Nova Scotia

Weather radar station needed in southwestern N.S., councillors urge

Municipalities in the area are asking Environment Canada to keep them — literally — on the radar as the department modernizes its network.

Politicians hope Environment Canada will make area part of nationwide modernization project

Environment Canada has 31 radar stations across the country. There are also 1,300 surface weather and climate stations. (Environment Canada)

As Environment Canada looks to modernize the network it uses for forecasting, some municipalities in southwest Nova Scotia are pressing to make sure the agency keeps them — literally — on the radar. 

There is no radar station in southwest Nova Scotia, which councillors in Yarmouth say leads to a gap in service in the Gulf of Maine. 

"We'd be better prepared for what weather is coming," said Coun. Daniel Allen, who is also a fisherman. "A big percentage of fishermen base their trips on weather that we receive that is off American websites." 

Allen says he regularly checks American stations as well as Environment Canada. The two closest Canadian radar stations are in Chipman, N.B., near Fredericton, and in Gore in central Nova Scotia. 

Yarmouth Coun. Gerard LeBlanc says fishermen have told him that the radar from the existing stations is only reliable up to about 30 kilometres off shore. Yarmouth council has been pressing the issue with West Nova MP Colin Fraser, and has requested a meeting with Environment Canada. 

Weather watchers in Saskatchewan have complained that the Bethune radar system has failed at inopportune times. (CBC)

So far, LeBlanc says the group has not heard back, but it has gathered letters of support from other municipalities in the area. He says a radar station could be placed anywhere in the area and still be effective. 

"We don't care, as long as it's in southwest Nova Scotia. Could be in Digby, could be in Yarmouth, could be in Barrington, could be in Shelburne or Shelburne County. It doesn't matter, because it'll do the job there." 

'Obsolete technology'

The replacement radar project is long overdue, according to the $83.2-million tender Environment Canada awarded to German company Selex ES in 2016. 

"Most of the infrastructure and hardware in the network is currently beyond its 25-year life expectancy and is no longer supportable," the agency wrote. "The network has radars of several different generations, with some of them 30-40 years old. The oldest 19 radars rely on obsolete technology that can no longer be procured, maintained or upgraded." 

Environment Canada has contracted Selex ES to replace 20 of the current radar network of 31 stations by March 31, 2023. There are three existing radar sites in the Maritimes, including the ones in Chipman and Gore as well as one in Marion Bridge, N.S.

In its specifications, Environment Canada asked for replacements for the sites at Chipman and Marion Bridge. There were no new sites listed in the Maritimes, but Environment Canada has the option to add 13 sites. 

The department confirmed Tuesday that the two Nova Scotia radars will be replaced in the next two years.

The Marion Bridge radar is currently scheduled to be replaced in 2019, while the Gore radar will be done in 2020.

"They will be replaced by a modern S-Band Dual Polarized radar with a 240-km Doppler range. As we carry out the planning for upgrading these radars, we will give consideration to providing improved radar coverage to Nova Scotia," Environment Canada spokeswoman Samantha Bayard said in an email.

New technology

CBC meteorologist Kalin Mitchell has been keeping an eye on the Environment Canada radar replacement project and says the new technology will be a big upgrade.

The new units will increase the Doppler range from 120 kilometres to 240 kilometres. Mitchell explains Doppler radar can measure the speed and motion of a weather system. 

The radar on Marble Mountain, N.L., was damaged after it was struck by lightning in 2014. (CBC)

"Not only can we see where there is maybe some intense rain or some intense snow, but we can also get a speed and a direction on that thunderstorm. So we may know more information about what communities are in the path of this particular weather system and how quickly it'll be arriving in those areas," he said. 

Mitchell said newer radar can accurately distinguish different types of precipitation such as snow, ice pellets, freezing rain and rain.

"Especially for us in Nova Scotia, we see weather systems with those different types of precipitation a lot during the winter time." 

Safely home

Warden Penny Smith of the Municipality of the District of Shelburne says her district was one of the municipalities that signed a letter of support for Yarmouth's request to Environment Canada. 

"It's the reliability and dependability of weather information for our fishers, to make sure that they make the right decisions as to whether to be staying out on a trip or whether to come back home," she said. "We all want them to come back safely home." 

Smith said the information would also be relevant to recreational fishing and boating, emergency providers and potential offshore development.