Weather forecasts both valuable and useless

Environment Canada’s short-range weather forecasting seems to have become considerably more accurate in the past two years.


When a forecast says there will be 10 to 20 millimetres of rain on Tuesday, there’s no use planning to be in the field that day. Fewer people are working at Environment Canada after government cuts, so perhaps the technology is getting better or perhaps the weather patterns of the past two years have been easier to judge.


Maybe Environment Canada has been pushed to be better by private weather forecasters, most notably Drew Lerner of World Weather Inc. I like reading through World Weather Inc. for the big picture and then looking at Environment Canada for a local interpretation.


World Weather Inc. is better for emerging weather patterns that are five or 10 days away. Environment Canada is good for fine-tuning local forecasts for the next day or two.


As consumers of weather information, farmers have become more sophisticated. Rather than relying on the broad generalizations of a weather report on the radio, farmers constantly log onto the Environment Canada website to get the most recent forecast details for their particular area and to view the weather radar.


Another source of information is The Weather Network, but in my opinion it isn’t as useful. There’s also WeatherFarm, the service by the CWB, and WeatherBug, which is great for knowing what’s happening at various locations in real time.


Seasonal forecasts are still a crapshoot. For this summer, Lerner is calling for regular rain while Environment Canada says the Prairies will be drier and warmer than normal. I’d put my money on Lerner. His seasonal forecasts have been relatively close the past couple years.


While the best meteorologists struggle to forecast next month’s weather, there are scientists who are dead certain that world temperatures are going to rise X number of degrees in the next decade.


Of all the forecasts, the ones from climate change crusaders have been the least useful for farmers.


The greenhouse gas effect started getting a lot of attention in the late 1980s. After the terrible drought that hit many parts of the Prairies in 1988, it was easy to believe that agriculture was doomed. After all, it was only going to get drier and hotter.


Twenty-five years later, climate change has been studied extensively, but we seem no closer to answers on what it means for the people who grow food.


We’ve had several wet years reminiscent of the 1950s. A record amount of farmland couldn’t be seeded last year. The climate change enthusiasts blame any weather deviation on the carbon emissions of mankind, but they didn’t see the wet years coming and they can’t predict what will happen in the years ahead.


As farmers, we’re told that we must adapt to climate change with the crops we grow and the technology we employ. But the scientists can’t agree on whether we should prepare for drier or wetter, warmer or cooler.


Still, scientists continue to apply for funding to study climate change under the premise that they’ll be able to guide agricultural adaptation. What a load of baloney.


As farmers, we’re professional weather watchers. Short-term forecasts, although not perfect, have increasing value. Seasonal forecasts are interesting and if confidence in them grows, they could become an important planning tool. Long-range climate forecasts have shown little if any value and this is unlikely to change any time soon.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]