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Doppler radar not the answer, ECCC officials say at Yarmouth meeting

Better interpretation and descriptions of weather needed for marine forecasts

YARMOUTH - For years, municipalities in southwestern Nova Scotia have fought to have Doppler radar coverage for the region’s offshore.

But it turns out Doppler radar isn’t the answer for the fishing industry, one of the most important sectors reliant on accurate forecasts.

On Feb. 27, staff from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) presented information at a meeting hosted by the Municipality of Yarmouth at the Rodd Grand Hotel.  

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Doppler radar as well as ways to improve forecasting.

ECCC operations manager Robert Robichaud, director of prediction services for operations east Bill Appleby and manager Serge Deschamps addressed the crowd.

Robichaud explained the limitations of radar. It provides information on where precipitation is but it does not differentiate between rain and snow. It also does not provide information on winds at the surface, either on land or at sea.

“The storms that we get around here are much bigger than a radar will cover,” he said.

“It won’t provide any information on sea state. It won’t detect fog.”

New radar equipment is coming, but not in the immediate future.

The new units will have an extended severe-weather detection range, increasing each Doppler boundary to 240 kilometres from the current 120 km.

 The state-of-the-art radars will have fully integrated dual-polarization technology, enabling forecasters to better detect tornadoes and to distinguish between rain, snow, hail and freezing rain.

Radar stations in Chipman, Gore and Marion Bridge, N.S. are scheduled for replacement by March 31, 2023.

Existing radar units range from 20 to 40 years in age. The new radars are about $3 million each.

Meanwhile, Robichaud said his department is also looking at relocating the Gore radar station closer to the southwest.

“By moving the radar from its present location 50 km further southwest you’d have reports on weather at 1,500 and 2,000 metres instead of 4,000.

“That’s a huge increase in sensitivity to pick up weather in this part of the province.”

Robichaud expressed excitement about recent access to data from an American satellite launched in November 2016. Testing and calibration were done over the past year and it just became operational two months ago.

“The data we’re getting from this thing is actually phenomenal,” he said.

Information includes rainfall rates, wind speeds over the ocean, cloud depth, cloud top height, hurricane intensity, temperature profiles, maximum rainfall, a lightning mapper, hot spot locations associated with forest fires, snow cover, land surface temperature, snow cover and sea surface temperature.

“This is a total game changer when we’re talking about monitoring the atmosphere. This is the first of many new-generation satellites that are going to be coming online in the next few years,” he said.

The addition of more buoys to the network is also being considered. These help to verify satellite information. 

Members of the LFA 33/34 lobster fishing fleet told Robichaud that they typically rely on American forecasts from a surfing site called Magic Seaweed because those from ECCC are often inaccurate.

“There’s a whole lot more money being generated in the fishing industry and what we get for weather forecasts sucks,” said one fisherman.

“It’s a sad state of affairs when the fishing industry laughs about the (ECCC) marine weather and has to go to a surf report that is 10 times more reliable than the (ECCC) marine weather is. It’s a joke and a disgrace. I’ve fished long enough to know.”

“The American sites renew more often, it’s more of a simple map that we can read,” said another fisherman.

Appleby admitted the ECCC website “ties their hands a little bit.”

That’s partially because they have to be compliant to the government’s access to information, which limits them to usable colours and animation.

“Our website has become somewhat dated,” Appleby said. “We’re hoping to get back to refurbishing that in the next year. We’ll also be trying to do some better presentations of the information.

“A graphical presentation makes a big difference. Trying to describe that in words is always a big challenge,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, it was decided that ECCC staff would work on a daily supplementary package tailored to the fishing sector.

Yarmouth Warden Leland Anthony says the municipality will be taking the lead on the project and will set up a meeting to see how all concerned can move forward on this.

“We as municipal councillors have been given a mandate to look out for our residents and 99 per cent of the people on the water are residents. We’re very concerned with their safety, as they are with their own.  Weather does play a big factor on their trips to sea. The weather package is very important to them,” he said.

He turned to the ECCC representatives.

“If you folks were a business, you’d be out of business because nobody would be buying your product. They’d be going somewhere else and buying your product.

“Our municipality will make contact with some fishermen and we’ll get together with you folks to try and design that package,” he said.

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