There’s a snow storm on the horizon for my part of the province tomorrow. Forecasts say there is 20 centimetres on the way! Today, temperatures are slated to reach 11 C.

How crazy is this weather?

Easter morning was thrown into an upheaval when we had about 25 centimetres fall in the area — I think it was the largest snowfall we’ve had all at once all winter.

I had hoped to take photos of the kids in their spring-like Easter clothes — crisp, leafy greens and sharp, sparkling white. Instead, they’re in their snowsuits, sitting on a snowbank. Hard to believe the grass was greening up just the day before.

Weather forecasting is a fine art and the meterologist who do this work have a tough time. But technology is improving. At the same time, meterologists are letting the general public know that their work is not an exact science. There are many variable with weather forecasting and what falls, or doesn’t fall, from the sky is something that none of us can control. The scientists can only make their best educated guess.

Environment Canada has teamed with weather forecasters in the United States and Mexico to develop a broader spectrum of weather outcomes. It’s called ensemble forecasting and uses weather prediction computer programs to develop 16 possible weather outcomes in Canada for conditions like cloud cover, surface wind speed, precipitation and surface air temperature.

But why?

Is this information really useful or does it just create an environment of information overload?

Well, for farmers, the more useful information like this, the better.

Ted O’Brien is acting manager of the National Service Office, Agriculture Meteorological Service of Canada with Environment Canada. He says a wider window of possible weather outcomes gives producers more information to determine weather predictions for their own farms.

Let’s face it, there are no cut and dry answers when it comes to predicting the weather. With ensemble forecasting, we can see a range of possible weather conditions.

If the weather forecast indicates a high probability of rain, for example, producers have more information to base their field work priorities like planting, spraying or harvesting. The ensemble forecast system also provides other other information such as cloud cover and the liklihood of obtaining a range of surface temperatures.

“Producers are dealing with risks and probabilities all the time,” O’Brien says. “They’re factoring in what the forecast is saying, what they’re use to seeing and the condition of the crop – how wet it is – and trying to decide when to harvest, when to cut, when to seed. Providing a little more information so they can factor in better how weather is going to impact their operation is what we’re doing.”

For ensemble forecasting that can be tailored to your community, click here. But don’t let the complex-looking graphs scare you! A detailed explanation on how to read the graphs is located here. Other results of ensemble forecasting can be found here. Click on the “information” link at each page for instructions on how to read the maps.

Stay dry!

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