Happy Birthday Meteorological Service Of Canada: 140 Years Young
© Environment Canada
When the Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) began on May 1, 1871, it was one of the first public institutions created in the young country of Canada, and quickly became fondly known simply as, “The Weather Office.” With 140 years of serving this vast and varied country, MSC is one of the country’s oldest and longest running public services.
The main mission of a meteorological service is to get a high-quality weather forecast out to the public quickly. If it does not reach the public in time, it has no value. As a result, Canada’s weather service has always been one of the largest consumers of telecommunications services in Canada, creating and adapting new technologies to deliver more weather information to more people and to do it more quickly.
In fact, telecommunications helped transform meteorology into a modern practical science, and make national weather services possible. In turn, society’s basic need for weather warnings has often been a driving force behind communications devices such as the telegraph, radiotelephone, automatic telephone answering systems, Weatheradio, mobile phones, and now of course the internet.
Throughout the years, MSC has not only seen and adapted to the evolution of technology, but it has been a key facet of Canadian society – in both the dissemination and prediction of weather, as well as being the official source of weather watches and warnings. And this country has definitely seen its share of weather events in the last 140 years.
For every major weather event in Canada during that time span, the MSC has been there. Environment Canada would like to congratulate its Meteorological Service, especially the thousands of staff that have worked for the service throughout the years.
While Environment Canada celebrates its own 40th anniversary and looks forward to the future, it also recognizes the large role that the MSC has played in shaping the strong reputation that this country has for public service.
MSC Key Milestones
Here are some highlights in the service’s history, and how these key milestones have impacted our country:
With a grant from the Canadian government, George Kingston, the director of the Toronto Observatory and professor of meteorology at the University of Toronto, establishes a national meteorological office in Toronto and a network of weather observing stations. Toronto exchanges data with Washington and weather warnings are telegraphed back to Canada. Previously, people had relied on traditional knowledge about the color of the sky or the behaviour of farm animals to predict the approach of a storm.
Ottawa funds a national weather warning system in the wake of the Great Nova Scotian Cyclone, which claimed some 500 lives as it swept across Cape Breton Island on Canada's East Coast. The storm also claimed 1,200 vessels, 900 buildings and numerous bridges before dying out.
Telegraph land lines link all the major cities in Eastern Canada. The first forecasts developed in Canada are issued from Toronto at 10 a.m. every day except Sunday, and are posted on public buildings.
The invention of wireless radio revolutionizes meteorology. Information can be gathered from hundreds of remote weather stations across the country and transmitted to isolated logging camps, island communities, and even ships at sea.
The weather service provides a daily national weather synopsis and forecast for the Canadian Radio Commission’s Trans-Canada network – the precursor of the CBC.
During the Second World War, information about the weather is a strategic military commodity. It was kept secret from the enemy and transmitted only in code to support anti-submarine patrols and ship convoys on the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, as well as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Nazi forces try to gain an advantage by secretly setting up an automated weather station in northern Labrador. The station operates for two weeks until its radio transmissions are jammed by the Allied forces.
Televised weather casts debut on CBLT-TV in Toronto. Percy Saltzman is the first television weather broadcaster.
Hurricane Hazel strikes southern Ontario, killing 80 people and dumping some 300 million tonnes of rain on Toronto.
The first weather satellite pictures are received in Canada.
Canada’s weather service joins the new Department of Environment. On October 29, a new headquarters building is opened in Toronto.
Canada’s weather service acquires it first supercomputer. It is installed at the Canadian Meteorological Centre in Montreal. The supercomputer results in dramatic improvements in computer modelling.
In support of Canada's role as host of the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, a weather forecast team represents the MSC, and provides site-specific forecasts and weather briefings for all of the outdoor events. The weather team shows up frequently in the media as Chinook conditions, with strong winds and warm temperatures, have substantial impact on the plans and operations.
Environment Canada develops one of the first computerized models of the global climate. The model predicts an increase in the temperature around the world of 3.5° Celsius over the next 50 years. This trend is supported by the fact that 11 of the 12 warmest years have occurred since 1980.
Canada becomes the first country to develop a daily nationwide ultraviolet (UV) index to warn Canadians about the dangers of over-exposure to the sun. Several other countries, including Australia, Germany, Great Britain and the United States, have now started their own programs, closely modelled on the Canadian UV index.
The Air Quality Research Branch and the Canadian Meteorological Centre (CMC), a division of the MSC, implements a National Air Quality Prediction Program in Canada. The program provides numerical/chemical model guidance to provincial agencies and Environment Canada regions that produce daily air quality forecasts for the public.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the CMC Operations Branch provides specialized numerical guidance to Health Canada on the long-range atmospheric transport and dispersion of plumes from the attack locations. Results of the numerical simulations indicate that it is unlikely that any released material will affect Canadian territory within 72 hours.
The MSC provides detailed weather predictions before and during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. The weather forecasts, warnings, and information are essential for the safety, security, and delivery of the Games, especially when extremely warm temperatures and spring-like conditions threaten to postpone or cancel many of the events
Following the eruption of the Eyjafjöll volcano in Iceland, MSC’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) staff becomes a key component in helping monitor the situation and reporting any changes in atmospheric conditions that could impact air traffic. MSC also works closely with Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres in London and Washington to ensure the accurate prediction of volcanic ash in the atmosphere.
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