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Backgrounder

Weather Monitoring Infrastructure

Environment Canada’s national weather forecast and warning system relies on several observation networks to detect changes in the atmosphere and the development of threatening conditions. The monitoring infrastructure includes 31 weather radars, 84 lightning detection sensors, approximately 1300 surface weather and climate stations, 70 weather buoys, 56 automated ship observation programs and 31 stations for launching balloon-borne observations of the upper atmosphere.

The Government of Canada is investing $78.7 million over five years to strengthen weather and warning services for Canadians. This investment will upgrade four key areas of Environment Canada’s weather and climate monitoring infrastructure. 

This new funding compliments the Meteorological Service's ten-year strategic monitoring plan that addresses critical infrastructure, scientific advancements, and life-cycle management strategies.

The Weather Radar Network

Weather radar is the primary tool used by Environment Canada’s meteorologists for the detection and short-term prediction and warning of impending severe weather such as tornadoes, hail and sudden downpours that cause flash flooding and heavy snow squalls.

Canada’s current Weather Radar Network consists of 31 radar sites located across the country.  Environment Canada owns and operates 28 of these radars, National Defence two and McGill University one.  These radars collect, process and transmit data, providing Environment Canada forecasters and other users with the real-time information needed to detect and forecast precipitation and severe weather.

The network has radars of several different generations with some of them 30-40 years old. The radars are ageing, are beginning to encounter more frequent operational problems, and maintenance and availability of parts is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain.

The $45.2 million, five year funding will stabilize and life-cycle manage the existing Canadian Radar Network and will allow the existing newer generation radars to upgrade to state of the art “dual-polarization” technology in a staged approach. This will enhance the capability of the radars for severe weather monitoring and forecasting.  In addition, this funding will allow Environment Canada to plan, research and install a pilot, next generation radar near the end of the five year period, in preparation for future replacements of older existing radar systems.

The “dual polarization” innovation, recently installed at the EC research radar at King City, Ont., will enable forecasters to issue more timely and accurate weather warnings. The improved quality of the dual polarization weather radar data will result in better determination of when and where severe weather will occur, and the type of weather the area is likely to receive such as rain, freezing rain, ice pellets, hail and snow.  In addition, the new technology will also provide more accurate estimations of precipitation rates and total amounts.

Weather warnings are invaluable for the protection of life and property and critical to provincial and municipal emergency measure organizations for managing flood control, sewer overflow and storm water run-off. Weather warnings are also critical for weather sensitive users such as snow removal operators and outdoor recreational enthusiasts.

Weather and Climate Observing Networks

Environment Canada collects data from a network of approximately 1300 surface weather and climate observing sites. These sites include weather stations owned by Environment Canada, those owned by other agencies such as NAV CANADA, National Defence and volunteer climate stations. The majority of these sites are automated observing platforms which report 24/7, year round.  

Environment Canada’s Meteorological Service will be focusing on the 550 core hourly and daily reporting sites that are key for climate and severe weather purposes. The older equipment at these core sites will be replaced and upgraded using a life-cycle management process. Not only are these sites essential to the severe weather forecast and warning program, they also provide the foundation for Canada’s high-quality, long-term records necessary to detect, quantify and adapt to a changing climate.

The $18.8 million, five year funding will supplement existing resources and enable approximately 250 surface weather and climate observing stations to be upgraded. 

Aerological Network

Environment Canada operates a network of 31 aerological stations, spanning the entire country, including the North. Weather instruments (radiosondes) are attached to balloons and are launched twice per day at each of these stations; more than 22,000 are launched per year. The radiosondes collect wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity data from different levels in the atmosphere up to 35,000 feet.

The $4.2 million, five year funding will go towards upgrading the Aerological Network by replacing the obsolete long range navigational technology with new multi-sensor GPS radiosonde equipment. This technology upgrade will ensure continued access to the full suite of atmospheric wind and temperature data through the depth of the atmosphere. The data is essential to weather forecasts and warnings and for safe and efficient navigation by the aviation industry. 

Canadian Lightning Detection Network

The Canadian Lightning Detection Network (CLDN) collects data that is critical to protecting property and saving lives. Each year lightning strikes cause as many as 10 deaths and up to 164 injuries. Aside from lightning’s effect on humans, property damage and other disruptions costs Canadians between $600 million and $1 billion annually. Lightning is also a major cause of forest fires in Canada. In addition to the threats from lightning, thunderstorms--which are defined by the presence of lightning--are known to be hazardous, sometimes producing tornadoes, high winds, heavy rain and hail.

CLDN allows us to determine the precise location, strength and time of lightning strikes across the country. The network of 84 sensors distributed across Canada allows meteorologists to track thunderstorms more accurately since lightning data is available within 30 seconds of a lightning strike. As a result the forecasters are able to issue severe weather warnings sooner so that Canadians can keep themselves and their loved ones out of harm’s way.

Lightning data is also used by provinces to detect lightning hot spots for new wildfires, utility companies to anticipate potential disruptions to transmission grids, fire investigators and insurance companies where lightning may have caused a fire and other industries, such as airports, who need to cease outside operations when lightning presents a risk.

Lightning data from the CLDN complements and augments precipitation information available from weather radar but also goes farther by providing data over large areas of northern Canada that are not covered by the radar network, thus becoming a primary severe weather detection tool for these regions.

The $10.5 million, five year funding will allow for maintaining and upgrading the Canadian Lightning Detection Network sensor and communications infrastructure and to improve the lightning information available on Environment Canada’s Weatheroffice website.