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Questions for the weatherman

Long-range weather forecasting is a science – and an art. (Photo Credit: Vzykov via Flickr)

Long-range weather forecasting is a science – and an art. (Photo Credit: Vzykov via Flickr)

With the first signs of snow showing up across our region this week, not to mention the devastating typhoon in the Philippines, weather is top-of-mind these days. Rustik put a few questions to one of Canada’s foremost weather experts, Larry Romaniuk, who spent nearly four decades forecasting the weather for Environment Canada and is responsible for the long-range forecasts featured in Harrowsmith’s Truly Canadian Almanac.

RUSTIK: Almanacs are known for their long-range weather forecasts. How do you go about predicting future weather?

LARRY ROMANIUK: Well, it’s not based on sun spots or the phases of the moon or, as some people have suggested, pig spleens or squirrel bellies. It’s a scientific approach. For the almanac, I place a lot of emphasis on the agricultural needs in Canada, so I look at when the first frost might occur or the last frost, and try to anticipate heavy rains and heavy snow.

Larry Romaniuk, the weather editor of Harrowsmith’s Truly Canadian Almanac, spent 37 years with Environment Canada.

Larry Romaniuk, the weather editor of Harrowsmith’s Truly Canadian Almanac, spent 37 years with Environment Canada.

My forecasts take into account a number of things: first is my experience with weather across Canada. I have a good appreciation of the local peculiarities, the climatology, the average conditions, and the geography of the different areas across Canada.

Relying on climatological norms, long-term trends and the history of weather in a particular area, I try to catch the main features, like heavy precipitation or snow in a general area. [But] I rely most heavily on computer models – very sophisticated mathematical models of the atmosphere. There are several of these out there, so I have to pick one that has proven itself.

The models, together with my experience and the historical normals as well as climatology of the area, give me an overall picture of the weather pattern. I also take into account things like El Niño, La Niña, and soil moisture.

What would you say your accuracy rate is and how can you assure that?

I do my own verification where I go back to see what I forecast and compare it to the actual weather. Maybe I’m biased, but I come up with about 80 per cent. As a matter of fact, about 10 years ago this question of accuracy was put out to farming readers of Country Guide magazine and they perceived my forecasts to be about 75 per cent accurate as well. Which is a lot better than a toss of a coin, of course.

You’ll never get 100 per cent accuracy – it’s hard enough day to day, let alone doing it months in advance. If I’m going to forecast for the next six hours, my accuracy might be 100 per cent, but over 12 hours, it might be 90-95 per cent. By the time you’re out to day five, it might be only 85 per cent, and so on down the scale. So you have to rely on climatology, unless the models are showing definite trends. It’s a fine-tuning of what’s out there, really.

Romaniuk's forecast for the seasonal highlights this coming winter. (Photo Credit: Harrowsmith’s Truly Canadian Almanac)

Romaniuk’s forecast for the seasonal highlights this coming winter. (Photo Credit: Harrowsmith’s Truly Canadian Almanac)

Why do you think we, as Canadians, are so concerned about weather?

Canadians have a good appreciation for the weather because it’s so subject to change, from hour to hour, day to day, month to month. Every day it’s the topic that’s most talked about across the country, I would imagine.

Maritimers are especially weather-conscious, especially those who have anything to do with fishing. On the ocean, your life could be at stake. Whenever survival is of prime importance, you’re going to pay attention. And of course, if your livelihood is farming on the Prairies, you’re going to pay attention as well.

What sparked your interest in weather forecasting as a profession?

Well, it was kind of by fluke. When I graduated from University of Manitoba back in the 1960s, jobs were plentiful. I finished my science degree and on the bulletin board at the university they were advertising a meteorology course, and they paid for it while you studied. I thought, ‘Hey! That’s OK.’ I kind of fell into it that way.

When I graduated, they said, ‘Where do you want to be sent?’ The course was in Ontario, and I said, ‘Well, I come from Manitoba, can you send me back there?’ and they said, ‘Yeah sure! We’ll send you to Churchill!’

After being there a few months I didn’t like it at all, but I stayed and I got to like it and next thing you know, I was out of there and I really didn’t want to leave.

OK, here’s the big question. What kind of winter is the Maritimes in for?

I thought you might ask that! Actually, I did some research and it’s not that bad. I broke it down month by month and I noticed that for the next little while, you’re going to be staying near or above normal. It looks like it might be a little stormier by the end of November, but into December it will continue on the mild side with temperatures a little above normal. There might be some storms toward the middle of December, but precipitation should be near or a little above normal.

Check out Romaniuk’s full long-range forecast in the newest edition of Harrowsmith’s Truly Canadian Almanac.

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