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
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
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
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
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
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
What guarantee can you give this committee that weather forecasts will be
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
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
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
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
The Chairman: Could you make that available to the clerk of the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.