Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Could it be... summer?

Heat and more heat expected with highs in 26-29 C range Meteorologists take it on the chin

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It looks like the jig is finally up on summer's nearly two-month-long disappearing act.

Environment Canada's forecast for the entire week calls for hot, hot and more hot. Finally. Today's temperature should hit 27 C under sunny skies and the rest of the week is expected to be a virtual carbon copy, with highs ranging from 26 C to 29 C through Saturday.

Weather-dependent businesses have been waiting for a hot streak like this since school ended six weeks ago. Brett Intrater, weekend leader at Earls Restaurant and Bar on Main Street, said the patio is a crucial part of its operations in the summer.

Even though traffic has been relatively steady for July and August -- some Winnipeggers are determined to sit on a patio no matter how wet or cold it is -- he said things haven't been as "crazy" as in previous summers. He said his staff is bracing for a run on lighter menu items, such as Santa Fe chicken salads, chicken tacos, Bud Light Limes, mojitos and South Beach Breezes (a drink made with watermelon liqueur and citrus vodka).

"Everybody wants to keep their beach bodies," he said, with a laugh. "They'll want to experience patio weather for maybe the only time this year."

They also like sitting around licking ice cream cones and eating sundaes, according to Dale Gledhill, co-owner Banana Boat, a popular ice cream shop just south of Confusion Corner.

"People like open containers when it's hot. When it's cooler, they buy milkshakes and other cupped items because they're not enjoying the weather, they're going somewhere," he said.

Despite Environment Canada's positive outlook, Gledhill isn't counting his money just yet.

"Any time we hear a nice forecast, we take it with a grain of salt. There have been plenty of times where the forecast is nice and it ends up being the same mediocre weather we've had all summer," he said.

MONTREAL -- Bone-dry temperatures in British Columbia that have led to hundreds of wildfires. Home-ravaging tornadoes in western Quebec. A violent wind storm in Alberta that left a woman dead at a country music jamboree.

In a country where temperatures can range from -40 C to 40 C and where precipitation comes in the form of snow, sleet, hail and rain, talking about the weather has undoubtedly become a favourite pastime.

So too has meteorologist-bashing.

David Phillips, Environment Canada's senior climatologist, recalls a confrontation with a woman in a grocery store about a year ago.

"(She) just blocked my food cart and just reamed me out about being so wrong about the forecast and how it spoiled her summer holidays," he said.

Despite much criticism, particularly for this summer's outlook, Phillips maintains he wasn't totally off. June was, in fact, colder and wetter than normal in the East.

Meteorologists argue weather forecasts are actually far more accurate today than ever before.

Environment Canada, which has long tracked the accuracy of its forecasts, says five-day forecasts now are as good as two-day forecasts were some 25 years ago.

Ian Rutherford, executive director of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, said Canada is a difficult place to be a meteorologist.

"We have oceans on three sides, we have mountains in the middle and plains," he said, adding the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, the Ottawa River valley and the fact Canada lies in the middle of the East Coast storm track make weather all the more difficult to predict.

And though radar, satellite and supercomputer technology that can process millions of equations simultaneously have dramatically improved weather forecasts since the 1960s, Rutherford said Canada still has a poor observation system that makes it tough to track weather from a distance and predict its path.

He said the weather observation network in Canada is actually sparser now than it was 40 years ago.


-- The Canadian Press


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2009 A3

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