Nfld. & Labrador

The weather office that never takes a snow day (or one off, either)

The staff at the Gander weather office never take a day off, even in the harshest winter conditions.

Day in and day out, this is where your weather information comes from

Meteorologist Rodney Barney of the Gander weather office says accuracy, in predicting weather, is subjective. (Martin Jones/CBC)

Even in the harshest central Newfoundland winters, or the blistering heat of summer, the staff at the Gander weather office can be counted on to show up for work. 

The office operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with a staff of 16 meteorologists, all working in 12-hour shifts.

While their neighbours may get a snow day — and conditions outside may sometimes be unfit for driving — Environment Canada's meteorologists in Gander never miss a day, or a forecast. 

In fact, the nasty weather is one of the reasons why staff want to go to work. 

But, you might ask yourself, just how predictable is Newfoundland and Labrador's weather?

"Accuracy is kind of a subjective thing," Rodney Barney, meteorologist with the Gander weather office, told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning

"If we say it's going to snow late this afternoon and it doesn't start until seven, well yeah it's a couple of hours later than expected, but we still got what we expected," he said. 

The office issues three updates every day, with intermediate updates when things change unexpectedly, or the pace of an expected system is faster or slower than expected, Barney said. 

"There's a ton of model data that we look at ... We have a set of satellite images and radar images that we can look at and kind of get a sense of the conditions right now, both in our area, as well as the surrounding big picture."

The wind of change

A lot has changed in the last few decades, and that includes the technology being used to forecast, monitor, track and predict weather patterns. 

Some weather maps are still hand drawn as a way to compare with computer generated predictions for accurate readings. (Martin Jones/CBC)

"When I first started working here we were using computers mainly as a word processor, and we'd type everything in by hand," said Blair Sparkes, who has been with the office in Gander for 28 years, and is currently its head of operations.

"We've got a lot more computer equipment that we use — a lot more computer technology."

The staff still draws some of the weather maps by hand, created every six hours to compare the actual weather to what the computer models predicted. It's a process used to keep computer models accurate. 

Humans and computers combine to give the most accurate weather readings possible, with Sparkes giving the edge to real people for being able to outperform the computers in predicting weather on the short term.

As for changes in the actual weather, Sparkes said he and his team have seen an increase in the frequency of big weather events, but they are unsure whether it's simply a pattern tracked over the last decade, or more of a permanent change to the province's weather.  

Still, the team is there for most general weather inquiries.

The office operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with a staff of 16 meterologists. (Martin Jones/CBC)

"We get calls daily from the general public if they're travelling, wondering about the weather conditions. We get them from contractors who may be doing some roofing work and wondering about rain," he said.

"We have a lot of interaction with government departments like fire and emergency services when it comes to big events, and we also get calls from mariners."

And, yes, they've all heard that timeless joke: that if you don't like the province's weather, just wait 15 minutes. 

"You talk about the weather changing quickly? Sometimes we can get stuck in the RDF for weeks," Sparkes said.

"It changes fast, but then there's times when it don't change as near as fast as we would like it to." 

Listen to more highlights from Newfoundland Morning

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Newfoundland Morning

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