Thoughts by C. Doswell on the


INM/WMO International Symposium

on Cyclones and Hazardous Weather

in the Mediterranean


Palma de Mallorca, Spain

14-18 April 1997

My thoughts on this Symposium are colored by my personal biases and by the selection of sessions that I actually attended, so I make no pretense that this review is objective or comprehensive. If I have not mentioned someone in this review, I want to reassure them that it should not be viewed as some sort of insult but rather simply as evidence of the subjective, incomplete nature of this document.

During this Symposium, over 4 days, there were 88 oral presentations and 23 posters, as of the last count that I heard. Departing from my normal procedure at Symposia and Conferences, I actually attended most of the sessions, at times in a semi-conscious state ... it was a pretty tough grind to sit through all of these presentations. Like all scientific conferences, this one was typified by mostly bad presentations: poor graphics that were hard to read, too many overheads for the time allotted, etc. These problems are not unique to this Symposium, in my experience.

This Symposium was in English, a hardship for most of the speakers and participants, since they do not speak English as a native language ... I appreciated the convenience [for me, at least] but had to struggle to understand the efforts of some of the speakers. I hasten to add that had it been in any other language, I would simply have not been able to attend, given my typical Norteamericano inability to speak in any other language! Communication was difficult, at times, for everyone. The many different languages of the Mediterranean makes this inevitable, of course. The increasingly global connectedness of us all, as well as the obvious value in collaboration, makes this barrier frustrating. My advice to Norteamericanos (including myself!) is to learn at least one foreign language at a conversational level.

Nevertheless, I feel the Symposium was a very worthwhile experience. I learned a lot about the character of Mediterranean meteorology. I also heard from and/or met many people. I heard, but do not recall, the number of nations that were represented ... somewhere in the range of 20-30, I believe. It was interesting to see how many women were participating in the Symposium. I did not keep track, but I am certain that the percentage of presentations by women was higher than at the typical AMS conference. Apparently, we have yet to catch up with Europe in this regard!

Some speakers came from the Eastern European members of the former Soviet "bloc" ... it was clear that they had relatively few resources and some of their presentations were more propaganda than science. Curiously, many of the presenters from these countries seemed to suggest that forecasting hazardous weather events in these countries was rather well in hand ... a curious perspective for presentations by scientists but perhaps understandable by bureaucrats. Does this suggest who was selected from these nations to attend this Symposium? A few presenters in that group were clearly making valiant attempts to do good science but were limited by their relative poverty. Eastern Europe has a number of topographically-forced low-level flows of importance that are not as well-known as the Mistral, the Bora, the Foehn, the Tramontane, and the Sirocco. And, of course, heavy rainfalls represent a problem there, as well.

The entire Mediterranean region was well-represented. I do not often hear presentations from the nations of the eastern and southern Mediterranean, so I learned about many new and interesting meteorological problems unique to those regions. I was happy to see Arab and Israeli scientists discussing their common meteorological problems and I was interested to hear about north African meteorology in general. The meteorological problems of north Africa and the Middle East are compounded by the lack of observations in the Sahara and over the Mediterranean Sea, naturally. There are interesting problems of the interaction between tropical and midlatitude meteorology here, and some thoughts about moisture sources for weather in the Mediterranean that I never imagined (e.g., the Arabian Sea!). Although I respect the efforts to understand what is happening meteorologically in north Africa and the Middle East, I found a few of the talks to be pretty speculative and the hypotheses hard to swallow.

Many of the presentations by the Spanish, French, and Italian contingents were quite interesting, given my involvement with western Mediterranean heavy rainfall events. I believe that significant scientific progress is being made and although forecasting the exact time and location the important rainfalls in the region will never be easy, I believe that progress is being made in using numerical weather prediction models and in understanding the roots of these important events. I have every reason to continue to believe that this region is likely to be one of the best places in the world for the successful application of mesoscale numerical weather prediction models, with its dominating topographic controls and important synoptic-scale signals.

Interestingly, there was a strong involvement by Swiss meteorologists, who gave a number of interesting presentations ... although they might be viewed as only marginally connected to the Mediterranean. Certainly, there are Mediterranean influences on the meteorology of central and eastern Europe.

A review paper at the beginning of the Symposium by Agustin Jansa (a Co-Chair of the International Programme Committee for the Symposium) arguing for a unique meteorology for the Mediterranean was, I believe, generally supported by the presentations. The clear winner for the most important hazardous weather event was flood-producing precipitation, with strong topographically-forced winds relegated to the status of a mere contender. A few of us believe that tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are more common through the region than most people think, but attitudes will have to change before we see much evidence for that hypothesis. Mesoscale numerical simulations are likely to be quite effective at providing basic guidance forecasts for these events, although I believe that the more "convective" the rainfall, the more difficult it will be to pinpoint. Case studies were abundant, often in connection with numerical simulations, with only a few "climatological" presentations. The verification of model performance remains challenging in general, owing to its multidimensional character; this difficulty was perhaps in evidence by the lack of such studies in the Symposium.

As meteorologists, it is natural to believe that we always need more and better data, especially above the surface ... but there was nothing mentioned about specific strategies to develop new data-gathering technologies. Marine forecasting was not given very much attention and it was noted by Phillipe Bougeault (the other Co-Chair of the International Programme Committee for the Symposium) that this might need to be addressed in a special follow-on meeting.

More information about the Symposium can be found at its Website. I'd like to thank the Co-Chairs (Phillipe Bougeault and Agustin Jansa) for their efforts in organizing and carrying out this Symposium. I believe that it was a worthwhile expenditure of those efforts. My regards to my scientific colleagues whom I met at the Symposium ... til we meet again ... hasta luego!