Off the radar: N.S. weather tower to go dark this month, leaving forecasting gap

·4 min read
The Gore site in Hants County, pictured here in June 2021, has been intermittently off-line since April. (Paul Poirier/CBC - image credit)
The Gore site in Hants County, pictured here in June 2021, has been intermittently off-line since April. (Paul Poirier/CBC - image credit)

Mainland Nova Scotia's primary weather radar station is about to be retired, leaving a void in the forecasting toolbox for the province and part of Prince Edward Island for several months.

The Gore site in Hants County has been intermittently off-line since April. It will be shut down permanently on June 11, to be replaced over the summer by a new tower.

Environment and Climate Change Canada has estimated the new system will be online and available to the public by the end of August.

Radar images from Environment Canada show a winter storm approaching Nova Scotia in 2018.
Radar images from Environment Canada show a winter storm approaching Nova Scotia in 2018.(Environment Canada)

CBC meteorologist Ryan Snoddon said the outage will impact his ability to provide short-range forecasts, for precipitation arriving within about six to eight hours.

"We're going to have a huge hole this summer across most of mainland Nova Scotia, where we're not going to be able to say with as much accuracy when that rain is going to arrive," he said.

He said the outage will also affect western P.E.I.

Radar stations in Maine, New Brunswick and Cape Breton will provide some information about weather heading toward Nova Scotia, said Snoddon. He said other forecasting tools like satellite imaging will also help.

"But nothing is going to replace the radar, which is a true snapshot of where the rain is occurring right now," said Snoddon.

Ryan Snoddon, CBC's meteorologist in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, broadcasts from his back deck.
Ryan Snoddon, CBC's meteorologist in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, broadcasts from his back deck. (Ryan Snoddon)

Snoddon said his advice to the public this summer is to be prepared before heading outdoors.

"[Make sure] you're more conscious of what the forecast is for that day. Is there a risk of severe storms? If there is a risk of severe storms? What are the biggest threats today? Is it heavy downpours? Is it strong winds or hail? Those are the types of things you should be keeping in mind, especially if you're heading out on the water."

Disconcerting for farmers

Few industries rely more heavily on the weather than agriculture.

Tim Marsh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, said this summer's radar outage is disconcerting for him and other farmers who count on up-to-the-minute weather information to operate efficiently.

"For example, if you're trying to make nice dry hay and you get a shower that wasn't forecast, or on the other hand if you stop mowing ... yet the weather stays nice, it can be frustrating and it can cost money, and time is money in agriculture," he said.

The new radar station is expected to be back online before the time of year when hurricanes typically threaten the Maritimes.
The new radar station is expected to be back online before the time of year when hurricanes typically threaten the Maritimes. (Ryan Snoddon/CBC)

Short-term pain for long-term gain

Despite the drawbacks, the new radar station will be a boon once it's operating, according to Ian Hubbard, meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Hubbard said the new radar system will have double the range of the old one, it will scan the skies more frequently and will be able to more accurately distinguish between types of precipitation.

"Certainly some of these features ... are going to be really helping the meteorologists that look at this data and use that to incorporate into our forecast as to what's going to happen that day."

The Holyrood weather radar station in Newfoundland is shown just as replacement work was getting underway. All of Canada's radar stations are slated for upgrades by 2023.
The Holyrood weather radar station in Newfoundland is shown just as replacement work was getting underway. All of Canada's radar stations are slated for upgrades by 2023.(Environment Canada)

Snoddon echoed that he's looking forward to the benefits of the new system, and added that it will catch Canada up with the latest technology.

"Here in Canada, we've been kind of looking enviously at what the U.S. has had for a few years. We're finally going to get kind of on the same page."

Sailor's delight

Judy Robertson, a board member of Sail Nova Scotia, said satellite imagery and weather buoys will be enough to keep people safe on the water this summer.

But she said she is looking forward to having more accurate weather information once the new radar system comes online.

"They need to update the system … and it will, in the long run, be a really good thing."

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