DETROIT – As some of you know, I’m just back from a conference in Paris. But this wasn't just any conference.
Back in 1990, a French weather presenter named Francois Fandeaux had a vision: he wanted to bring together broadcast meteorologists from around the world to discuss, share, teach and learn from each other.
But nobody (especially from developing nations) would be able to attend unless most of their expenses could be covered, so he worked tirelessly to secure sponsorships and, in 1991, the first gathering was held.
For me, it all began back in 1996 at the American Meteorological Society’s annual national conference for broadcast meteorologists. I was co-chairman of the conference, and was invited to attend the following year’s Paris conference. It was a great honor and, since that time, I have been one of a small handful of American broadcast meteorologists representing our nation every year at the conference, now called the International Forum on Weather and Climate, which is organized by Meteo et Climat, with Christian Vannier and Morgane Daudier leading the effort after Francois’ untimely death.
Day one of this year’s conference was held at CNES (National Center for Space Studies), with the morning session focused on global warming updates from various scientists. During the afternoon session, I was extended the high privilege of being one of four broadcast meteorologists representing four continents on a panel sharing best practice techniques about communicating climate change and science.
One of my colleagues, Deqiao Kong from China, shocked me when she showed me on her cell phone some ClickOnDetroit.com URLs with my photo, and some Chinese writing under it. As she explained, “you are well known in my weather office, and all of us have seen your examples of how to report science.” It is such a wonderful feeling knowing that, at this point in my career, I have become a mentor to so many young colleagues around the world.
Day two was held at one of my favorite buildings in all of Paris. Formally called Hotel de Ville, you would better understand its purpose by the name “Paris city hall.” The city’s government offices, including the mayor’s office, are in this building, and my photos below don’t even begin to convey its incredible history and opulence.
What was especially meaningful was looking out the window and seeing Notre Dame. There were tears in my eyes as I watched the tragic fire unfold on live television last month. Restoration work is well under way, and I join the world in anticipating the day when the grand cathedral’s work is done and we can once again enjoy its splendor and history.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo was the keynote speaker, and through her leadership, Paris has become one of the most environmentally conscious major cities in the entire world. Mayor Hidalgo has been a great supporter of this conference, as well.
As important as the sessions are, an even greater reward are the relationships developed at this conference. Some of my colleagues and I have known each other for ten to twenty years, and have become very, very close friends. And every year, I make new friends…relationships that I so cherish.
Years ago, I set up an e-mail distribution list so we can all easily share severe and unusual weather information, and one of my colleagues has now turned that into a WhatsApp group – we are in touch daily with each other. Perhaps you’ve seen some of this international information that I’ve mentioned in my own weathercasts, or on my social media.
Naturally, you don’t waste an opportunity to see things in Paris, and I was able to do two things on my free day this particular trip. First, and this is an annual “pilgrimage” for me - yes, I will be rightly accused of being really science geeky here - I went to the Eiffel Tour. Most people don’t notice (or remember) what I see there: names of all of the great French mathematicians and scientists of that era when it was built. Whenever I’m in Paris, I walk all four sides of the magnificent structure, and look at those names –– and pay my respects to them. Perhaps you’ll even recognize one or two of the names in my photos below.
One thing that made me really sad was seeing for the first time, a barricade around the Eiffel Tower. People now have to stand in line and pass through a security checkpoint to get close. I didn’t have time to wait. I guess we’ll just chalk this up as yet another depressing sign of the times.
The second place of interest I saw is called the Catacombs. It’s a bit of a macabre experience but, if history fascinates you like it does me, then you’ll find this pretty interesting. Before getting to the photos below, let me share some background: back in the 18th century, poor people who died and whose families could not pay for a proper funeral were buried in cemeteries designated for paupers. People were sometimes buried several feet deep in the graves.
Eventually, the rapidly growing city needed more land to develop, so the decision was made to deconsecrate those pauper cemeteries, respectfully remove the bodies (which had completely decomposed by that point…they were just bones), and stack them in below ground caverns that had been created when limestone was being cut out for use in creating some of Paris’ historic buildings. At some point, interest was so high that tours began. It is simply astounding seeing so many remains, as far as the eye can see.
By the way, even though it was a pleasant day, I did not jump in the river. They would have called me “in Seine” if I did.
It’s always great to be back in the "D" and, as I told my hosts in Paris, I always feel a great affinity for France because, after all, Detroit was founded by a Frenchman in 1701. We were a French city until 1760, when the British took the city. But Detroit’s heritage will always be French. In fact, our great city’s name, Detroit, comes from the French word, de troit, which means, “the strait” – a tribute to the Detroit River. Au revoir!