New stations to monitor B.C.'s extreme weather

New funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation will support the development of the Monitoring Extreme Climate and Hydrometeorological Events project. Led by Dr. Stephen Déry, the project includes two new weather stations in west-central British Columbia.

February 22, 2022

As British Columbia continues to recover from the catastrophic flooding from a series of atmospheric rivers last year, UNBC researchers are set to install new and improved weather stations that will help us better understand the storms and their impact.

The Monitoring Extreme Climate and Hydrometeorological Events (MECHE) project led by Environmental Science Professor Dr. Stephen Déry received $97,150 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund to equip two weather stations in west-central B.C.

“With this new equipment, we will be able to obtain detailed measurements on precipitation and meteorological conditions during atmospheric rivers and other storms,” Déry says. “We will be able to profile the atmosphere to characterize the ambient conditions that lead to precipitation formation and how it is distributed at the surface.” 

The funding will support the purchase of specialized equipment for two sites, the UNBC campus in Terrace and the Huckleberry Mine near the Tahtsa Narrows in the Upper Nechako Watershed. 

The Terrace site was selected because of its maritime climate. It lies in the frontline of the prevailing westerlies flowing off the Pacific Ocean where atmospheric rivers can yield copious precipitation in short periods. It is also one of the most susceptible locations in western Canada for freezing rain, icing and near 0°C conditions. Located further inland and at a higher elevation, the Huckleberry Mine site also receives large amounts of precipitation, but often in the form of snow in the autumn and winter months.

“These two sites provide counterpoints to track different extremes associated with the same storms,” Déry explains. “For instance, we will be able to distinguish if meteorological conditions and precipitation associated with atmospheric rivers have specific characteristics relative to other storms.” 

In addition to the grant for the MECHE project, UNBC also received funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation for a Terahertz Innovation Hub led by Physics Professor Dr. Matt Reid. The new hub will modernize the existing Terahertz Research Lab with new equipment specifically designed to help develop real-world applications of terahertz technology. 

The new MECHE equipment will enhance Déry’s work as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada/Rio Tinto Industrial Research Chair in Climate Change and Water Security. As part of that multi-year project, Déry is studying the impacts of climate change and human activity on the long-term water security of the Nechako Watershed.

“This equipment will invigorate our partnership with Rio Tinto, an industry partner for some of our research, as well as with various communities and stakeholders,” Déry says. 

Both sites will be set up with micro rain radars and optical disdrometers. The micro rain radar allows researchers to image the vertical profiles of precipitation up to six kilometres above the surface which allows them to study the cloud structures during storms. The optical disdrometers provide detailed information on the particle, raindrops or snowflakes, size distribution and its vertical velocity or fall speed. 

At Terrace, the new weather station will take detailed measurements of meteorological conditions including air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction (all at two heights above the surface), atmospheric pressure, and precipitation. As well, an icing detector will look at possible freezing rain events. A portable weather balloon and radiosonde launcher will allow researchers to obtain detailed vertical profiles of air temperature, relative humidity, atmospheric pressure and winds from the surface to the lower stratosphere. It may be used during storm events or other dedicated field campaigns to monitor atmospheric rivers.

The MECHE project builds on the successful Tahtsa Ranges Atmospheric River Experiment project that took place last fall. For that experiment, UNBC borrowed some equipment from other institutions. 

“With this new funding, UNBC will be able to undertake a similar field campaign without the need to borrow the equipment from other institutions,” Déry says. 

The project is pending approval from the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund. It has also received support from the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia’s Partnering Fund. Earth and Atmospheric Science Professor Dr. Thériault from the Université du Québec à Montréal is collaborating with Déry on this project. 

Déry is also collaborating with the Cheslatta Carrier Nation throughout the development of MECHE as Huckleberry Mines lies in their traditional and unceded territory.