Environment Canada intends to resume data collection efforts that are ending this week as UBC Okanagan pushes through with plans for a new parking lot, though they can’t say when or where.
In a statement, Environment Canada said they have known since 2015 that UBC Okanagan was exploring the possibility of expanding its parking lot, which currently occupies the west side of the building. Confirmation, however, didn’t arrive until the tender process was completed on June. 16.
That means their Upper Air program, which has been in the valley for 40 years helping the national weather agency collect upstream data for weather systems moving into the prairies will cease June 30, which the local contractor of the program told the Capital News last week could hamper everything from flight path mappers to weather forecasts.
“ECCC has been working actively with the university to identify a safe and suitable alternative location for the program, that will ensure the safety and security of the observer to do the balloon launches,” reads the statement from Environment Canada.
“These balloons and instruments must be launched on schedule in all weather conditions and must be handled with care if they are to reach the altitudes required .”
They go on to explain that finding a launch site will be complicated. It will need to offer protection for the observers as they are preparing the equipment for launch and have a large outside area free of vertical obstacles and tripping hazards.
Launches will also have to be located in an area that will not disrupt air traffic, as well as take into consideration the directions of the most frequent winds and storm paths.
Data collected from the instruments sent aloft with weather balloons twice per day are used to give computer models a 3-dimensional picture of the atmosphere on a global scale.
They are also used in human-generated weather forecasts to assess the temperature, humidity and wind conditions through the atmosphere.
The data is not essential to weather forecasting for the immediate area —there are only 31 site across Canada launching balloons, and a large percentage of these are in the Arctic.
But the data is an important source of information in the computer models and there is a correlation between the amount and quality of data going into the models and the quality of the forecast information that they generate. That being said it is difficult to quantify the impact of one missing station for the model as there are many other sources of information being ingested at the same time including observations from aircraft and a high volume of data collected by satellites.
What Environment Canada hasn’t said is whether the contractor they’ve had working at the station will resume his duties when and if a new location is found.
Afeworki Mekonnen has operated the Kelowna Upper Air Station, located at the UBCO campus, for Environment Canada for the last 12 years. Twice a day he releases balloons attached to a radiosonde, a sophisticated weather instrument that gathers data pressure, temperature, relative humidity and wind information.
“I personally find it quite astonishing that UBCO would choose to sacrifice the vital service provided by the facility—a service that has significance at the national level—for a parking lot project that could easily be postponed,” he said.
UBC Okanagan ’s communications staff Nathan Skolski, a long-term agreement was put in place between UBC and Environment Canada in July 2015 with respect to the use of the Mountain Weather Office.
“UBC Okanagan has been working co-operatively with Environment Canada over the last two years to find ways to effectively share the facility,” he said.
“With respect to the redesign of the parking lot near the Mountain Weather Office, UBC Okanagan has been engaging regularly with Environment Canada over the past 12 months. During these consultations, UBC Okanagan incorporated input provided by Environment Canada into the design process to accommodate the needs of their weather balloon program.”