Canada’s newest weather radar in Alberta begins operation. Here’s why that’s important

As our climate continues to change, accurate monitoring of extreme weather is critical.

That’s why Canada’s newest radar site near Fort McMurray, Alta., officially online in late September, is seen as an important piece of the weather and climate jigsaw.

“There is no pre-existing radar here,” said Sara Hoffman, meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“So we are fully and completely extending radar coverage over northeastern Alberta, northwest Saskatchewan.”

According to Hoffman, the installation is part of a $140 million nationwide project to upgrade and replace the aging radar network with dual-polarized radar – commonly referred to as “dual-polarized” radar -. The most recent round of enhancements will effectively double the range of severe weather detection.

The project began in 2017, with site upgrades at Radisson, Sask., 65 kilometers northwest of Saskatoon.

The new location near Fort McMurray now means radar information extends to Fort Chipewyan, Alta., 300 km north and to Buffalo Narrows, Sask., approximately 275 km southeast.

The Fort McMurray site is the only new radar installation. Canada’s radar network will now include 33 locations across the country, with a full network upgrade expected to be completed by March 2023.

Active weather and climate change

According to a report by Environment and Climate Change Canada, “extreme weather poses the most immediate climate risk to the Prairie provinces, as is evident from the catastrophic events that have taken place over the past decade.” via.”

The increase in overall temperature allows summer storms to contain more water, which means that in the future, heavy rainfall events are more likely. Studies have also shown that large hail events may also become more frequent.

Many people in western Canada felt that increase, with The flood event that devastated British Columbia in November 2021Severe storms cause flooding in Calgary and Saskatoon last summer, and Record hail in southern Alberta in August.

Radar is one of the important tools used by meteorologists to forecast severe storms.

Doppler vs dual-pol: What’s the difference?

Weather radar displays rainfall in real time, allowing meteorologists to better warn of floods, hail and other severe events. It works by emitting electromagnetic pulses that will impact and reflect precipitation, effectively showing where it is currently raining or snowing.

Radars are indispensable for forecasting thunderstorms, like this one in central Alberta in 2018. (Matt Melnyk)

Canada’s weather radar network last received a major upgrade in the late 1990s, when the system was updated to Doppler radar. Doppler radar also measures movement during storms, helping to see rotations that can indicate severe weather such as tornadoes.

The most recent round of enhancements will effectively double the Doppler range.

Bipolar radar goes a step further, measuring storms more accurately and more frequently, with scans taking place every 6 minutes instead of 10.

According to Hoffman, dual-pol provides more information about the size, shape and distribution of storms. That gives forecasters the ability to see if the rain is snow or rain and whether there is hail. It allows for better rainfall forecast.

And when major storms are directly overhead, the poles are less likely to be obstructed by heavier rainfall than Doppler. That means meteorologists can see better in and around those storms, according to Hoffman.

“It’s like going from black and white to color,” says Hoffman. “It can help us much more in making timely decisions and forecasts or warnings.”

Extended coverage

With this upgrade project, coverage has been extended to most countries, with new radar locations showing severe weather approaching further away than before.

“We will go from 120 km with our Doppler [radar] Hoffman said.

That distance allows more time to issue warnings as severe weather develops.

“As a meteorologist, this is a really exciting time and we’re excited to expand this coverage,” she said.

Our planet is changing. So does our press. This story is part of CBC News’ initiative called “Our Changing Planet” to address and explain the effects of climate change. Stay up to date with the latest news about Climate and Environment Page.


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