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New weather stations in works

Will boost ability to forecast floods

Flooding in Brandon this summer. New weather stations will not only help flood forecasting but also offer vital data to farmers.

TIM SMITH / BRANDON SUN FILES Enlarge Image

Flooding in Brandon this summer. New weather stations will not only help flood forecasting but also offer vital data to farmers.

Following a second major Assiniboine River flood in just over three years, the province has announced it will purchase dozens of new automated weather stations to boost its flood-predicting capabilities.

The new weather stations were recommended more than a year ago by a panel reviewing the government's response to the 2011 flood. They're expected to cost more than $1 million in total, and a government official said Monday they're just being tendered now.

That's got the Opposition Progressive Conservatives wondering what's taken the Selinger government so long.

"This is not a complicated purchase," said Shannon Martin, the party's conservation and water stewardship critic.

"These are the kinds of things that most 14-year-olds can do on the Internet."

Martin said the government is only acting after a second serious flood event -- one that again raised questions about its "lack of flood-forecasting skills."

If the weather stations had already been in place, affected communities may have had more accurate information sooner this year, he said.

Doug McMahon, assistant deputy minister of water management and structures at Infrastructure and Transportation Manitoba, said the delay between the recommendations and implementing them came because of the timeline of the 2011 Flood Review Task Force. The recommendations from that review came in 2013, he said, which means the announcement took about one year.

"It took us a while to research what network we needed and to specify the product. It hasn't taken three years," he said.

Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said the new weather stations will improve the province's ability to forecast floods and droughts, fight forest fires and ensure Manitoba farmers get the detailed weather information they need.

The stations, which the government says will begin to be installed this fall, are to include all-season precipitation gauges to collect snow and rainfall amounts to improve forecasting of spring floods as well as rainfall-driven events. The equipment will transmit hourly data on air temperature, humidity, rainfall and soil temperature.

Twenty of the stations will be placed in areas at risk for forest fires to support fire-prevention programs. The other 40 stations will be located in agricultural areas to enhance Manitoba's agro-meteorology program, which provides weather information to farmers at no charge.

In addition to Environment Canada weather stations, Manitoba currently operates 50 permanent weather stations and 20 seasonal weather stations. All the new weather stations will meet international measurement standards to ensure accuracy, the province said.

Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said the announcement is a welcome one, both for him personally as an agricultural producer and for other producers in the association.

"We've heard from our members occasionally that they'd like to see better weather-station data, and I think this is a great investment," Chorney said.

"Anything that we do to enhance that system will benefit agriculture."

Chorney has a provincial weather station on his farm and uses it every day. He looks at things such as the soil temperature, precipitation and many of the other metrics the station tracks. When a major weather event hits, he said he relies on the numbers the stations across the province provide.

"I can go on the website and check all across Manitoba to see where the heaviest rains are," he said.

Data are crucial for modern farming, not just for forecasting and figuring out what conditions are like at the present moment, but also for tracking what they were in the past, Chorney said.

"Sometimes you might have a complaint from a spray-drift application on a weed-control operation, and you can look back at the data and see what the wind direction was and verify you had the proper conditions for spraying," he said.

McMahon said one of the major uses of the station will be flood forecasting, which relies heavily on data.

These stations will increase the network density, meaning more fine-tuned data, he said.

Right now there are about 325 stations of all kind scattered throughout the province and that number will go up to about 365.

"They're placed at strategic locations around the problem... for instance at a river basin. You want to make sure you've got a density of network out there so you can predict what flows are going to be going down the river," McMahon said.

Monday's announcement comes just a day before Conservative Opposition Leader Brian Pallister is to unveil details of his own plan for flood mitigation.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca oliver.sachau@freepress.mb.ca

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