Hailstorm hits while Strathmore weather radar offline

A weather radar near Calgary was down as thunderstorms rolled through southern Alberta Wednesday, but Environment Canada is offering few details about the outage.

Environment Canada says radar coverage overlaps to provide timely weather information

Strathmore is no stranger to wild weather, as seen in this photo taken by an area resident of a funnel cloud forming, but the local radar was undergoing repairs this week. (Submitted by Chris Southworth)

A weather radar near Calgary was down as thunderstorms rolled through southern Alberta Wednesday, but Environment Canada is offering few details about the outage.

John Wilson, who teaches in the University of Alberta's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, says meteorologists can draw on other nearby radars, but it's not ideal.

"You've got another radar in Medicine Hat, which reaches almost to Calgary. The Edmonton one reaches down to just north of you. So, if you're lucky, you'd get some hints from other the radars. If you're unlucky, and something happened outside those regions of coverage, then this would essentially hamper your ability to provide a timely warning, in my opinion."

Diane diSanto has a large vegetable patch growing this summer on her acreage near Cochrane.  She keeps a close eye on the weather and the Strathmore radar, which covers her area. 

"If we're having severe weather events along here, it's definitely the most useful tool that I've found," she said. "The Strathmore one is out very, very regularly and for days at a time."

The outage leaves diSanto with questions about Environment Canada's ability to track severe weather.

"I think the information along the Foothills is really important."

University of Alberta's Wilson says radar plays an important role in predicting the weather.

"These things are really useful, because they're letting you see right into these storms, and see how big the hail stones or rain drops are, and also the direction of movement of those things -— whether they're moving towards you or not."

Details expected Thursday

Environment Canada officials didn't provide information Wednesday on the Strathmore radar outage.  More details are expected Thursday.

On the agency's website, officials say radar data helps Canadians make decisions around weather.

"In order to minimize unexpected outages, radars are taken offline for scheduled routine maintenance and upgrades approximately every two months. This maintenance is scheduled during times of low likelihood of severe weather. In addition, Environment Canada continuously monitors the radar network and intervenes whenever the radar data is unavailable due to unforeseen circumstances. Occasionally radars go offline due to a mechanical, electrical, technical, or telecommunications related problem.

"When a weather radar is not functioning, we continue to provide weather services by using data from neighbouring radars since, whenever possible, the coverage of the radars has been designed to overlap one other."

A screen shot of Environment Canada's website on Aug. 5. (CBC)

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