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

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As our local weather continues to vary, precisely monitoring extreme weather is vital.

That’s why Environment and Climate Change Canada’s newest radar website close to Fort McMurray, Alta., which formally got here on-line in late September, is seen as such an important piece in the weather and local weather jigsaw puzzle. 

“There was no pre-existing radar right here,” says Sara Hoffman, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“So we’re completely and utterly increasing radar protection over northeastern Alberta, northwestern Saskatchewan.” 

According to Hoffman, the set up is a part of a $140-million nationwide venture to improve and substitute the growing old radar community with dual-polarization — sometimes called “dual-pol” — radar. The most up-to-date spherical of enhancements will successfully double the severe-weather detection vary.

The venture started in 2017, with the improve of the location at Radisson, Sask., 65 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. 

The new website close to Fort McMurray now means radar data extends to Fort Chipewyan, Alta., 300 kilometres north, and out to Buffalo Narrows, Sask., about 275 kilometres to the southeast.

The Fort McMurray website is the one new radar set up. Canada’s radar community will now encompass 33 websites throughout the nation, with the whole community improve slated to be full by March 2023.

Active weather and local weather change

According to a report by Environment and Climate Change Canada, “excessive weather presents probably the most speedy local weather danger for the Prairie provinces, as is clear from the catastrophic occasions which have taken place over the past decade.”

An total enhance in temperatures permits summer season storms to carry extra water, which signifies that in the longer term, excessive precipitation occasions are extra probably. Studies additionally present that enormous hail occasions might additionally turn into extra frequent.

That enhance has been felt by many in western Canada, with flooding occasions that devastated British Columbia in November 2021, extreme storms inflicting flooding in Calgary and Saskatoon this previous summer season, and the file hail in southern Alberta in August.

Radar is among the key instruments amongst many utilized by meteorologists to forecast extreme storms.

Doppler and dual-pol: What’s the distinction?

Weather radar exhibits precipitation in real-time, permitting meteorologists to raised warn for flooding, hail and different extreme occasions. It works by sending out electromagnetic pulses that can hit and replicate off of precipitation, successfully exhibiting the place it’s at the moment raining or snowing. 

Radar is integral for forecasting thunderstoms, like this one in central Alberta in 2018. (Matt Melnyk)

Canada’s weather radar community final acquired main upgrades In the late ’90s, when the system was up to date to Doppler radar. Doppler radar measures motion inside storms as effectively, which helps with seeing rotation that may point out extreme weather like tornadoes.

The most up-to-date spherical of enhancements will successfully double the Doppler vary.

Dual-pol radar goes a step additional, measuring storms extra precisely and extra steadily, with scans taking place each six minutes versus 10.

According to Hoffman, dual-pol gives extra data on the scale, form and distribution of storms. That provides forecasters the flexibility to see if precipitation is snow or rain and whether or not there’s hail. It permits for better-forecasted precipitation quantities. 

And when giant storms are instantly overhead, dual-pol is much less probably than Doppler to be muffled by heavy precipitation. According to Hoffman, which means meteorologists can see extra clearly in and round these storms.

“It’s like going from black-and-white tv to color,” says Hoffman. “It may also help us all that rather more to make these choices and well timed forecasts or warnings.”

Expanded protection

With this improve venture, many of the nation is seeing expanded protection, with the brand new radar websites seeing approaching extreme weather from additional out than earlier than. 

“We’re going from 120 kilometres with our Doppler [radar] to 240 kilometres,” says Hoffman.

That distance permits extra time to difficulty warnings as extreme weather develops.

“As a meteorologist, this can be a actually thrilling time and we’re thrilled to have this expanded protection,” she says.


Our planet is altering. So is our journalism. This story is a part of a CBC News initiative entitled “Our Changing Planet” to indicate and clarify the results of local weather change. Keep up with the newest information on our Climate and Environment web page.

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