When you spend 60 years doing something, you get pretty good at it, and Larry Romaniuk is very good at forecasting the weather at least 75 per cent to 80 per cent of the time.
Romaniuk prepares the long-range weather forecast for Country Guide, and he’s been doing it for 23 years since retiring from his 37-year career as a meteorologist with Environment Canada, a job he started soon after graduating in science from the University of Manitoba. He also wrote the forecast and weather trivia for “Harrowsmith’s Truly Canadian Almanac” for a number of years.
Romaniuk does a self-analysis of his own forecasts every month. “Let’s say I forecast frost in mid-September in certain areas and it does occur, I give myself five points. If it doesn’t occur, I take five points off my score, and it usually comes out to around 75 to 80 per cent,” says Romaniuk.
When Country Guide surveyed readers a few years ago about how accurate they rated Romaniuk’s forecast, they perceived it as accurate about 75 per cent of the time too.
More than a crystal ball
It’s a complex matter to create a forecast, especially three months in advance. So how does he do it? There are five basic factors, Romaniuk responds.
First, he relies on sophisticated computer models which allow him to draw up a broad weather map of Canada with an outlook for the general pattern, i.e. milder, colder, or near normal. Then he looks at the long-term weather records for each province to see what the local, historical averages and normals are for things like precipitation and temperature.
The next factors are upper air circulation patterns such as troughs and ridges, and persistence — for example, if there’s been a drought, how much influence will that have on the forecasted weather in a region.
But the biggest factor is Romaniuk’s vast experience and knowledge. “I need an idea about the geography, the climate, the peculiarities in each province and I keep that in the back of my mind,” says Romaniuk. “I’m also aware that I need to emphasize weather events which are most pertinent to agriculture, like first and last frosts, heavy snow or rain events, wind, or unsettled periods because farmers’ livelihoods depend on the weather.”
Fun moments in the weather room
Romaniuk has had plenty of amusing moments in his career, like the time a colleague was live on air forecasting sunshine when it was pouring rain outside the closed blinds of the office.
Romaniuk says the hardest part of being a meteorologist through all those years was constant shift work and having to go live on the radio near the end of a 12-hour shift.
A colleague once fell asleep waiting to go on air. The station broadcast his snoring.
Romaniuk has also forecast his share of wild weather, such as the tornado that hit the town of St. Claude in southern Manitoba 25 years ago, which he was later sent to investigate. “The antennas were turned northeast on the north side of the highway and on the south side they were broken off or twisted from the southwest, showing the rotation was right over the town,” he says.
What’s in store?
So what’s the outlook for Canadians this winter? “With El Niño coming, everybody’s all excited because it normally translates into a milder and drier winter for us, particularly in Western Canada,” says Romaniuk. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to walk around in short sleeves every day. We’re going to have snow and the occasional blizzard but overall generally milder and drier than normal.”
But, he adds with a twinkle, “You can check on me in about eight months and see how I did.”