Weather forecasting 'degraded': report

A report on weather monitoring and forecasting said two years ago that Environment Canada needed to improve.

Meteorological Service 'unable to fulfil its goal of ensuring the safety and security of Canadians'

A government report on weather monitoring and forecasting says Environment Canada needs to improve its operations.

The report is called Degradation in Environment Canada's Network, Quality Control and Data Storage Practices: A Call to Repair the Damage. It is dated June 2008.

An edited copy was obtained by the Pembina Institute and relayed to media outlets. According to the Alberta-based energy and climate-change policy institute, the 72-page document was written by officials in Environment Canada.

It details a number of deficiencies in the collection of weather data, and notes that automatic weather monitoring stations, of which there are thousands, can be unreliable. "A typical month saw over 100 stations whose data was missing and had to be recovered," the report said.

The automated stations could also deliver false readings, the report says, and "human quality control of climate data ceased in April 2008."

Sprinkled with errors

"At present, automated QC [quality control] programs can only carry out a small number of easy duties," the report states. "They can flag data going into the archive that they think is dubious. However, they cannot assess whether precipitation … is due to a passing shower or a lawn sprinkler."

The report concludes that managers at Environment Canada need to take action.

"[T]he present system with respect to the climate network and climate data infrastructure cannot be allowed to continue," the report states. "We contend that MSC [the Meteorological Service of Canada] is unable to fulfil its goal of ensuring the safety and security of Canadians."

Anne-Marie Palfreeman, a Winnipeg-based service manager for Environment Canada, declined to discuss the report.

Staffing by weather experts, particularly in Saskatchewan, has been spotty since a Saskatoon-based meteorologist retired two years ago. "Once the incumbent retired, we had trouble staffing it," Palfreeman told CBC News on Tuesday. "We're staffing it on an interim basis until we can find somebody to staff it and be there permanently."

Palfreeman noted the weather specialist is limited to explaining forecasts and warnings, not generating them. "They don't provide the warnings," she said. "The warnings come out of the forecast centres" in Edmonton and Winnipeg.

"The tools that we have today do not require somebody to be on site in Saskatoon to forecast for the whole province of Saskatchewan," Palfreeman said. "The level of service they are getting is very good."