THE considerable human and material damages caused by Hurricane Flora in the east of the island in October 1963, as well as Hurricane Cleo the following year, highlighted the urgent need to reorganize Cuba’s weather service, to meet the highest scientific standards.
Thus in August 1965, the National Observatory, run by the Revolutionary Navy at that time, became part of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba (ACC). Days later, Dr. Antonio Nuñez Jiménez, president of the ACC, signed a resolution which created the Institute of Meteorology, through the merger of staff from the former Observatory and those belonging to the Meteorological Department created by this body 15 months earlier.
While the text alluding to the birth of the new entity dates from September 2, the official founding ceremony took place on the night of October 12 the same year, in the Chamber of the Capitolio.
Appointed to lead the brand new institution was Dr. Mario Rodríguez Ramírez, who would make an everlasting mark on the history and development of this scientific discipline in the country, particularly during the second half of the twentieth century.
With a doctorate in Physical Chemistry followed by Physics and Mathematics at the University of Havana, with just a year between the two (1941 and 1942), Rodríguez Ramírez was appointed deputy director of the National Observatory in 1947 after returning from the United States, where he earned a Masters in Meteorology and undertook a course on hurricane forecasting.
One of his great merits is having founded the School of Meteorology in 1965, where he taught different subjects and helped train dozens of top-level specialists, many of whom became prominent researchers.
He headed the Institute of Meteorology for 12 years (1965-1977) and created the so-called Vortex Theory to explain the formation and development of hurricanes, presenting his hypotheses at renowned meteorological centers in the United States, Europe and Latin America.
MILESTONES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Several technological events set operational standards at the Institute of Meteorology (INSMET) in its initial stage: the commissioning of 50 synoptic and climatological stations, a result of collaboration with the Soviet Union; the acquisition and installation of weather radars located in Gran Piedra, Havana and Camagüey; and the entry into operation of the first weather satellite image receiving station in March 1969.
As historian of meteorology Professor Luis Enrique Ramos Guadalupe told Granma, it is also worth mentioning the ground-breaking research related to the subject of active influence or induced rainfall done in 1968, mainly in the former provinces of Oriente and Camagüey.
These provided continuity to the experiences begun between 1962 and 1963, which had the support of Commandante Ernesto Che Guevara, and the legendary Celia Sánchez Manduley.
When speaking of the contribution of the leaders of the Revolution to meteorology, the role played by Fidel, not only by personally participating in efforts to deal with atmospheric phenomena such as Hurricane Flora, but in the evacuation and search and rescue efforts, orientation for the people and his constant concern for the development of research and modernization of technology in this field, should also be noted.
When it comes to milestones, one must go back to the seventies, when the radar network was expanded and renovated with the arrival of Japanese equipment, the training of highly qualified specialists continued, and the first measurements of surface ozone concentration were undertaken in Cuba.
A moment of particular significance was the creation on April 15, 1977, of the Joint Cuban-Soviet Laboratory for the Study of Tropical Meteorology and Hurricanes, which contributed much to the acquisition of various instruments, and the carrying out of maritime and air expeditions, with the participation of experts from both nations.
Thanks to this scientific collaboration, in September 1986, the Soviet flying laboratory, the Ilushin-18 aircraft, named the Cyclone, arrived in Cuba. In addition to working on artificial rain experiments, in September of the following year it allowed Cuban and Soviet meteorologists to penetrate the center of Tropical Storm Emily.
But the most significant event of this type of mission occurred in September 1988, when on board an AN-12 aircraft, experts from both countries flew for five consecutive days to the eye of the raging Hurricane Gilbert (which reached maximum winds of up to 337 kilometers per hour and a minimum central pressure of 888 hectopascals on passing close to Grand Cayman), journeys which allowed them to follow its course and evolution with remarkable accuracy.
It’s impossible to forget the remarkable efforts of the workforce of the Institute of Meteorology in the most difficult years of the special period. Despite the deterioration of facilities, problems arising from the lack of electricity and the stoppage of many machines for lack of parts, no station was closed, observations never ceased and no forecast came late. An important donation from the People’s Republic of China helped revitalize the service in the first decade of this century.
Abel Centella, INSMET scientific director, noted that during its five decades of work, the institution has become a center of excellence, making important contributions to the understanding of natural phenomena, including the causes of drought in the country, the potential impacts of change climate on the archipelago, the influence of meteorological variables in agriculture, health and other areas, as well as in determining the status of air pollution in different areas of the national territory.
Beyond its recognized mission of putting together the daily and extended weather forecast, as well as accurate tracking of hurricanes, heavy rain, and cold fronts, the entity under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, also provides information of great practical use in various sectors.
These include the early warning system to inform five days in advance of increased tropospheric ozone concentrations (very harmful to tobacco and other crops), and the system intended for the same purpose in the case of forest fires.
Determination of the wind potential of Cuba, a key element in driving this renewable energy option, is another area of work, as well as studies of atmospheric physics, monitoring the levels of ultraviolet radiation, the increasing application of numerical models aimed at predicting rising sea levels given the presence of extreme weather events and the movement of oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, Abel adds, the National Weather Service has 68 stations, and comprises of a network of eight radars, covering the entire archipelago and adjacent seas.
This equipment is now fully automated thanks to the creativity of the engineers and technicians of the Camagüey Provincial Meteorological Center, one of 13 in the country, including that of the Isle of Youth special municipality.
He further noted that two automatic stations for monitoring air quality in Havana will soon begin functioning, while a national program of science, technology and innovation called Meteorology and Sustainable Development of the Country is currently being implemented, with the general aim of perfecting and developing meteorological services that benefit economic and social development and the protection of human life and property at national, regional and local levels.
The hope is to diversify the applications of this science in favor of food production, physical planning, the management of natural resources, use of renewable energy sources and air navigation safety over Cuba, to name a few priorities.
True to the legacy of important figures such as Andrés Poey y Aguirre, Benito Viñes, Mariano Gutiérrez Lanza, José Carlos Millás, Luis García Carbonell, Luis Larragoiti and Mario Rodríguez Ramírez, the institution has reached its half century at a time of generational transition, where it will come down to a new batch of young meteorologists to uphold a tradition of dedication and commitment to society, as demonstrated in more recent times by Roberto Ortiz Héctor, Rolando Martínez Cantero, Arnaldo Alfonso, Alfredo Moreno, Rosendo Álvarez and many others.