The Weather Network Of Canada

At last count (2012) the Canadian weather network consisted of approximately 811 surface-based weather observing stations, the vast majority of which are automated.

Most are government owned and operated by Environment Canada.

All are part of the Global Weather Observing And Exchange Network.

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On Land

Some 775 Canadian automated weather observing stations measure weather parameters on land, 24 hours a day.

Automatic Weather Station site, typical of the Weather Network In Canada. Photo: Claude Jollet
Photo: Claude Jollet
Many stations serve a double purpose.
  • Meet aviation weather information requirements at Canadian airports, large and small.
  • Meet additional climatology requirements (i.e. 24 hour amount of precipitation).

Typical Weather Observations

A METAR is short for Meteorological Aviation Report. It contains information on weather parameters and phenomena observed at a given airport.

METARs are taken, at least hourly, at every major airport in Canada.

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The general public, and the weather observer enthusiast, can thus have access to all the present weather information it needs (and more) from the METARs, such as:

  • Sky condition (cloud type, quantity, and height above ground).
  • Present weather phenomena (i.e. precipitation type, obstruction to vision).
  • Wind speed and direction. Speed is given in knots (nautical miles/hour). One knot = 1.8533 Km/h.
  • Temperature and dew point temperature, in whole degrees Centigrade.
  • Station pressure (in inches) and sea level pressure (in hectopascals).

On Canadian Waters

Automatic weather station instrument layout. Photo: Claude Jollet.
Photo: Claude Jollet

Some auto stations of the Canadian weather network are operated on inland and coastal waters, such as navigation buoys and exploration platforms. They complete the surface observation network, and serve to meet commercial navigation, and pleasure boating requirements.

Under international agreement, Environment Canada even trains seagoing ship officers on weather observing and reporting, as well as installs and maintains weather instruments aboard.

In exchange, Canada, and all other participating nations of the world, can obtain surface weather, and sea surface information, at least every six hours, from ships en-route to their destination over the oceans of the world.

In The Upper Atmosphere


Montreal (QC) Weather Radar - CWMN - Photo: Environment Canada
Photo: Frederic Fabry

Environment Canada uses 31 weather radars, two of which are owned and operated by Canada's National Defence. The McGill weather radar, in Montreal, is operated under contract by the McGill University.

The weather radars are strategically located across the most populated lower portion of the country. These radars are primarily intended (and funded) to provide a severe weather watch. Obviously, they are also used, on a day to day basis, for a more mundane watch of cloud formation and displacement, and the measure of potential precipitation available within the clouds observed.

They are networked together to form a cross-country composite radar picture of significant weather, from coast to coast.

In addition, the data from the radar weather network is merged with that of northern US weather radars, under a data sharing agreement.

This arrangement provides us with advance information on significant weather coming in from south of our border.


Hydrogen filled balloon ready for launch. The radiosonde can be seen on the wooden stand.
Photo: English Wikipedia

The observation of the atmosphere would not be complete without sounding the upper atmosphere above Canada.

Canada operates 56 radiosonde stations. Like the radar stations, they are also strategically located.

But, in this case, our purpose is to obtain as uniform a sample of the atmosphere as is economically possible.

Top view of a Loran radiosonde. Thermistor is visible on far left, with antenna at bottom. Hygristor and barometer are inside the unit. Photographer: Jonathan Lamb.
Photo: Jonathan Lamb

Twice a day, at 00:00 UTC and 12:00 UTC - Universal Time Coordinated, sensitive meteorological instruments are sent into the upper atmosphere, either carried aloft by hydrogen balloons, or by small rockets.

They are equipped with radio transmitters that send back the observed data down to the radiosonde station of origin, on Canadian soil.

Radiosondes help us obtain a tri-dimensional view of the main characteristics of the atmosphere. We get a vertical distribution, (up to an altitude of about 40 KM with hydrogen balloons, and up to 1,500 KM with rockets) of:

  • Temperature as it varies during the ascent,
  • Pressure,
  • and humidity.

And, by tracking the transmitter during its ascent, we can derive wind direction and wind speed at all levels.

The atmosphere is in constant motion, and knows no boundaries. Therefore, every country of the world operates a minimum number of radiosonde stations. All share their observed data of the upper atmosphere above their respective countries, via the Global Weather Network.

Black Brant sounding rocket. Source: NASA.
Photo: NASA

Weather Satellites

Canada does not own weather satellites, but contributes to their construction, launch, and maintenance costs, in exchange for the data.

Satellite instrument technology is constantly evolving. We will eventually be able to replace the costly radiosonde station network, and obtain far more information on the atmosphere.

In Partnership

To complete the weather picture, Canadian provinces and industries, operating weather observing stations for their own purposes, also contribute their data, by mutual exchange agreement, to the Canadian weather network.

Examples of these are:

  • the Quebec Hydro lightning detection network.
  • the oil refining companies operating automatic stations to help them meet their pollution control commitments.

On The Global Weather Telecommunications Network

The data, from the different weather observing stations mentioned above, is collected via a complex telecommunications network.

Ordinary telephone lines, high capacity dedicated fiber optic links, microwave relays, and satellite communication equipment … every know telecommunication technology is used to gather and redistribute the vital weather data, not only inside Canada, but also on the Global Weather Network (GWN).

Incidentally, thanks to the GWN, the WMO can make the forecasts for any part of the world available free. The forecasts are available in English, as well as in French, Spanish and many other languages.

The entire network is computerized, and runs automatically.

So, there you have it. A brief picture of the technological environment in which I worked during 31 years. I saw it grow, and I actively participated in its automation, from the early 1980's to late 1997, when I retired.

During its future evolution, the weather network of Canada will continue to fascinate me, as much as it did in the past!

Stay tuned, and keep a sharp weather watch!

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