Meteorology is the study of the earth’s atmosphere, especially as it relates to weather forecasting. The weather at a particular time and place is normally described in terms of air temperature, precipitation, wind speed and direction, air pressure, and humidity (climate describes these same characteristics, but averaged across a period of many years). Saskatchewan’s official instrumental weather records began in 1883 at the North-West Mounted Police barracks in Regina, where daily maximum and minimum temperatures and precipitation were recorded until 1932. The instrumentation was then relocated to the Regina airport, where it has remained. In Saskatoon, the Royal North-West Mounted Police began daily weather observation at Clark’s Crossing on the South Saskatchewan River in 1889. The station operated until 1942, when Environment Canada opened a climate station with a full observation program at Saskatoon airport.
The Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) has issued weather forecasts and warnings to Canadians since 1871. Until 1963, forecasts for eastern Saskatchewan were issued from Winnipeg and those for western Saskatchewan came from Edmonton. In 1963, Winnipeg’s Prairie Weather Center became the forecasting office for the entire prairie region. However, three years later, Environment Canada established a provincial weather office in Regina to provide weather forecasting services for Saskatchewan. In 1978, forecasting responsibilities for the prairies were again centralized in Winnipeg, where they remained until 1993. Saskatoon’s weather office then assumed forecasting duties for several years, but by 1997 Environment Canada had closed its Regina and Prince Albert weather offices and once again moved the forecasting section in Saskatoon back to Winnipeg. Today, the MSC administers its services through five regional offices. Edmonton is the regional forecasting and research headquarters for the Prairie and Northern Region, encompassing Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. Severe weather warnings for Saskatchewan are issued out of Winnipeg’s Prairie Storm Prediction Center.
The MSC currently operates more than forty active climate stations across Saskatchewan. Principal stations, like those at the Regina and Saskatoon airports, provide automated and detailed records of hourly weather information, including air temperature, precipitation amount, wind direction, wind speed, sunshine hours, and atmospheric pressure. In sparsely populated areas, secondary climate stations only record daily temperatures and/or precipitation amount. Saskatchewan Environment also operates a provincial network of automated weather stations. Forty-eight remote stations are positioned throughout the province (primarily in the north) to collect hourly measurements of temperature, wind, and rainfall. The data gathered from this network are used in forecasting and fighting forest fires.
In addition to its network of automated weather stations, the MSC oversees a nationwide team of volunteer weather watchers. In the prairie provinces there are 5,000 volunteers in Environment Canada’s weather watcher programs. These include CANWARN (Canadian Weather Amateur Radio Network), ALTAWatch (based in central Alberta), and the Severe Weather Watchers Program. Originally serving only southern Ontario, the CANWARN program has expanded westward to include some 400 volunteers in Saskatchewan. Volunteers are weather enthusiasts and ham radio operators trained in spotting and reporting signs of ominous weather (such as hailstorms, thunderstorms, and tornadoes). Because many weather events are too localized to be detected by radar or satellite imagery, these volunteers provide a crucial link in Environment Canada’s public warning and forecasting systems.
In compiling weather forecasts, the MSC supplements its data from the network of meteorological stations with an array of sophisticated computers models, weather radars, and satellite technology. The most advanced weather radar systems employ Doppler technology. Doppler radars allow meteorologists to quickly and accurately track severe storms and to monitor their formation, movement, and intensity. Environment Canada’s National Doppler Radar Network has two radars in Saskatchewan: one installed in 1998 at Bethune (50 km northwest of Regina) and the other at Radisson (60 km northwest of Saskatoon) in 1999. These radars have a diametrical range of 250 km, and together cover most of Saskatchewan.
For purposes of generating and delivering weather forecasts, the MSC has divided Saskatchewan into thirty-one forecast regions: nine in northern Saskatchewan and twenty-two in the south. This allows forecasters to account for regional variations in land cover, terrain, and population distribution. The names and boundaries of the forecast regions roughly correspond with those of Saskatchewan’s rural municipalities, geographic areas, and communities.
In more than 120 years of official meteorological observation, Saskatchewan has captured some remarkable weather records. The highest temperature ever recorded in Saskatchewan—indeed in all of Canada—was observed at Yellow Grass and Midale on July 5, 1937, when the temperature hit 45.0°C. The lowest temperature ever recorded in the province is -56.7°C, observed at Prince Albert on February 1, 1893. The windiest day was October 4, 1976, when maximum hourly wind speeds reached 142 km/hr in Melfort. And on July 3, 2000, 375 mm of rain fell on Vanguard in an eight-hour period, making it the most intensive storm ever recorded on the Canadian prairies.