Making Canadian Weather Predictions

Archie P. McKishnie November 1 1908

Making Canadian Weather Predictions

Archie P. McKishnie November 1 1908

Making Canadian Weather Predictions

AWAY back along about the year 1879, in the bush-country, where I was brought up, we had a man by the name of Elwood working for us, and he was the first weather prophet I ever knew. What Jim lacked in reputation generally he made up on the weather prediction end. He certainly had a fame as a weather prophet. I learned a lot from Jim —such as it was, and I remember sitting by and watching him many a timp as he voiced his predictions to the admiring neighbors, who “jest dropped in like to see what indications were for to-morrow.” Everybody believed Jim knew what kind of weather we were going to have, and I must confess there were times he struck it pretty close. Occasionally a “doubting Thomas” would appear and scoff at Jim, and at such times he usually treated the doubter with a mild tolerance and kept a strained silence. At other times, if we 28

chanced to coincide with an opinion, voiced by the sceptic, Jim would pour out an arsenal of “sign-talk” upon us that made us fairly scoot for cover.

Poor old Jim! He read the signs and formed his deductions from them. He knew a “dry moon” and a “wet moon.” A circle about the moon meant rain, “sure as shootin’.” If there was one star inside^the circle the rain was one day away. If there were three stars “we’d be havin’ rain afore the end of the third day.” Jim’s rheumatism always warned him of the cold easterly rains, he never failed that I know of in his prediction of this particularly unpleasant weather. Early in the fall, Jim used to look about for the signs that would tell him if we were going to have a cold or an open winter. Sometimes when we boys would return from the marsh, in the first of the ducking season, he would say: “Let’s have a look at them ducks a minute.”

Archie P. McKishnie

And he would dig down in the breast feathers of a blue-winged teal, and measure the depths of its coat. “I ain’t countin’ much on these teal,” he would say, “they don’t hang around here much when it gets cold, although they seem to be puttin’ on a pretty snug coat. Avn’t got a shoveler er a redhead there, have you?” If we chanced to have the specie asked for, Jim would sit down on a log and “read us a sign.” “Look here,” he would say, plucking a fistful of feathers from the fowl, “see that coat of down on his breast? Well, that’s his undershirt and it’s some heavy. That means a cold winter sure as you’re born.”

Later, when the traps were set along the creek, Jim would examine the coat of the muskrat, the mink and other animals we brought in. “Fur’s extra heavy,” he would say, “yep, we’re goin’ to have a mighty cold winter.”

When the first flurry of snow fell, Jim would keep a close watch on the trees. If the snow blew off easily it meant lots more snow during the winter. If it clung to the branches until it melted, the chances were “we’d have a poor season fer loggin’.”

I have thought that Jm’s being something of a naturalist, helped him in reading the signs. He knew every bird and animal in the bush and he knew their habits as well.

“Birds don’t quit singin’ all of a sudden and fluff up their feathers without a cause,” he would say. “It’s goin’ to rain right soon. See them crickets scottin’ fer cover, don’t they know?”

And, somehow, they did seem to know, too. If the rat-houses were unusually well built and of a greater thickness than ordinarily, it was a sign of a cold winter. If, on the other hand, they were lightly thrown up, and their walls thin, it meant an open winter. *

Later in the autumn, Jim used to examine the feet of the ruffed grouse the lads would bring in from the bush. “That pa’tridge has got his snowshoes on,” he would say, pointing to the feathers between the bird’s toes. “Lots of snow, that means, or this pa’tridge ain’t growin’ any snowshoes. Didn’t I say we needn’t expect any snow this winter?”

Those old bush lands are all cleared now and Jim, too, has passed away with the wild, natural beauty of the place. Those wooded ridges along which the grouse used

to strut and drum, bear mile upon mile of golden grain to-day. But Jim’s name is kept in remembrance still, and men, who were toddlers when he was a “weatherprophet,” speak of lean Jim, of his signs and his wonderful gift to foretell the weather.

And to think that as far back as the year 1871, or even before that, perhaps, men of science called Meteorologists, were by delicate instruments and the art of forming accurate deductions, working along a scientific basis to get ahead of the wea-

ther. Meteorologists, generally, are of the opinion that the weather some times fool her forest and marsh animals, the same as she fools mankind.

A few years ago, for instance, when the vast herds of buffalo roamed across our Northwestern prairie lands, an unusually mild autumn allured them to put off their southern migration. Sixty thousand of them in a single coule perished in the terrible blizzards that followed. And this is but a small percentage of the total that marks one of the greatest tragedies of the

prairie animal world. Then, too, the wild fowl of our own marshes are fooled by the weather sometimes, Not many years ago, if you will remember, the Sun set on a tranquil autumn day and the wild ducks were happy and contented in the shallow rice beds of our Lake Erie. That night Dame Weather changed her mood and gave no warning. That night millions of the marsh fowl perished in her icy grip. Thus we learn that weather cannot be accurately predicted by signs, and the question arises, will weather conditions ever be successfully predicted for coming years? Undoubtedly yes. The splendid work of Meteorologists

bids fair to ultimately succeed in giving the public a correct prediction. In fact, the art is now far past the experimental stage, about 85 per cent, of the predictions from our observatory proving themselves correct.

Suppose we consider for a moment what this means to us as a people. It means that masters of vessels, who heed the storm signals displayed along the shores of 'our waters, will save property, and—vastly more important—life. The author has taken the pains to review from newspaper extracts accounts of a number of the most disastrous

storms that have swept our lakes during the past four years. And in nearly every case he has found that the. weather predictions chronicled at the Toronto Observatory, and scattered broadcast over our Dominion through the press, the public bulletins and the coast signal stations, gave warning that a gale or storm was preeminent ; and gave it many hours in advance of the storm. In our Dominion at present, there are about 80 storm signal stations, distributed along and over the Great Lakes from Father Point in the St. Lawrence River eastward to Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island. There are also other storm signal stations on the Pacific coast at Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo. What the object of these storm signal stations is, is at once obvious, and to the'-Dominion Government and the excellent Meteorologic'aLservice, it supports, great praise is due l for their commendable action in erecting these stations at great cost and in the' face of many difficulties, that the loss of life to fishermen and sailors might be minimized. Those who venture to sea in face of the warnings given, are becoming fewer year by year. The storm signal service has proven itself a boon to the sailor, and for. it he is thankful.. The "saving of one large vessel à year will pay the whole. annual grant to the Meteorological service twice over.

Shippers of perishable goods value the long range forecasts usually covering, from two to three days, and particularly during the winter months, watch’ them closely*as severe frosts materially injure and oftén totally ruin the articles of shipment. Commission merchants importing - ’fruits and other articles susceptible to cold or climate, are also interested inquirers, as is also the oyster dealer who wishes to bring shÉÖ oysters from Baltimore to Canada and knows that the slightest frost will kill the$e bivalves. Brewers and wine merchants note the probabilities anxiously. Two degrees of frost will destroy beer. Railroads are warned of heavy snowfalls, days in advance of them, and have their snowplows in readiness for the work of keeping their tracks open. As spring advances the porkpackers watch the forecasts anxiously,, on the lookout for mild spells, and during the summer months farmers search their week-

ly for the “Probs” and map out the work according to their predictions.

The Observatory—or, more correctly speaking, the Meteorological office, in Toronto—is the central office for the whole of Canada, and is under the Dominion Department of Marine and Fisheries. For years this excellent institution has occupied premises in Queen’s Park, but now, midway between Spadina Avenue and Avenue Road, on the south side of Bloor Street, a grand and imposing structure is being erected, which is to be the Dominion Meteorological office of the future. Mr. R. F. Stupart is its efficient director. At present the bureau is located—temporarily—at the corner of Bloor Street and Spadina Avenue. To this office, records from every station in Canada from Cape Breton to the Yukon are forwarded, the directors of these stations being under the control of the director at Toronto.

In all there are some 360 stations where meteorological observations are taken, many of the operators performing the task gratuitously, from love of the work, the Government having supplied them the instruments necessary for so doing, while at some 38 stations scattered at about equal intervals across Canada, small salaries are paid the observers.

Twice each day, the results of the observations taken in these 38 stations, are telegraphed by means of certain code signals to the central office at Toronto, so that at about 25 minutes after the observations are taken, they are recorded. The records are obtained by the observer first of all reading his barometer, applying a correction for altitude, as the height above the sea level varies at the different stations. Next he obtains the correct temperature by means of an ordinary thermometer, which, combined with the reading of a wet bulb ther-

mometer gives him the relative humidity of the air. He then obtains the highest and lowest readings, during the last twelve hours, from a self-registering thermometer. An anemometer, commonly known as a wind gauge, which automatically records the direction and velocity of the wind on a revolving cylinder, gives him this information, while, at the same time, the observer notes the kind of clouds that are visible, if any, and the direction from which they are moving. His observations made, the result is wired to central office and entered on a map of North America. Where the barometric reading of two or more stations are the same, they are connected by means of charcoal lines. Thus the entire continent is marked out so as to show where the barometer is high and where it is low. Once the reports from the different stations are translated and entered on the skeleton map of our continent a panoramic view of the weather conditions existing throughout all North America, is given, reports from some 144 stations in the United States being received daily from our neighbor country in exchange for observations sent her from the several Meteorological stations in Canada.

From this chart, the forecasters issue a statement of readings and probabilities for the press. A storm raging in the West is noted by the recorder of the station nearest to it. He has learned its direction of travel and an intimation. of the storms arrival at other places, estimates its velocity. From this data its arrival at different points along the route may be safely predicted Thus, because electricity is quicker than the wind, observers are enabled to warn us of an approaching storm, hours in advance of it.

Wireless telegraphy will be a valuable

asset to the weather predictors, as stations may now be placed in such places where the laying of telegraph wires has been impossible. “Wireless” is used now at Belle Isle Station, which lies between Newfoundland and Point Amour.

Our Meteorologists have reduced weather to a science. They deal with first causes without concern for signs and appearances. We learn that weather is a condition as wide and as great as the continent, and for every disturbance in it there is a cause—reading back, perhaps, thousands of miles away. To get a grip on these distant causes, to track the weather on its way hither and to get scientifically ahead of it—is what the Meteorologist aims at.

Some of the facts we glean from conversation with these men who keep their finger on the pulse of the weather are more than interesting and instructive. Among other things we learn that the weather changes travel from the westward to the eastward, and that there are no such things as east rains. In short, many of the opinions of we average humans, regarding weather, are proven erroneous. After the pleasant Meteorologist talks to us for awhile and we begin to grasp his facts—proven facts, mind you—we also begin to realize that what we don’t know about the weather is collosal. Among the instruments used in the central office from which records are obtained, is the Canadian Standard Barometer. It is far different from the instrument with which most people are familiar., being a large metal affair, standing about three feet high. It is the same as the barometer which is the standard in Great Britain, and is called “Newman, No. 33.” It is the most accurate that has so far been invented, though it was constructed many years ago.

Kind words do not cost much. They never blister the tongue or lips. They accomplish much. They make other people good-natured.—Pascal.