Remarkable experience at the Forum International de la Meteo


Every year since 1997, I have had the privilege of being among a small handful of meteorologists invited to represent the United States at the Forum International de la Meteo (International Weather Forum). 

Broadcast Meteorologists from around the world are flown in and hosted for this special conference, with the goal of improving broadcast meteorology globally. Since the Forum's organizers, Christian Vannier and Morgane Daudier, work for the French Meteorological Society, it is frequently held in Paris.  This year, however, we met in Turin (Torino), Italy...a spectacular place to meet for a very special reason I'll explain a bit later (the historic venue - wait until you hear about that).

My journey began last Tuesday evening with the flight to Amsterdam, where I connected to Turin.  While making my way to that flight, I get a tap on the shoulder...it was my colleague and good friend Panos Giannopoulos from Greece - also heading to the Forum and connecting from Athens to Turin!  We sat together on the flight and, since he sat by the window, he shot this spectacular shot of the Alps!

The arrival day is always one of my favorite days of the entire year - many of us have become close friends over the years, and each “veteran” attendee arriving at the hotel lobby is mobbed with hugs and kisses.  Of course, newcomers are warmly welcomed, and immediately become part of "the family."

Following the Wednesday night formal welcome, it was down to business early Thursday morning.

It's humbling to be in a position to teach colleagues...particularly from developing nations...and also to learn from them.  This year's theme was "Communicating Climate Change," and it was an honor to have my 2016 Climate Change Webcast highlighted as an outstanding example.  (I can’t remember what I said that was so funny when this photo was snapped, but I assure you that my colleagues Bernadette Placky-Woods and Jill Peeters were laughing WITH me, not AT me!).

One of the breakout sessions I participated in involved Michael Williams from the World Meteorological Organization (a specialized agency of the United Nations), seeking our input on how the WMO can help us improve climate change communication.  My suggestion, which is being considered, is to make important climate scientists (and even the WMO Secretary General himself) available for interviews...even by Skype  This would greatly help my colleagues and me bring the science directly to you.

The highlight of the trip this year was the  building our lectures were held in.  Each day, we were bussed a half-hour away to the historic city of Moncalier, were we met in the "Collegio Carlo Alberto," a meteorological observatory dating back to 1865!  The Italian Meteorological Society (the Italian abbreviation is SMI) maintains the observatory, and I cannot contain my excitement over having spent time in this building, which has provided continuous weather observations for the past 152 years.

SMI president, Luca Mercalli, shares my passion for history, and he gave me a personal tour of the typically off-limits upper levels.  

The narrow, winding staircase first took me to the library, where all of the old, original weather records were stored.  I truly felt as if I had taken a time machine back in time.  I cherished every second in there, as Luca opened a cabinet and took out a very old set of weather observations for me to see.

The next level contained many old weather instruments (fascinating!), but the room's showcase instrument was the observatory's original telescope!

The final trip up was to the roof, where I saw the old weather vane juxtaposed next to its modern counterpart.

Finally, the trip back down took me past many cabinets filled with old scientific instruments used for research so long ago.  It was yet another step back in time.

Luca told me that there is no public funding available for Italy's oldest weather observatory; he's doing everything he can to raise the money to maintain the building. Luca is an amazing man that I'm now proud to call a friend.  I hope to travel back there someday to see him and the observatory.

Saturday at the Forum was a different kind of day.  We started our day about an hour away, in the Piemonte region of Italy, at the University of Food Science in the city of Bra. 

There, they research how climate change is affecting the world's food supply, and sustainable ways to grow food.  For example, if you love wine, they showed us research indicating that global warming is affecting the acidity, alcohol, color and tannins in some wines.  And the solution is not so simple:  yes, you could try moving the vineyards northward to cooler climates, but the grape plants might not thrive in different soils.  The beautiful university is in a 1000 year old complex of buildings!  Before leaving, I bought my wife a nice bottle of Italian red wine and some amazing Italian chocolate in the school’s wine store.

Oh, and since I’m talking about drink, I might as well mention the Italian food which was, in a word, amazing.  Check out this pizza I had…they gave Little Caesar’s a run for their money!

We then returned to Turin, where we were treated to a walking tour of this historic city.  Here are some photos of the city and its incredible history.

My twenty years attending the Forum has enriched me personally and professionally in more ways than I can describe.  And you have certainly benefitted.  Several years ago, when NBC provided its network stations with video showing a rare three inch snowfall in Jerusalem, I got Danny Roup on the phone and recorded a quick interview.  So, while other stations around the country showed the video alone, you heard an Israeli TV meteorologist put the snow in perspective.

Another time, a solar eclipse crossed Europe and, after showing you some photos of it, I shared with you the hilarious trials and tribulations of TV meteorologist Helga van Leur, who was driving all around The Netherlands trying to find a small gap in the clouds so she could see it.

And I have also helped my friends.  Several years ago after that record-breaking tornado outbreak in the central plains, Czech Republic TV meteorologist Tatiana Mikova recorded a phone interview with me about the outbreak, and why the U.S. gets so many tornadoes.  She used the entire seven-minute interview, with subtitles, of course.

Danny, Helga and  Tatiana and I are all close friends and, like our other colleagues who have become close over the years, we'd do anything to help each other.  But none of these relationships would have happened without the Forum, which brings us all together.

While it's great to be back home (especially with Detroit Tigers opening day this Friday), part of me is sad that I won't see these dozens of colleagues / friends for another year.  Many of us offer each other a place to stay in our homes should any of us visit but, for most, it'll be a year before we see each other again. 

The world has certainly become a much smaller place for me.  Repeating my toast at the Saturday night closing dinner:  "to good weather, and great friends."

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