Weathering (and recording) a quarter-century of storms

Is it cold enough for you? As Canadian as . . . the weather?
As much as Canadians like to talk about the weather, there’s probably few of us who have thought about it twice a day for the past 25 years.
Environment Canada recently honoured long-time climate observers in the district—and neither rain, sleet, nor snow stopped Enos Nighswander of Barwick, Alice Radbourne of Emo, and Bill and Delores Romyn of Stratton from checking the weather twice a day since 1978.
“Environment Canada appreciates the dedication of volunteers such as these since the data collected by them is used by climatologists and meteorologists to monitor temperature and precipitation patterns in Northwestern Ontario,” said Kevin Everett, technical services specialist with Environment Canada.
The weather observers began volunteering after replying to ads from the district ag rep in newspapers and agriculture newsletters.
Actually, Nighswander said he’s been watching the weather for almost as long as he could remember.
“As a child, I had a habit of looking at the temperature every morning, and I appreciated precision instruments,” he recalled. “I thought it would be interesting.”
Twice a day, he and other observers check the daily high and low temperatures and precipitation.
“The maximum thermometer is like a fever thermometer—you have to shake it down,” Nighswander said. “Consequently, it shows the maximum for the day.”
A separate thermometer gives the minimum temperature.
Weather observers measure rainfall with a gauge, not unlike how a cook measures water. There is a tube with millimetres marked on the side that fits in a bigger container.
“It [the tube] holds 25 ml, about an inch,” said Nighswander. “If we get more rain, which doesn’t happen very often, it goes in the overflow.”
Snowfall measurement is even more rudimentary—a wooden base with a stick.
“It helps to measure snowfall but has minimal value,” Nighswander remarked. “Usually, I try to measure [snowfall] from a sheltered area.”
Everett said the work of the volunteers helps to give a clearer picture of weather for the area.
“All the data from all the observation networks goes into a database in Toronto to assist meteorologists and climatologists,” he explained. “It gives you a better idea of weather patterns associated with Ontario.”
It’s given Radbourne a better idea about weather trends, too.
“It’s been interesting,” she said. “I’ve seen dry years, I’ve seen wet years, and warm and cold winters.
“My mother-in-law used to say we don’t get old-fashioned winters but she wasn’t aware of the winter of 1996,” Radbourne added. “We had many, many recordings below minus-40 degrees C and one of minus-49 in January, and blizzard after blizzard.
“And then we get them like this winter—pretty mild. There’s a real mixture. You never know what you’re going to get.
“It might seem like a boring job but it’s just something you do first thing in the morning and in the afternoon,” Radbourne noted.
Nighswander’s most vivid recollection in his years of weather observing was in July, 2000. “We got over five inches of rain in three-quarters of an hour,” he recalled.
He also recalled the tornado that mostly passed over Barwick last July. “The wind really whistled. It was almost amazing we didn’t have more damage than we did,” Nighswander said.
Brian Wilhelm, supervisor of air monitoring operations division of Environment Canada in Northwestern Ontario, presented plaques to Nighswander, Radbourne, and the Romyns.
They also received a calendar about what else? The weather!