Sunday, February 12, 2006

Column 2: Severe weather watchers (Originally posted September 23, 2005)

As you may or may not know, I work in a weather office. The Prairie and Arctic Storm Prediction Centre-Winnipeg. (We have 2 locations of the PASPC--one in Edmonton and one in Winnipeg.)

Right now, we cover the forecasts, watches, and warnings for the 3 prairie provinces. I want to focus on warnings for now.

The prairies get a lot of severe weather in the summertime. (And in the winter, too.) We get flooding rainfalls, unbelievable windstorms, giant hail, and tornadoes. Each summer, many many warnings are issued by our office--severe thunderstorm as well as tornado.

So why do we hear so little about it?

Population density certainly has something to do with it; if we were as densely populated as southern Ontario, we'd have a lot more media coverage of what we do, as well as more people actually seeing the severe weather and reporting it. But I don't think that's all of it.

In the absence of our phones ringing, we sometimes make calls out to weather watchers. The nonchalance of some of the people, especially farmers, astounds me. Consider this exchange:

"Hi, my name is Dave, and I'm calling from the weather office in Winnipeg."
"Hi, Dave."
"I'm calling because RADAR indicates a severe thunderstorm near you. Have you had any severe weather from this storm?"
"Nah, nothing too bad. A little bit of thunder, some rain, and a few hailstones."
"Okay, that doesn't sound too bad. How big was the hail?"
"Oh, not too big, I'd say. Most of the stones were about the size of quarters, and a few were about as big as baseballs."
" ......... "
"There was a bit of damage to my trees, and I imagine my crops are gone, but hey--that's what insurance is for, right?"
" ......... "
"This isn't too bad--you shoulda seen the storm we got in '79--that one had big hail in it!"
"Uh, thank you for your time, sir."
"Thanks for calling."

No, this isn't made up. This exchange, almost verbatim, happened.

Unreal. it seems most of the nonchalant people are farmers from Saskatchewan. And it makes sense--after years of drought and failed crops, a little hail isn't likely to concern them.

I just wonder, though. How often do you really see hail bigger than peas? Is it not noteworthy? I think so, and I would expect most others to feel the same way. So why do I have to hunt these people down for reports? Why don't they call us?

The message: please report severe weather. Either at this link or via phone call to your local weather office. It helps us do our jobs better, and it could potentially save a life.


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