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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 15 - Appendix


Testimony of Mr. Tom Nichols and Mr. Roger Street
Tuesday, April 1, 2003

The Chairman: Honourable senators, this evening, we have with us Mr.Tom Nichols, and on the telephone, Mr.Roger Street, both officials from Environment Canada, to discuss the reorganization of the weather forecast activities at the Meteorological Service of Canada.

Welcome, and please proceed.

Mr. Tom Nichols, Director General, Atmospheric Monitoring and Water Survey Directorate, Meteorological Service of Canada, Environment Canada: Honourable senators, I should like to give a brief overview of the Meteorological Service of Canada. I will skip through my brief reasonably quickly because I think you have questions that are more directly aimed at the purpose of this presentation.

The Meteorological Service of Canada, or the weather service, has a longstanding working arrangement with agriculture and forestry groups. In this presentation, I will go over the requirements for weather data that we have in all sectors and the more recent investments that we have made. I believe you have spoken to a number of my colleagues from the Meteorological Service of Canada on climate change and adaptation in the past, but we have a few slides that will highlight some of those key points as well.

All of our information starts with a strong foundation of data, as indicated on the bottom of slide 3. We gather the information from a variety of sources: surface stations, satellite stations, the new Doppler radar network, and the Canadian lightning network. That information is fed through a variety of processes into a production facility where we produce, through computer and numeric models, with the input of knowledgeable experts, the forecasts and warnings that people hear on television and radio stations. In addition to that, we do work on things like climate change, air quality and many other areas for the meteorological service.

I wish to highlight that our key is to produce severe weather warnings, and, as an associated product, the public forecasts heard across the country. We also produce the marine forecasts for the larger bodies of water in Canada and the off-shore areas on all three coasts, as well as the aviation forecasts for NAV CANADA. We have an ice service for forecasting ice cover and the movement of icebergs in the Arctic Ocean and on the Great Lakes to support shipping.

Seasonal forecasts are an area of interest for the agriculture and forestry community. One of the key points used for climate change modelling is the super computer that we have as part of our facility based in Montreal. We use that computer for our ongoing routine forecasts and warnings, but also we are able to use it to develop climate change scenarios. As discussed, other products are the climate change trends and adaptations that you have perhaps heard about before, and climate data, and the fact that we need that information to be able to show that climate change is occurring.

As indicated, the data includes not only the temperature, pressure and the amount of precipitation and wind, but newer technology, such as the Canadian Lightning Detection Network, determines where lightning strikes are, which is very important for forestry and other industries such as hydro.

The Doppler radar network allows us to show precipitation patterns over much larger areas of southern Canada, as opposed to individual points as we have had in the past.

The Meteorological Service of Canada delivers its services in many ways, primarily weather radio, and with the media, working with partnerships in both television and radio media. A growing method is the Internet. While we have had increasing numbers of phone calls, we are probably one of the departments with a very high call volume. We have had up to 50 million calls per year for weather information. That is actually beginning to diminish now as people are turning to the Internet. The number of hits on our Internet pages is increasing at approximately 12 per cent a month. The Internet is very much an area where we need to adapt to meet the needs of Canadians.

Why do we need data? Obviously, we need information for warnings and for high-impact events, specifically warnings of tornado, heavy-rain events, but also things that are of importance to different industries such as early and late frosts or damaging winds.

In addition to short-term warnings of one to three days, we can look toward 15-day forecasts which are useful for a variety of operations in the agriculture and forestry industry for things like planning, pest control, setting up the right amount of irrigation,et cetera.

Going beyond 15 days allows us to go to a seasonal forecast, something in the order of three months. Again, that allows for more planning in industries of all types. Beyond that, we are looking more into a longer-term range such as climate.

It is key to be able to identify weather trends and when climate change is occurring. We can have that qualified, official data to show that things have changed over the last number of decades. Under the World Meteorological Organization, we calculate the average temperature over a 30-year period, and I am proud to say that we have just completed the period from 1970-2000. The last set was done from 1960-1990. Those figures have shown some interesting trends.

MSC has always adapted to the needs of Canadians. A number of years ago, we were forecasting from a single office in Toronto. The forecast was sent out via the old teletypes. In order for people to see it, sometimes a sign was hung on the side of a train and people would read it as it went by. Obviously that is not as up to date as we can be today.

Through the war years, because of the number of aircraft in operation in Canada for training, et cetera, there was rapid growth in the number of forecast offices and the number of people involved in briefing those air crew.

More recently, technology is allowing some very significant changes. I already referred to the fact that the telephone was a means of communicating and now we are moving to the Internet. A few years ago, long distance charges were very high. Most people do not walk in to get their information anymore. They can dial up for the information from wherever they are. Some farmers can connect to the Internet from the cab of their tractor. If we are able to put the radar image on the Internet, they can then make their own weather-related decisions based on the radar image of the precipitation.

This has worked in some trial cases with alfalfa farmers. They find it extremely useful because they can make their decisions on a half-hour time frame.

We are also trying to adapt to increased demands for services. More and more individuals are asking for information that they can use to improve their own business, their own economic viability. Having that information available in the right format and over the Internet is very important. We have been working to improve those services.

Recently, we announced some changes in the Meteorological Service of Canada. Forecasts in Canada will be provided from five major centres across the country. At the same time, we will develop some research labs where we can do increased amounts of science to improve the use of meteorological or climate information.

At the same time, we are trying to improve the outreach and the use of that information by Canadians. We are increasing the number of people who are working in those particular areas. For example, I can talk about the research labs and how they might impact on the work of this committee. The research lab that we are proposing in Edmonton will be working on hydro meteorological activities. This will be something that will be useful in terms of water availability and the potentially increasing amounts of drought across Canadian Prairies.

In another of our labs, we will be working on high-impact weather, working to improve the forecasts and warnings that go out to all Canadians, including those in specialized industries such as agriculture.

New extended forecasts will go out to 15 days. As we continue to improve the quality of those forecasts, people can make better planning assumptions in their industries. Further modeling improvements will improve the seasonal forecast which, again, from an agricultural perspective, allows a better choice of crops and a better understanding of appropriate planting times.

The Meteorological Service of Canada is also involved in climate change and adaptation. My colleague Mr.Street is one of the experts in that area. We have pointed out in the past that we will need to adapt to increased drought incidents east of the Rockies.

There is an increased potential for high-precipitation events causing floods, erosion and impacts on agricultural factors. With more droughts we need to know what types of crops we need to plant and how the yields will be impacted.

Over the next 50 years, agricultural and forestry areas will change gradually with climate change and the doubling of CO2. I would highlight how things are moving up into the northern areas, an area that is sparsely populated and with relatively limited data.

The MSC has been involved in various activities that impact on the agricultural and forestry area. One is the agricultural policy framework that I am sure you are aware of. As part of that, we are just about to sign a memorandum of understanding with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada to deal with a number of our common data needs. We will be working as a partnership. As part of that data, we have the Reference Climate Station Network with more than 300 stations across the country. Those stations provide long-term records of temperature and precipitation, wind and other parameters such as the amount of radiation being received by the earth. We can use that data to detect climate-change trends.

Scientists working with the Meteorological Service of Canada work with other industries and departments on crop models and pest models to try to determine when to use the pest spray.

The Meteorological Service of Canada's has an advisory board that is composed of people with a variety of meteorological interests. In particular, we have someone from the agricultural area and from the forest fire centre in Winnipeg.

We are trying to modernize a number of the reference climate stations. We are trying to ensure that they are brought up to standards across the country so that it truly is a reference network. We are trying to ensure that they have the information available to be able to meet the needs of the future.

We continue to do impacts and adaptation. As mentioned, we are working on a variety of maps that will be useful for people to look at. With our American colleagues, we are working on a drought map for all of North America. That will be consistent across the borders and be available to everyone.

Agriculture and forestry are key partners and clients with the Meteorological Service of Canada. We both provide data. We work together to ensure that we have the same standards and a fair sharing of that information. We work together on research projects as well. There is a tremendous opportunity to make better use of the information that both sides have in order to be able to improve the knowledge of Canadians and to improve the economic viability of Canada.

We must develop knowledge on climate scenarios and means of adaptation. Those are important things as we move forward with the trends that we see in climate change.

Mr. Roger Street, Director, Adaptation and Impacts Research Group, Meteorological Service of Canada, Environment Canada: I wish to add to what Mr.Nichols said in terms of impact and adaptation. We have seen the need for information that can be used in the management and planning process. A scenario facility has been developed that is keenly linked to a number of users throughout Canada to provide that information from climate models in a manner that can be used to understand adaptation. It has been a particular focus of ours to get that information out to the various user communities, including agriculture and forestry, with whom we work collaboratively.

The Chairman: What steps are you taking to get that out to various communities?

Mr. Street: You had a discussion recently about C-CIARN. We do training sessions with people within those communities on how to use the scenario information. We present the information through the network and other professional organizations so that they are aware that the information exists and that they know how to use it.

The Chairman: In what provinces have you done that so far?

Mr. Street: We have done it in British Columbia and Quebec. We are looking at scheduling it in the Prairies, Atlantic Canada, and we would like to get up into the North. The Prairies should be the next one, within the next month or two.

The Chairman: Is there anything else, Mr.Street that you want to add before we start our questions?

Mr. Street: I would like to focus on the questions, if I could.

The Chairman: Mr.Nichols, we have been told by others that the proposed reorganization of the weather forecast activities at MSC is based on technological changes that now allow forecasting to be done from afar with the same accuracy and timeliness. Accurate weather forecasts not only are critical for many sectors of our economy including agriculture but also are safety issues, since sometimes weather can kill.

Do you have proof that in centralizing the forecast activities to the five centres forecasts will be at least as accurate and reliable as the current system?

What guarantee can you give this committee that weather forecasts will be improved?

Has Environment Canada examined the safety implications of this reorganization of the weather forecast activities?

Can you prove that, in centralizing the forecast activities in five centres, the level of safety will not be reduced?

Mr. Nichols: There is a substantial difference between forecasting and observing the weather. We have stations across the country that are set up to observe what the parameters are. That information is then fed into offices and the forecasts are not done by looking out the window, because we would need thousands of weather offices to provide that data across the country.

We currently have offices that are doing public forecasts probably in only about eight locations. In some of those locations it is aviation that is being done for a very large portion of the country.

For example, in Edmonton, the forecast there for aviation covers 52 per cent of the country in a single office. The quality of that office and the quality of the products from that office have continued to rise. That can be demonstrated.

The improvements that we are making with the changes are to bring the centres of expertise together, individual centres of excellence where we have more scientists who can interact together across the table from each other, and work with each other to develop the forecast better.

With this kind of arrangement, we are trying to free up more individuals' time to do more science development on their own, personal development that will lead to improved forecasts as well.

I do not think anyone would be able to tell where the forecast comes from today. I hazard to guess that very few would know where the forecast for their area actually does come from. In Canada the private sectors' weather channel comes from Pelmorex. In the States AccuWeather is based at a single office in Boston. The forecast service in New Zealand will forecast for anywhere in the world from their offices in New Zealand. If we have the information, technology allows us to move that information into a single site or a number of sites we want and to do the forecast from there.

It is really important to have quality data. I indicated alreadyabout putting in a Doppler radar network.

Canada has been modernizing over the last few years. We hope to put in our last four Doppler radars this coming summer. That will provide a network of 31 Doppler radars across the country.

Doppler radars, instead of measuring precipitation at a point, allows us to look over a radius of more than 200 kilometres, and perhaps even more than that, in fair resolution. When we see what that precipitation pattern and how the storm is tracking we are able to receive better, more accurate and timely warnings. We are able to move to a warning that is actually concentrated in a much smaller area. In other words, false alarms are reduced for a number of people, which is important when dealing with severe thunderstorms and tornado-like warnings.

The forecast system will be improved and the quality of those forecasts will continue to improve.

We are working on improving the science, the scientific capability of our staff, and the observation methods that we have such as radar and lightning, which did not exist as a national network four and one-half years ago.

Four years ago there were a variety of provincial networks that did not cover a large part of Canada. Now, we have a lightning network that covers the entire populated southern portion of Canada into the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

The Chairman: Thank you for that most excellent answer.

Senator Gustafson: My farm is on the U.S. border and if we want an accurate weather forecast, we make contact with Williston, North Dakota. It seems to be a much more accurate forecast for our area than what we receive from the Canadian forecasts. How do you explain that?

Mr. Nichols: I find it difficult for that to be proven because the people in the forecast centre in Winnipeg talk on a daily basis to the folks down in North Dakota. They discuss and compare the weather all the time and we share the data back and forth.

The information is sometimes difficult to tie down to your location because we are dealing with a particular area. If the description is for the area around you but you are close to the boundary of that area, the forecast may actually be described better by the adjoining area, which in the case of the U.S. border.

We are trying to make the areas smaller to reduce the possibility of the situation that you described. Over the next couple of years, we hope to have some information whereby we will be able to put a grid point close to your farm. You would then be able to gather that information directly off the Internet and add in the radar information, which is actually fairly good over the area that you are living in, to help you make even better forecasts for your own operations.

Senator Gustafson: The way that you explain it is the way that it seems to work. If you go north of us 30 miles, their weather pattern is often much different than where we live.

Mr. Nichols: We try to make the areas as small as possible, but when we are working with the media as partners, who are the primary ones to put the message out, they do not want to have things down to too fine an area. It is a balancing act that we work on with our partners. Cases such as yours are why the Internet is becoming a much more useful tool. We can actually graphically show the forecast. It may be much clearer to you that the boundary is much closer to you than you may have anticipated.

Senator Carney: Where is Mr. Street?

Mr. Street: I am located in Brampton.

Senator Carney: I just wanted to establish that you are not in Iqaluit.

Senator Carney: Mr.Nichols said that the accuracy could be demonstrated. Perhaps the chair or the committee would like to have whatever information you have that would prove the accuracy factor compared to previous systems. We would appreciate that because whether you are accurate is always an issue.

The Chairman: Could you make that available to the clerk of the committee?

Mr. Nichols: Yes. One of the things you may want to look at deals with an individual point and is not specific to agriculture. The previous question spoke to a larger area. This is easy to demonstrate the accuracy of aviation forecast because you are doing it for a single point, where you have measurements. We can quite clearly show the improvements in quality over the last number of years.

Senator Carney: The area that I am particularly interested in encompasses the B.C. coastal communities. They complain that the quality of aviation weather forecasts has sharply decreased over the last few years.

Could you give us some information on the quality, the frequency and the customer satisfaction with aviation forecasts because that is a big part of the issue on the West Coast?

We heard in Vancouver that in Western Canada we do not have any high elevation weather stations and this is a factor in the avalanche problem that we have in B.C. At last count, some 20 to 30 people had been killed this winter alone in avalanches. The witnesses said that one reason is, and I quote: ``We cannot do avalanche forecasting because they do not know what is happening up there.''

Is it true that Western Canada has no high elevation weather stations?

Subset to that, I know the north coast does not have radar facilities because the Alliance MPs tell me that.

What is the impact of high elevation weather stations in avalanche country, or the lack of them? Is it a valid concern because that is what we were told and it is on the record of the Senate?

Mr. Nichols: Having information is useful— no question. The difficulty in extreme high elevation sites is that sitting on a mountaintop would expose stations to vast amounts of snow that would cover them very quickly. You are looking for the kind of information that is necessary for avalanche forecasting. The amount of snow and the snow type is something that they would get involved in. I would suggest that having information on the temperature and the pressure, et cetera, at a single point would not be as important in avalanche forecasting.

One thing that is very important is the vertical temperature profile as you go up in the atmosphere. Where are the melting and freezing levels? Across the country we have about 31 upper air sites. That means they are fairly well spread out. There is one in Kelowna, one in Port Hardy and one in Edmonton.

Senator Carney: I am sorry but that is not where the avalanches are occurring. They are occurring in the Kootenay and Kelowna is two valleys away from that.

Mr. Nichols: I understand that but we are working with the aircraft companies that fly in and out of those valleys regularly.

I believe it was last summer that we announced a partnership with Air Canada Jazz, starting in Eastern Canada, where we used the temperature and the winds calculated from the aircraft instrumentation to supplement the upper air actual temperature measurements.

This program is moving into Western Canada this year with the Air Canada Jazz fleet. We also are hoping to expand with our Air Canada partner so that we have more parameters, including the humidity as that plane climbs, descends and flies. We actually will increase the amount of information with the new technology. You will have it in places like Castlegar, which is very near Kokanee Park, where the last few avalanches occurred. Over the next couple of years, the amount of information will be increased to help on the issue you are discussing.

Senator Carney: In 1995, the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources did a report on weather stations, on the Automated Weather Observation Systems, AWOS. This was triggered by the action of Environment Canada and others to replace human weather observers at 30 of the 56 local weather offices that it was closing across the country. The Senate made a number of recommendations or requests regarding the operation of AWOS that I would like you to address.

I do not want to take up the time of the committee tonight, but we made specific recommendations and questions about the use of AWOS, and whether replacing the human observers in these positions contributed to a safety hazard, or to safety.

What happened to AWOS? Is it still in place? There are many deficiencies reported in the system, and I would like an update of a report that fascinated us when we were involved.

Mr. Nichols: There are advantages to human observations and advantages to machine observations. The advantage of the human is that a person can integrate as they look around the horizon and see things. We have video cameras that actually can see changes to the horizon.

In terms of the actual observations, in many of the human observing sites, if they are involved with aviation, they may need to sit listening to the radio. If there is only one person on at a particular time, there could be changes going on outside that they are not able to measure because they are involved in other activities.

The advantage of instrument observation is the fact that we can get an identically measured observation as many times a minute or an hour as we like. The information may be different, but it is all useful. It is learning how to use the difference in the information. Having something that repeats every minute or every five minutes provides a tremendous amount of additional data that you can use. Learning how to use that information has taken time; but it is where we are going. Automatic observations are very useful.

Senator Carney: Our report indicated because of the deficiencies in the Automated Weather Observation Systems, by December 1994, the level of concern had led Transport Canada to impose a moratorium on the further commissioning of AWOS.

Environment Canada has agreed not to remove human observers from any of its offices that now do aviation weather observations while the Transport Canada moratorium is in effect.

When the Senate last addressed this issue, there was a moratorium on automated weather systems, which was the technology at the time.

I have a simple question: What happened to the Automated Weather Observation Systems?

We could argue all night about whether the human eyeball, if you are living on the coast, is better than nonexistent automated transmissions, because there does not happen to be any on the north coast. There is no evidence in anything you have said that any of these systems are in place on the B.C. coast or, for that matter, in the part of B.C. north of Kelowna.

Mr. Nichols: There are a number of AWOS still operating, but let me complete the statement. First of all, you are dealing primarily with aviation purposes for the AWOS; that was the main concern. Approximately six years ago NAV CANADA was formed to deal with all aviation. They are responsible for the aviation observations in the country.

In most cases, AWOS supplements a human observation at some airports; at other airports, they are independent and the AWOS provides some of the information. We use AWOS, which is an automatic system, in some of our public locations as well.

Senator Carney: So the moratorium is no longer in effect, or did you, in fact, build more?

Mr. Nichols: I do not believe any additional AWOS were put out. However, I believe the moratorium was with respect to aviation and not the public forecast.

Senator Carney: I will ask you for more information because I do not feel my question has been answered. This is a big concern on the West Coast, but I cannot take up the committee's time on it.

What are the services that you supply with this reorganization to B.C. and Yukon? We are told that they are deficient in this area, and you say you have not got there yet. I think my concerns and my questions have been quite specific.

Mr. Nichols: I would say the services in B.C. and Yukon are equivalent to the rest of the country. We provide warnings, which is our mandated activity. We provide marine forecasts. In supplying NAV CANADA, we provide the aviation forecasts for the airports. We are working in partnerships with respect to avalanche forecasting right now and we provide those folks with data.

Senator Carney: We would like to know, who are those folks?

Mr. Nichols: Avalanche responsibility is the B.C. government's responsibility.

Senator Carney: Has Mr. Street anything to add to this? He has not been heard from.

Mr. Street: One point I would like to bring forward is the fact that we have identified the need in the B.C. area. The focus of the national lab that is being established in British Columbia is on mountain and coastal meteorological issues. The idea is to try to concentrate the efforts of the meteorological service research community, as well as engage scientists within the universities, not only in B.C., but also across Canada, to address some of the very particular concerns of mountains and coastal communities in B.C.

The idea is to transform those into improved services. The investment in this area has been made in recognition that a focused effort on mountain and coastal meteorology would improve the services already being given to people in the complex terrain areas across Canada and in the coastal communities. That is the focus, or one of the reasons for the investment that was made in that area.

The Chairman: Honourable senators, we are supposed to be finished with this witness at 6:30 p.m., but I have five senators who want to ask questions. I will extend the time until 6:50 p.m.

I am from Lethbridge in southwestern Alberta. You said something about not too much in the way of high altitude in the mountain stations.

You talked about upper level things. Are you talking about satellite or some kind of special weather balloons up in the mountain areas? What do you mean?

Mr. Nichols: We do have satellite coverage over all of Canada, from which we use the images. I was referring to the large balloons, which are released twice a day from 31 locations in Canada and many locations around the world. These lift off with an instrument package and measure temperature, humidity and wind along the flight path of that balloon.

We are now using aircraft to supplement that in the lower portions of the atmosphere, up to 25,000 or 30,000 feet. That will provide a great deal of additional information, which we have not had.

The balloons have traditionally gone off twice a day. In some of the very severe weather-prone areas, occasionally on the Prairies, we may launch one in the midday to help identify more clearly where the severe weather might take place; however, generally they are only launched twice a day. It is a very expensive proposition.

The fact that the aircraft are now flying on a routine basis and, in many cases, many times into airports during a day will substantially increase the temperature and wind measurements we get for the valleys and most of the small airports all the way across. Air Canada Jazz flies into Calgary, but also into Lethbridge and a number of the other locations that we will be of interest.

Senator Fairbairn: I can see how you can pick up the wind. It is hard not to pick up the wind in that area of Alberta; it just comes down through the Crow's Nest Pass and there it is.

A few years ago, we had a terrible flood that started in the mountains near Pincher Creek and instantly rolled down the Old Man River, through Lethbridge and over to Medicine Hat. It was devastating. It was so fast that even animals with their instincts could not get out of its way. This resulted from some spring rain and whatever, but there were cracked icecaps, which were what sent it rushing down.

What part of your system might detect that now, which did not detect it about six years ago?

Mr. Nichols: If I remember that particular case, there was a very localized, very high precipitation event. A fair amount of rain and snow fell in a very short period of time in that particular area, which probably caused some of the dams to overflow. As a result, they broke.

There are two things that we will use now and in the future. The first tool is radar. Radar will provide coverage into a portion of that area, which will give much better precipitation estimates. Right now, our observing sites are scattered all across the country. Frequently, with a very heavy and intense rainstorm, the area of it is actually very small and localized. Sometimes, it is not over any of the observing sites. Using radar allows us to look between those current observing sites and get much better estimate of the precipitation.

The second set of tools is the numerical models that I mentioned in my presentation. The computer models that we are using are being increased in resolution. We are moving them to finer and finer scales, so you can actually see more of the terrain of the mountains. The skill of those models is improving substantially and we are able to actually identify the higher precipitation.

Even the event to which you refer, senator, was well forecast. Given the fact that it was a high precipitation area, we worked with the Alberta government for the flood- warning group that is there. The warnings went out in advance. It moved very quickly, which we cannot do anything about, but it did show that there was a partnership between the Alberta government and federal government forecasters, river forecasters and meteorologists. They provided information about a significant rain event in a very small area at that time and the warnings were issued for that area. As you mentioned, it just moved very quickly, which is an issue. We need to help people to be able to respond and to have that information to be able to get out of harm's way.

Senator Fairbairn: Everything that you are saying has an important impact when we talk about adaptation to climate change. We are talking about a region where agriculture already has been severely hit. The whole area, as well as parts of Saskatchewan, has been devastated in the last four years or so. The ability of the farm community to have a quick handle on the changes and the prospects of their area is obviously a lifeline.

You mentioned that you are creating all sorts of wonderful equipment involving technology and computers. You can hook up it near Senator Gustafson's farm and he will know what is happening.

I know we assume that the computer link up in Canada is widespread, as it is probably more developed than in any other country. That is not necessarily true in the farm community, though. There are many people who do not use, or have at their fingertips, that kind of technology. Maybe we will be at a point in several years where everyone will be using it, but it does not happen right now.

In your planning, when you are trying to get that information out, what do you rely on? Do you rely on PFRA or are there other, even more direct, methods that you foresee using?

Mr. Nichols: I think we have to be careful in moving adaptation which is a long-term, multi-year thing away from what I think you are referring to, which is the flash flood warning. That is something that will happen and affect them immediately.

Senator Fairbairn: I am speaking now in more general terms.

Mr. Nichols: If we are dealing with the longer term, those are areas where it is information that is gradually going out. There are documents on climate change and adaptation. I think I would like Mr. Street to answer that one. He is much more involved with the scientific communities.

Mr. Street: I have two comments. The senator is correct to say that the weather office and having access to weather information will be an important adaptive tool in dealing with changes that we see coming down. Ensuring access to that information will remain vital to the lifeline. I do agree with that and we are ensuring there is outreach and working with those communities to look at the various ways that they receive information. In surveys we have done of all Canadians, the Internet is a small but growing component.

We do have to work with other means of getting out forecast information and predictions, as Mr.Nichols mentioned in his presentation.

In terms of adaptation, I will refer in particular to the Prairies and Alberta. We are working with the Alberta government on an adaptation framework for Canada. We are not only doing that work in Alberta, but across Canada. We feel that it is very important that information be available.

We do work with PFRA. We are also working with the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative in Regina as a way of getting information to people in the Prairies.

The work is through the provincial governments, some municipalities and the research community. IISD is involved within Manitoba. There are various ways that we are working on getting this information out to Canadians.

Senator Hubley: Our witness last week, Dr.Dore of Brock University, informed us that after about 1942 the pattern of hydro meteorological disasters in Canada have changed. He had a graph that showed that the frequency with which they have occurred has increased. I cite that as background to my questions.

You mentioned that satellites cover all of Canada. Is that correct? Does that include the marine areas as well?

Mr. Nichols: That is correct. There are two satellite systems. Actually, there are many satellite systems. The two that are used most frequently are a geo-stationary one that sits directly above the same point on the equator and takes a picture every half-hour. NOAA does that in the United States. The other system is polar orbiting satellites that provide coverage over all areas.

Senator Hubley: How are radar images collected?

Mr. Nichols: We have a network of radars. We are expanding across the country. We currently have 27 installed. Four more will be put in this summer. Those four will be in Chipman, New Brunswick, Dryden, Ontario, Timmins, Ontario, and Prince George, British Columbia.

These stations collect data on a continuing basis. We link the image from all of them together every ten minutes and display a map of Canada. Actually, it is easier to read it in chunks as opposed to all of Canada. It gets pretty tiny.

It is interesting to be able to see storms move across the country. Just as you see on a satellite loop, we have radar loops that provide that information.

Senator Hubley: We see the weather person giving us the weather on television in the morning or the evenings. I guess that is when we get it. Do you monitor their reporting for the accuracy of their information? Do you feed them the information?

Mr. Nichols: We provide information for everyone to use, however there are many private sector companies that also provide forecasts. There are companies from around the world that provide information to different media, and the consumer chooses which company they wish to use.

Senator Hubley: You noted that for broadcasting the weather it is more effective to look at a certain area. How big or small would that area be?

Mr. Nichols: Our forecast office is a forecaster sitting on the desk and working on a forecast for an area. The size of the area depends partly on the amount of weather that is involved. The level of weather activity determines how many people we would have working on a particular area.

The Chairman: You said that one of the radar screens was about 200 miles.

Mr. Nichols: It has a 200-kilometre radius.

Senator Hubley: I missed that.

Mr. Nichols: That is only one source of data. One forecaster may be looking at five or more radars that are tracking weather. One person may be watching a variety of those systems.

We usually hook the images together in order to see a composite image. A forecaster can zoom down and look at a particularly small feature, if they so desire.

Again, I must repeat that you do not need to be everywhere where you are forecasting. We gather data from a broad area and a variety of different sensors and move that information into one location and then forecast from that location.

Senator Hubley: You talked about forecasting and how that information becomes specific for airports, farm communities and fishermen, if they have on-board computers. Take a fisherman, for example. If he leaves home in the morning with one forecast, he must know then what the probability of his returning safely will be. Certainly for the fishing community, accurate weather forecasting is very important.

In your outreach, do you do training or any sort of workshops to give the farm community an idea on how to use these weather screens and the information they receive to their advantage?

Mr. Nichols: Yes, there is training done in certain locations. It depends on the client community and what their requirements. We work with the academic community to ensure that individuals have the information.

By providing greater emphasis on outreach, as we are working to do, we will have more of that activity. We will be trying not only to make the information available, but also explain how to use that information for specific purposes.

Senator Gustafson: Do you have a data bank on long-term weather patterns?

Mr. Nichols: I hesitate due to the wording of the question. We have all of the weather information archived. Within a number of weeks, we hope to have that information accessible to everyone through the Internet. You could get the climate information for your area on-line.

You are also talking about a weather map, I believe. Those are archived, but they are much more difficult to retrieve for the average individual. At this point, it is very labour intensive. Yes, we do have all of the maps.

Senator Gustafson: Is the data open to the public? In other words, could this group ask for information on the last 50 years or 100 years and get the data?

Mr. Nichols: The data itself will be on-line for everyone to access within several weeks. It is being tested at this point.

Part of our problem is having sufficient bandwidth. I indicated that the weather office Web site alone is increasing at the rate of 12 per cent a month, which means that we are continually increasing the size of the line to allow that information to flow out to Canadians.

We want to ensure that we have sufficient capacity. We put a very small database on-line with no advertising last summer, and it took only three days for the line to be saturated.

The demand is great. People want that information and it will be made available.

Senator Gustafson: I would like to examine getting information for a specific area. We phone Estevan, Saskatchewan for our weather.

Is it their responsibility to provide that service? Who determines the local areas? Is it the local community that does that?

Mr. Nichols: We are trying to ensure that everyone can get that access. People in this expanded outreach group will try to work with individuals to help them. Every library in Canada probably has access to the Internet so that information can actually be picked up. We can bring the information right to the point closest to where you live.

Senator Gustafson: I believe you have answered this question, but I must say that, in Saskatchewan, there is a lot of concern about no longer having a station in Saskatoon or Regina. You will have now only five major centres across Canada.

Mr. Nichols: I come back to the fact that today most people do not know where their forecast comes from. For the people in Edmonton, the forecast is actually produced in Winnipeg. The Ottawa area gets a forecast from Toronto and has for a number of years.

Senator Carney: Perhaps that is why it is wrong so often.

Senator Gustafson: I was going to add that.

Senator Day: People from the lower mainland of British Columbia and also the people from Saskatchewan are concerned about the closing of weather-forecasting stations. We are getting that from all across Canada. It is a concern. I do not think they are satisfied with the answer you are giving us.

For these rural communities, it means a loss of government jobs in the area and that is a repetition of cancellations that have happened in the past. We have a communications job to do. We also have to reassure people that these forecasts might be coming from there and it is right across the country.

Senator Carney: I must correct that. In some parts of British Columbia, you cannot use the coast. The Internet is not available. For the coastal communities, you need dial-up and you need to have good communications. They do not have that. Broadband delivery is very spotty.

When Mr.Nichols talks about making services available by the Internet, he is not talking about the delivery of services for people who need weather information on the coast from Alaska down to outside of Vancouver.

I am glad you made that point, Senator Day. We want to identify the deficiencies and how the services will be delivered.

Senator Day: We have tremendous difficulty, as you do on the west coast, with the east coast fishermen. There are tremendous difficulties in Newfoundland Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I.

The Chairman: Mr. Nichols, do you want to reply?

Mr. Nichols: I thought it was more a statement than a question.

Senator Day: It was intended.

The Chairman: It is an important statement.

Mr. Nichols: Exactly. We continue to work to improve the level of service that all Canadians will get. Senator Carney is correct. The Internet is not available everywhere. However, there are other communication capabilities. There are some areas that we may never be able to reach because the technology does not exist into those particular areas.

Senator Carney: You will have to do something else.

Senator Maheu: My curiosity was triggered after having seen the six recommendations made in the 1995 report when Senator Carney chaired the committee. Do I understand correctly that you will respond to the results of these six recommendations?

Mr. Nichols: I will review those recommendations and tell the clerk where things currently stand.

Senator Maheu: I am sure the clerk will make that available to me.

The Chairman: One of the members of this committee Senator Tkachuk is not here because he is with another committee in Washington today. He asked a question when he was out west and wanted to ask it of you today. On his behalf I would like to put it to you so we can get your response on the record.

A witness heard by the committee in Regina developed a decision support tool for farmers called ``Grass Grow.'' This is a model that assesses how weather, soils and management practices combine to affect pastoral production, profitability and risk. Grass Grow runs on climate data that must be downloaded from Environment Canada into the software program. Climate data, however, are not in the public domain and anyone who wants to use this tool must pay royalties to Environment Canada.

That concern was raised to the committee out west, about having to pay royalties to get access to this basic data. Can you tell us why climate data is not available readily in the public domain without cost?

Mr. Nichols: I mentioned a few minutes ago that, within a couple of weeks, the data will be available free of charge over the Internet for download to particular models such as Grass Grow. That has been the direction for some time now, for more than a year at least. When people want the data interpreted there will be a charge for that service. In other words, when we need to study, work, do the assessment, and/or put it on very specialized media, as some individuals' request, there will be a charge for the time involved in performing that service. There will not be a charge for the data itself.

The idea of moving to the Internet is that everyone in Canada will have free access to that information and be able to use it as you have indicated.

The Chairman: If you do not have access to broadband, satellite or high-speed Internet, you will be at a disadvantage to other Canadians.

Mr. Nichols: It depends what type of information they require. The model you are talking about requires up-to-date information. They would need to find a way to get that information. However, the information is available. The data itself is free. How we get it to them may require some sort of connection for which there would be a fee.

The Chairman: Mr.Nichols and Mr.Street, on behalf of our committee, thank you both very much for this excellent evidence. You have answered a number of our questions. The committee has asked, however, that you reply to a few other questions and lay some more data and information before us. If you could do that as soon as possible, we would deeply appreciate it.

The meeting adjourned.