman, a former Director of the New Zealand Meteorological Service, was particularly keen that the Society promote such an award, and in 1994 he drafted some proposals regarding the structure within which an award to encourage the advancement of the science of meteorology would fit.

Not surprisingly, the Society realised from the start of deliberations, that the main obstacle to furthering the project would be the difficulty of obtaining sufficient funding. The establishment of the Awards Fund made an encouraging start to building up those funds, and the committee is hopeful that before too long the Merit Award can become a reality.

In 1995 the Conference moved to Auckland, with the theme: The Business of Climate. It brought together a wide range of interests, with presentations from tourist company operators, electricity generating organisations, and insurance company chief executives. Of over fifty papers, some were very high quality. In addition, the media were in attendance; the New Zealand Herald ran large news review features on every day of the conference, and there was radio and television coverage.

Code of Practice for Severe Weather Warnings

In 1995 the Society was severely critical of MetService for its decision not to make the warnings of severe weather which it issued available to other forecasting organisations. The decision was taken because MetService, which is government-funded to issue warnings of expected severe weather, accused some of the other forecasting organisations of changing the wording of the warnings and/or not passing warnings on to their clients.

At the Society's AGM in 1995, the matter was vigorously debated by Society members, MetService representatives, and some of the other forecasting organisations. An offer by the Society to draw up, in consultation with MetService, a 'Code of Practice' concerning the release of severe weather warnings by the Crown supplier (currently MetService) to commercial organisations, was accepted by those present. The Society committee subsequently produced a draft Code of Practice, which was then made it available to Society members for comment. After considering the comments, a final version of the Code was endorsed by the Committee. It was acceptable to all those involved with severe weather warnings, and no further problems concerning the dissemination of warnings have occurred. The original MetService action of withholding of severe weather warnings eventually resulted in the Commerce Commission becoming involved. However, with the warning issue resolved, the Commission turned its attention more toward access to weather data than access to forecasts. One consequence of this was that the contract between MetService and the Ministry of Transport was altered to ensure that it did not breach the Commerce Act. This resulted in MetService making access to meteorological data easier by placing on the internet data which it collected with public funds.

Another matter that was raised at the 1995 AGM concerned the Permanent Representative (PR) of New Zealand with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The intent of the WMO is that the PR of a Member (country) be at the forefront of the national meteorological programmes of that country, and who can in addition to demonstrating management and policy-making skills, make realistic and practical decisions on technical matters. Whereas in the past, Directors of the New Zealand Meteorological Service had these qualities, the Chief Executive Officer of MetService (the present PR) had principally management and policy-making expertise. The Society was keen to ensure that if a PR should lack technical expertise on meteorological matters, that the advice of senior MetService staff who had those skills should be heeded. The current PR,  John Lumsden, was acting in this manner, and seeking such advice, and was entirely professional in executing his PR duties. The AGM agreed that the Society should keep this matter under review, especially if a change of PR should occur, or if other circumstances should change. A welcome development in 1995 was the announcement by the Minister of Science, Simon Upton, of an approximately sixty per cent increase in funding for Marine, Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, which would take place over the next five years. This would assure continued growth of research in meteorology. Several new Society initiatives took place in 1996. Firstly, the committee experimented with the use of teleconferencing for its six-weekly meetings. This enabled those committee members who previously had been unable to travel to attend meetings, to participate and contribute to meetings as had never previously been possible. The benefits of this arrangement were readily apparent and it became routine practice thanks to financial support from NIWA. Another move into new technology followed soon afterwards when all committee members became able to exchange email messages.

Another 1996 initiative was the launch of the Meteorological Society's World Wide Web home page. Initially, this displayed information such as details of conferences, and upcoming meetings. As time went on, further information was added until it became a ready source of Society Policy Statements and other Society material.

The Society's Policy Document on the Role of the State in Meteorology, issued in 1991, was in need of revision following the division of meteorology between NIWA and Met Service. After receiving and considering submissions from members on what alterations they would like to be incorporated in the document, the committee produced a revised document and placed on its website. In addition, it was published in the Newsletter in early 1999. As a living document it would be kept under review and would, if circumstances warranted, be updated or amended. It noted that the core services which should be funded by the state are:

  • Data: collection - quality control - archiving - statistics.
  • Forecasting: 1) severe weather warnings and code of practice, 2) a public weather service.
  • Climate monitoring- climate change - climate variability.
  • International role - World Meteorological Organisation - Pacific role .
  • Research - Improved forecasting - climate research - climate change research.
  • Training.

In 1999 the Meteorological Society revisited consideration of its providing an accreditation service for meteorology. The topic having gained importance in New Zealand because of the many voices, of varying credibility, now commenting in the media on the weather and climate. While acknowledging that credible credentials might help guide the media in their choice of source, and after reviewing several overseas accreditation services, the Society concluded that their operating such a service for New Zealand may well involve much in the way of resources for little gain. Consequently, the Society recommended that individual members register their professional details with a registration scheme operated by the Royal Society of New Zealand, thereby enabling them to use the letters MRSNZ in a professional capacity.

Australasian Atmospheres and oceans conference

The Annual Conference due to be held in 1997, was hosted jointly by the Meteorological Society of New Zealand and its Australian counterpart, the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society. This necessitated moving the date of the conference, from what would normally have been late 1997, to early 1998.

The Australasian Atmospheres and Oceans Conference early in 1998 was the first time the Meteorological Society had joined with an overseas organisation, the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographical Society, to run its annual conference. It turned out to be a great success, and had a very strong scientific content with more than 125 papers and posters presented over four days. One third of the nearly 150 delegates came from overseas, and there was strong support from the Crown Research Institutes (particularly NIWA) and from the Universities (particularly Auckland).

Since the Society's Annual General Meeting was normally held in conjunction with the conference, as a consequence of delaying the 1997 conference until early the following year, an AGM was required in late 1997. At it, John Lumsden, Chief Executive Officer of MetService, presented a well-illustrated talk on "Where MetService is Heading" . This ranged over the topics:

  • Services under contract to the Ministry ofTransport;
  • International co operation;
  • Structure of Me tService;
  • Meteorological services provided;
  • METRA (products not provided under contract to the Ministry ofTransport);
  • The future.

Meanwhile, the Society welcomed the rise in Government spending on Research, Science and Technology, where the bulk of the increase going into the Public Good Science Fund. Once again submissions were required. This time to the Ministry for the Environment concerning their proposals for Environmental Performance Indicators related to stratospheric ozone and climate change. Main points of the submission stressed

  • The need for stability in observations from key climate sites, a necessary part of which would be funding stability.
  • That the proposed indicators related more to climate change policy than to the environment itself.

In 1998 the Society was again faced with being involved, yet again, in a new Government science funding allocation with its 'Foresight Project', initiated by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology. The Foresight process would develop a new set of priorities for Government Investment in science from July 2000. A discussion document outlining the Society's position as placed on its website, asking for Society members to make any suggestions they may have on the document. Having considered the feedback from members, the Society's submission was one of concern with the generalised, 'feel good' specifications in many of the desired outcomes. It was felt that if such general terminology were accepted, the Society saw a danger that at a later date. It would be possible to interpret the specifications in such a way as to exclude funding from important areas. After the Society's displeasure at NIWA's abrupt closing of climate observing sites in 1994, it was encouraging to be notified of their intention to dispose of the hand-drawn upper air maps, covering the years 1943 to 1988. This course of action was contemplated because of the amount of shelf space which these maps were occupying. NIWA were advised that , in the Society's opinion, the hand-drawn charts prior to 1958 should be retained as they represent a unique data set. In contrast, from 1958 reanalysed maps, which include the area covered by the New Zealand map, exist in global meteorological centres overseas, and NIWA could discard those maps of the later period without loss of unique information. The Society expressed pleasure that NIWA had consulted widely before taking action.

Also in 1998, the Society noted with sadness the passing of Dr Tom Steiner, the founding President of the Meteorological Society and its first Honorary Member. Only two years earlier, through Tom's efforts, with the assistance of Richard Heerdegen, Geography Department at Massey University, a Manawatu Branch of the Society began operating in Palmerston North.

Yet further upheaval in meteorology was foreshadowed in 1999 when the Government advised a move toward the sale of its weather forecasting SOE: MetService. A submission was quickly dispatched to Treasury on this subject stating, in part, that the Society was convinced that the Government has a legitimate and crucial role in the provision of meteorological services, and a responsibility to maintain public safety through severe weather warnings, that cannot be delegated to the private sector, especially if that were located offshore. For this reason, the Society urged that the proposed sale of MetService not proceed. The Christchurch Vice President, Dr Don Grainger, met with Treasury staff to explain the Society's submission, and to answer any queries they may have. Before the sale process could be advanced very far, a General Election later in 1999 saw a change of Government and nothing further has been heard of the matter. However, the Society intended to remain vigilant should there be any future sale proposal.

The Society's Journal "Weather and Climate" published twice yearly since the Society was founded, had, as noted earlier, often fallen behind publication dates through lack of sufficient papers being offered. The committee had become increasingly concerned about this, but acknowledged that, despite valiant efforts by Editors to encourage potential authors to offer papers, there were now fewer scientists working in meteorology in New Zealand with the time available to prepare and offer papers. Therefore the committee has, reluctantly, bowed to the inevitable conclusion that there will not be, in the foreseeable future, a sudden upsurge in papers becoming available, and has decided to make '"Weather and Climate" an annual edition.

As regards the Newsletter, the very first Editor made the point that the Newsletter was the means of keeping members in regular touch with the Society and with other members. Indeed, he made a plea for members to write in with interesting pieces of weather-related information. A number of members have done the Society proud in this regard, contributing regularly over the years.

Jolyon Manning, Alexandra, has kept members in touch with events in Central Otago through a number of articles, often with an eye on the sunspot cycle. Bob Crowder, Lincoln, has written interesting items about the weather and thunderstorms of central Canterbury, and has not been tardy in bringing weather forecasting failures to the attention of members.

On the topic of Canterbury thunderstorms, a relatively late contributor has been the New Zealand Thunderstorm Society. Organised by Society member, John Gaul (President and Founder of the Thunderstorm Society), it coalesced in the early 1980s around a number of enthusiasts in Canterbury who observed and reported thunderstorms there. Since 1997 articles about their activities, and thunderstorms witnessed, have appeared quite regularly in the Newsletter.

However, special plaudits must go to Trevor McGavin and his 'Notable Recent Weather'. Issue after issue, beginning about 1988, Trevor has featured between four and five hundred Notable Weather Events, which include tornadoes, thunderstorms, hailstorms, windstorms, rainstorms, as well as extremes of heat and cold. Often explaining, with weather maps, and at times newspaper cuttings, how the storms evolved.

When starting out on this story of the Meteorological Society's first twenty-one years, assistance was sought from many of past Presidents, and those who were instrumental in the formation of the Society. A quote taken out of what the Society's first Editor, and second President, Dr John Maunder wrote seems an appropriate way to end the story.

A parting thought

A closing thought is provided by John Maunder who, as first Editor of the Society, is himself one of the 'pioneers' he refers to in: "The Meteorological Society in its first 21 years has indeed 'come of age' but tribute should be paid to those 'pioneers' in the late 1970s and early 1980's who inaugurated the Society, including the late Tom Steiner, Russell Copp, Blair Fitzharris , J W [Hamish] Sturrock , Craig Thompson, Joe Finkelstein, Paul Angus, Mrs M Tweedale, Graham Ward , Jack Coulter, John de Lisle, Jim Hessell, Brian Taylor, John Hickman, Alarick Tomlinson, Bob Crowder, and Alex Neale.'


My thanks to those who have assisted with information, or helped to locate it. Without their generous help the history would be less complete. Special appreciation to John Hickman for recalling what led up to the formation of the Society, for without his help this section of the history would have been largely blank; and to John Maunder for providing impressions of the founding years of the Society. Thanks also to Phil Dickson for his recall of Wellington Weather Watchers.



See Committee Members page.


1980 Wellington, 6-8 October, at the Meteorological Service's lecture Room. Opened by the Minister of Civil Aviation, The Hon. Colin Mclachlan. Conference themes included mountain meteorology, weather and climate of Christchurch and Wellington, and agricultural meteorology.

1981 Christchurch, 14-16 October, at the Geography Department, University of Canterbury. Opened by the Minister of Science and Technology and Minister of the Environment, The Hon. Dr Ian Shearer. Conference themes included the climate of Canterbury, climate and the spread of plant and animal diseases, and how human activities affect climate.

1982 Wellington, 13-15 October, at the Royal Society of N.Z. Rooms. Opened by the Chairman of the Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand, Mr Ian Cross. Conference themes included weather and the public, and satellites and meteorology.

1983 Dunedin, 28 November-2 December, at the University of Otago. Held in conjunction with the Annual Symposium of the N.Z. Hydrological Society. The opening address was by the Parliamentary Under -Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, Mr WR Austin. Conference theme: Weather and agriculture.

1984 Wellington, 10-12 October, at the Royal Society of N.Z. Rooms. Opened by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Transport, Mr Bill Jeffries. Conference themes included weather and sport, and the 'Nuclear Winter '.

1985 Christchurch , 2-6 September, at Lincoln College. Held as part of the N.Z. Institute of Agricultural Science Convention "WATER '85". Conference themes included weather and agriculture, Nuclear Winter, and Canterbury's weather and climate.

1986 Auckland, 25-27 August, at the Auckland Education Centre. Held as part of the N.Z. Institute of Agricultural Science Convention. Conference theme: The business of weather. Session topics included weather and the mariner, weather and horticulture, also climate as a resource.

1987 Wellington, 15-17 October, at the Royal Society of N.Z. Rooms. " Weather watch 1987 ". Opened by the Associate Minister for the Environment, the Hon Philip Woollaston. Conference themes: New Zealand's changing climate: Past, Present and Future ; and Weather forecasting . For the first time an 'Amateur Day' was Included.

1988 Havelock North, 21-26 August, at the Havelock North High School. Held in conjunction with the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural Sciences Convention "AGSCAPE 88". Conference themes included the weather and climate of the East Coast, with special emphasis on Hawke's Bay, also the role of weather in relation to agricultural disease forecasting.

1989 Wellington, 12-14 October, at the Royal Society of N.Z. Rooms. "Greenhouse'89' opened by the Prime Minister and Minister for the Environment, the Right Honourable Geoffrey Palmer. Conference themes: Climate past, present, and future; ozone depletion; agriculture; and an amateur day.

1990 Wellington, 9-11 October, at the Royal Society of N.Z. Rooms. "Weather watch '90" opened by the Minister of Civil Aviation and MeteorologicalServices, the Hon Bill Jeffries. Conference themes: Emphasis on evaluation of past and present climate, the variability of climate, climate change impacts, and the climate of the southwest Pacific. Ozone and agriculture were also featured.

1991 Auckland, 1-6 September, at the Conference Centre, University of Auckland. "South Pacific Environments: Interactions with Weather and Climate". Conference themes: Climate change and climate variability, including the development of policies to cope with these effects; and tropical cyclones.

1992 Christchurch , 25-27 August, at Lincoln University. "Weather and Climate Risks". Held In conjunction with the Agricultural Sciences Convention. Conference themes: Forecasting weather events affecting agriculture; climatic and extreme event risks to agriculture; climate variability risks to horticulture and cropping; climate change.

1993 Wellington, 15 October, at the Royal Society of N.Z.Rooms. There were no particular Conference themes; there were 9 scientific talks and a panel discussion on the new structures of meteorology in New Zealand.

1994 Wellington, 27-28 October, at the Royal Society of N.Z. Rooms. Conference themes include Mesoscale Meteorology: and The Southern Alps Experiment.

1995 Christchurch, 13-16 November, at the University of Canterbury. A joint meeting with the Hydrological Society. Conference themes include: Mountain meteorology, urban meteorology, air quality, droughts and floods.

1996 Auckland, 18-21 November, at the Tamaki Campus of the University of Auckland. " Weather watch '96". Conference theme: The business of climate.

1998 Wellington, 9-12 February, at Victoria University of Wellington, jointly with the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society. "Australasian Atmospheres and Oceans '98". Conference themes included: oceanography, numerical weather prediction, seasonal predictors, ozone, and climate variability .

1998 Dunedin, 23-27 November, at the University of Otago, jointly with the New Zealand Hydrological Society. Conference papers covered a wide range of meteorological topics.

1999 Wellington, 1-3 September, at Victoria University of Wellington, jointly with the New Zealand Geographical Society. "Natural Hazards and Climate Change". Conference papers covered the atmospheric circulation, climate and climate change, weather forecasting, and atmospheric chemistry.

2000 Christchurch, 21-24 November, at the University of Canterbury, jointly with the New Zealand Hydrological Society and the New Zealand Limnological Society. "FreshPerspectives"

2001 Wellington, 19-21 November, at Victoria University of Wellington . The 2001Symposium. Communicating Meteorology.

2002 Auckland, 21-24 November, at SkyCity Conference Centre. Vulnerability and Risk Management. 2003 Christchurch, 26-28 November, at the Chateau in the Park Conference Centre.

2004 Brisbane, 5-9 July, at the InternationalConference on Storm Science and Disaster Mitigation. Held in conjunction with The Australian Meteorological And Oceanographic Society conference. 2005 Wellington, 23-25 November, at Brentwood Hotel.

2006 Christchurch. 21-22 November, at University of Canterbury.

2007 Geelong, Victoria, Australia, 29 January - 1 February 2008, a joint conference with AMOS.

2008 Greymouth, 17-20 November, at Shantytown, a joint Hydrosoc conference.

2009 Auckland, 2-4 September, at Auckland University, joint with Marine Sciences. Theme: Climate and Oceans.

2010 Wellington , 9-11February 2011 , at Te Papa, joint with AMOS. Theme: Extreme Weather.

2011Nelson, 14 -15 November, at Trailways Hotel.

2012 Wellington, 19-20 November, at Copthorne Oriental Bay Hotel.

2013 Palmerston North, 19-22 November at the Palmerston North Convention Centre, joint with the NZHydrological Society. Theme: Water and Weather: Solutions for health, wealth and environment.


(when reproduced in ' Weather and Climate")
1980 How Cumulus Clouds Work - Dr J T Steiner
1981 The Future Path of Meteorology- Dr J T Steiner
1982 The Weather Game - Dr W J Maunder
1983 Past, Present. Future .. . A Personal View - Dr W J Maunder
1984 Weather Forecasting: Magic , Art , Science and Hypnosis - Mr A A Neale
1985 Weather Forecasts: What do they mean? - Mr A A Neale
1986 'La Ronde' - the atmosphere viewed as part of our enormous cosmological roundabout - Mr G F A Ward
1987 Weather and Sport- Mr G F A Ward
1990 Windsof Change - Mr R M Smith
1993 Climate and Weather Forecasting: Prediction, chaos, divination or guess? - Dr B B Fitzharris


See Honorary Members page.

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