Undercurrents: World Meteorological Organization Improves Weather Research in Caribbean

A regular Source column, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events developing beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community.

You may never have heard of an organization called Météo-France, but it just signed an agreement that could result in enhanced warnings for the Virgin Islands as the 2016 hurricane season prepares to ramp up.

The organization is the Meteorological Service of France, one of the partners of the World Meteorological Organization, and the agreement formalized and expanded the collaboration it already has with the WMO.

Hurricane tracking is just one part of the cooperative effort. The agreement covers weather and climate issues that impact the entire Caribbean region, which is, as the WMO website points out, “a multilingual region that is particularly vulnerable to weather extremes and climate impacts.”

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In announcing the agreement, which was signed in June at the 68th Session of the WMO Executive Council, the group said it provides “a formal mechanism for improving direct collaboration between Meteorological Services and agencies that use different languages.”

WMO describes itself as a global organization that “provides an umbrella” under which 191 countries and territories collaborate. The United States’ metrological service organization under that umbrella is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.)

Responding to an email inquiry, Clare Nullis, media officer for the World Meteorological Organization, described its role as that of a facilitator.

“The WMO doesn’t conduct research itself,” she wrote. “Rather it serves as an international platform to coordinate research into weather and climate. At any one time, there is a huge amount of research on a wide array of subjects (tropical cyclones, rainfall patterns, heat waves, oceans, etc. etc.) being conducted by a wide variety of actors, and this has been happening for many years. “

NOAA, of course, does conduct and fund considerable research throughout the Caribbean and southern U.S., including in Puerto Rico, where it operates unmanned vehicles doing ocean studies, in Havana, where it is launching a research vessel, as well as Miami where it maintains a laboratory and studies hurricanes.

“We share data with WMO,” said Monica Allen, director of public affairs for NOAA Research.

One thing NOAA does not get involved with, she stressed, is geo-engineering, the controversial and as yet unproven science of addressing climate change not by reducing greenhouse gases but rather by attempting to lower the Earth’s temperature with such techniques as spraying sulfur particles at high altitudes to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes, using artificial “trees” to absorb carbon dioxide, or shading the Earth from the sun. While some scientists argue that humans should be ready to use such measures if global warming becomes uncontrollable, others warn that far too little is known about their “side effects.”

Far from geo-engineering, NOAA doesn’t even engage in things like seeding clouds for rainfall, Allen said.

“We don’t do any weather modification,” she said. 

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