Amateurs work as Weatherman's eyes

Staff Reporter
The Winnipeg Sun
Sunday, August 2nd, 1998

Call it weather forecasting - unplugged.

More than 50 amateur radio operators in Manitoba are being trained by Environment Canada this summer to spot potentially dangerous storms as they brew.

The amateurs or ham radio operators may eventually form a network of weather watchers across the province, with the technology to alert Environment Canada when they see storms.

"People on the ground have always been the most important source of information to the system." said Patrick McCarthy, severe weather program manager for Environment Canada.

'Recruited thousands'

"We've recruited thousands of people over the years to be weather watchers. (Using amateurs) takes it one step further. I guess they're super-weather watchers.

The network of weather watchers, known as CANWARN consists of amateurs in the field and an on-call radio operator in the Environment Canada office on Main Street.

If a farmer in Foxwarren spots a funnel cloud and he's in the CANWARN network, he can radio Environment Canada directly.

"They have their own communication system to get the weather to us." McCarthy said, "because the first thing that goes during a major emergency is the phone system"

The goal of Environment Canada is a year-round network of amateur radio weather spotters.

Industry Canada assigns amateur radio operators a radio frequency for their exclusive use.

"The way the amateur community pays the community at large back is through public service," said Jeff Dovyak, a nuclear research technologist by trade and head of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service in Manitoba.

Amateur radio operators helped out during last year's Flood of the Century, and do communications during the Manitoba Marathon each year.

There are about 40,000 amateur radio operators in Canada.

Dovyak said the amateur radio operators don't root for inclement weather, "but it's going to happen somewhere."

"If our people can report what's happening on the ground, hopefully it's going to help people by getting some information."

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