4 Wing Met Techs gather vital weather data

weather forecasts
4 Wing Meteorologist Technician Cpl Pamela Caouette checks weather data instruments outside Hangar 1 on 4 Wing that measure current weather conditions. Photo: Cliff Kenyon

Cliff Kenyon

Everyone loves to talk about the weather.

And although you may think they’d tire of it, it’s even a favourite topic of conversation for meteorological (Met) technicians (Tech), also known as tactical weather specialists, at 4 Wing Cold Lake. And for good reason, weather is their life.

Don’t blame the team of six Met Techs on the wing if you don’t like the weather forecast. Don’t blame them if the forecast is wrong. They don’t do that part. What they do at 4 Wing is carefully measure local conditions, like the job done at many weather stations across the country. The data they collect is like pieces of a massive puzzle which don’t mean much until the puzzle is complete.

That vital information they collect goes electronically to a centre in Gagetown, N.B., where teams of meteorologists from Environment Canada and NAV Canada, the organization that owns and operates Canada’s civil aviation system, develop forecasts for the entire country, including Cold Lake.

The information collected in Cold Lake, when added to information collected across the country, is a vital part of the forecasting network. The data is collected and transmitted hourly to forecasters.

“It’s like a partnership,” says 4 Wing Cold Lake Met Tech Cpl Pamela Caouette. “The more precise we are in our measuring the more precise the forecast can be. Our main job is observing and recording local weather conditions. We record the date for forecasters.”

The Met Techs take several measurements day and night with results sent to Gagetown at least every six hours. Some measurements taken on the base are sent electronically and automatically to computers at the 4 Wing Meteorological Office.

There is a manual backup for some measurements and some are made manually. At the wing, Met Techs regularly measure the amount of precipitation either snow or rain and check the temperature.

Cpl Caouette, who is from Laval, P.Q., has been at 4 Wing for about 16 months. She said she has always been interested in science and when she joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 2014 becoming a Met Tech caught her interest.

“Our job is to collect the essential data that’s needed to forecast the weather,” said 4 Wing Met Tech Cpl Maksim Houde, who also has been in Cold Lake for about 16 months. He is from near Trois Riviere. P.Q.

As well as sending weather data to forecasters, 4 Wing Met Techs are responsible for briefing wing leaders weekly and whenever required. The meteorological office is always open for enquiries. For example, in winter clearing runways may be dependent on snow forecasting.

Although they are not forecasters Meteorological Officers can be called on to report local data that may be essential for air operations. They may be called on to answer enquiries regarding how long snow or rain may continue falling for or whether threatening rain storms with lightning are approaching the base.

“We can use radar and satellite images to tell what’s happening,” said Cpl Caouette. “We can tell where lightning strikes and if a storm is heading in this direction. We are the eyes on the ground.”

Cpl Houde said data Met Techs collect shows the influence the lake has on weather in the city and on the base. Before the lake freezes in winter it can contribute to more rain or snow than expected. The river south of the wing, depending on temperatures, can create fog which can threaten the area.

At the Meteorological Office in Hangar 1 they monitor computer screens displaying data recorded. They also keep hard copy files of data and take measurements from instruments located outside.

“We know exactly how much rain or snow has fallen. It is important information,” said Cpl Houde.

From outside their office they can observe conditions such as approaching storm clouds as far away as Edmonton.

“Some clouds are dangerous for aircraft,” said Cpl Houde.

The Meteorological Office is on call at all times if needed so flight planners “can make an informed decision.”

Weather events can be very local, covering a small area, but weather forecasts may cover a larger area.

For example, when Environment Canada issues a forecast for a 30 per cent chance of rain or snow for an area it means there is a chance of rain or snow in a large area while neither may occur in the small portion of the area that you are in.

“Often, it may snow or rain along the lake but nothing in the base even though there is a forecast that snow or rain is possible here,” said Cpl Houde.