1. Meteorological Society of New Zealand
Keywords: New Zealand Meteorological Society, history, New Zealand
The Meteorological Society of New Zealand, or ‘MetSoc’ as it is often referred to, was inaugurated in Wellington, New Zealand, on the 11th of October 1979. In 2029, it will celebrate its 50th Anniversary. With this in mind, this short paper looks back at aspects of the context of its creation and its early years, specifically, the 1980s.
MetSoc is a relative late comer; many societies are far older. These include the respective meteorological societies of Britain (1850), Scotland (1856), Austria (1865), Italy (1865) and the U.S.A. (1919). On the other hand, several meteorological and allied societies, such as the meteorological and oceanological societies of Canada (1977) and Australia (1987), respectively, are more recent. Being born in 1979, MetSoc is of a similar generation to these ‘20th century modern’ organisations.
2. Changing Times
In New Zealand, meteorological conditions are seldom stable for long and many here are “fascinated by the ever-changing skies and weather” (Dickson, 2014, p87). There are practical reasons, too, to keep an eye on the weather. Māori, arriving in the late 13th century, recognised weather’s importance and named a wide variety of meteorological phenomena. European sailors, explorers and, later, settlers made weather observations, and many present-day sailors, pilots, farmers and sports people in New Zealand are keen ‘weather watchers’.
Meteorological technology changed relatively little in the first half of the 20th century. In contrast, the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were characterised by new measurement, computational and communication technologies. In New Zealand, a key player was the New Zealand Meteorological Service (NZMS). These decades saw the advent of 5-day forecasts from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (1975), Automated Weather System stations (1977– ) and satellite receiving (1970–1980) and radio-facsimile (1982) technology (de Lisle, 1986). At the same time, New Zealand universities were establishing studies in meteorology and weather-related information was being sought by government and commercial agencies (Neale, 2000). Forecasting also caught the public eye: more newspapers published a ‘weather map’ when facsimile (‘fax’) machines arrived, televised weather forecasts began in 1961, and ‘the TV weather’ was presented by NZMS forecasters from 1981 onwards (de Lisle, 1986).
3. An Independent Society
In 1979, New Zealand was ready for the formation of an independent meteorological society. To steal a remark from another society, what was needed was not a “research organisation…but rather a new channel through which scientific research workers and others may be in touch with one another” (Anon., 1959, p97). So, MetSoc came into being. Its objective was to encourage an interest in the atmosphere, weather and climate, particularly as related to the New Zealand region. It welcomed operational forecasters, researchers, qualified professionals and amateur weather enthusiasts (Neale, 2000). Under the leadership of its first president, Dr Tom Steiner, MetSoc quickly established three core activities that persist to present day: the scientific journal ‘Weather and Climate’, a more informal quarterly newsletter and an annual scientific conference.
3.1. Weather and Climate
The inaugural volume of Weather and Climate (1983, Vol.1) was edited by John Maunder and featured the MetSoc logo on its cover. This image of cumulus clouds and a map of New Zealand was designed by member, cartographer and artist, Phil Dickson (Neale, 2000). Weather and Climate solicited scholarly articles with a New Zealand or Pacific focus and also—in the 1980s at least—published summaries of work undertaken in New Zealand universities and reviews of recent weather. It was devised as an annual series in two volumes, but “often struggled to meet publication dates through lack of sufficient papers” (Neale, 2000). The series changed to a single volume format after 1990.
The first quarterly Newsletter appeared six months after the Society’s formation (Neale, 2000). Like Weather and Climate, it was reproduced in hard copy and posted out to its members. It was an informal way to share topical weather maps and short reports. Members were invited to contribute. Those who took up this offer included Jolyon Manning in Central Otago, Bob Crowder in Canterbury and Trevor McGavin, whose reports on ‘Notable Recent Weather’ included storms, hail, tornadoes, temperature extremes and many other events (Neale, 2000).
MetSoc’s first annual conference was held in Wellington in 1980, which is a laudable feat for a society created in late 1979. The decision was made to hold it in Wellington in alternate years, to complement the annual conference of the Wellington-based NZMS (Neale, 2000). Wellington was the venue again in 1982, 1984, 1987 and 1989, Christchurch in 1981 and 1985, Dunedin in 1983, Auckland in 1986 and Havelock North in 1988. Presentations were invited on a range of meteorological and climatological topics. The Presidential Address was a popular feature. It was usually delivered at the conference dinner and, for several years, was published in Weather and Climate. Often a field trip took place, including a legendary 2-day tour of Central Otago that took place in 1983 (Neale, 2000).
In 2000, on the occasion of MetSoc’s 21st anniversary, member Alex Neale compiled a detailed history of the society, its activities and achievements (see Neale, 2000). What stands out to me from that narrative is that engagement is key. A society is nothing without engagement with its members; a mature society engages also externally—with the public, media, allied societies and the government.
In the 1980s, many MetSoc talks and presentations were held in Wellington and directed at Wellington-based professional or academic members. However, the Society also held events in the regions and catered to amateur weather enthusiasts. For example, a Branch meeting was held in Canterbury in 1982 to discuss a regional hailstorm, members in Hawke’s Bay co-hosted a seminar with the Amateur Radio Transmitters Association (1984), and combined meetings were held in Wellington with the amateur Wellington Weather Watchers group (1982– ). The annual conference in 1987 included a day set aside for topics that appealed more to amateur members, and from 1983 to 1990, MetSoc produced and publicly sold an annual calendar, using images submitted by members (Neale, 2000).
From time to time, the media came under the spotlight. The 1980 conference included a discussion on ‘weather information and the media’, with panellists representing a variety of views. Following this, MetSoc met with Television New Zealand to discuss its concerns about the poor quality of TV weather presentations (Neale, 2000).
In the 1980s, MetSoc created links with allied organisations in New Zealand and globally. It became an affiliate of the Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ) and held joint conferences with the New Zealand Hydrological Society and New Zealand Institute of Agricultural Sciences (Neale, 2000). In Wellington in 1986, it co-sponsored the Second International Conference on Southern Hemisphere Meteorology with the NZMS, American Meteorological Society and World Meteorological Organisation.
In the latter half of the 1980s, MetSoc became involved with submissions to the New Zealand government and RSNZ on matters relevant to the wider meteorological community (Neale, 2000). It made a submission to a ministerial working group on science and technology (1986), provided information on strategic research to the RSNZ (1986), and met with Government ministers in response to proposals to cut NZMS staff and close observing stations (1988). MetSoc also produced a ‘Climate Change’ media release and commented, again, on the quality of TV weather presentations.
MetSoc will celebrate a significant milestone in nine years’ time on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. It is not yet known what the celebrations will entail, but those who wish to be involved in planning, or have memories and photographs to share, are invited to contact MetSoc at firstname.lastname@example.org or through its webpage at https://www.metsoc.org.nz/.
Many thanks go to Alex Neale who collated the Society’s history in 2000, and to Sylvia Nicol for lending books not in my local library.
Anon., 1959: Meteorological society established in Prague. Weather, 14 (3), 97. Retrieved from https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/j.1477-8696.1959.tb02437.x
de Lisle, J.F., 1986: Sails to Satellites. A History of Meteorology in New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand, New Zealand Meteorological Service. ISBN 0-447-07300-X. 186 pages.
Dickson, P., 2014: Phil Dickson’s Wellington. Wellington, New Zealand, Grantham House Publishing. ISBN 978-1-86934-123-7. 96 pages.
Neale, A., 2000: The First 21 Years. Wellington, New Zealand, Meteorological Society of New Zealand. Retrieved from https://www.metsoc.org.nz/history/
Figure 1: A jogger should cease running when his body temperature rises above 40o. Cartoon by Phil Dickson. In: Weather and Sport, the Graham Ward Presidential Address delivered at the Eighth Annual Conference of the Meteorological Society of New Zealand, 16th October 1987. Reproduced from Weather and Climate, 1988, 2-9, page 4.