Ag Canada’s snowfall data questioned

Regina readers of The Western Producer might be left scratching their heads after viewing the weather data contained on the back page of this week’s newspaper.

Accumulated precipitation for their city since Nov. 1 is listed at 36.1 millimetres, which is 72 percent of normal, according to data provided by Agriculture Canada’s National Agroclimate Information Service.

That flies in the face of a recent Regina Leader Post story, which said the city has received a record amount of snow. Other media reports confirm that Regina residents have never seen so much of the white stuff.

So why is the Agriculture Canada data so out of whack?

“There is a whole lot of reasons why measuring snow is very difficult and a very inaccurate science,” said Trevor Hadwen, agroclimate specialist with Agriculture Canada.
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He receives his information from one of Environment Canada’s automated snow gauges located at the Regina airport.

Those gauges work well when there is a heavy snowfall or rain with no wind, but they tend to miss a lot of precipitation when the wind is howling, blowing the snow sideways.

The situation goes beyond Regina. All communities in which the automated stations are used have potential for the same problem.

Environment Canada also operates volunteer weather stations in Regina where human observers measure and melt the snow.

But Agriculture Canada doesn’t use those stations when preparing its precipitation maps and charts because humans are unreliable. They fall sick, miss deadlines or go away on weekends.

“We would see a lot of fluctuations in our maps if we started including those measurements,” said Hadwen.

Another reason for the difference in measurements is that the automated gauge is located at the windswept Regina airport on the outskirts of the city, while the manual observation sites are located in city limits.

Guy Ash, weather network manager for the Canadian Wheat Board, said they don’t track snowfall on the WeatherFarm site precisely because of the inaccuracies associated with the automated gauges and because the sensors on the gauges are too expensive.

He said Canada needs more volunteers collecting and filing winter precipitation data. Weather agencies also need to use the information.

Ash said the United States does a good job of collecting snow data.

“It’s something that I think should be done and delivered. How it’s done, I don’t know. That’s a bigger discussion to have.”
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