RICHARD LAUTENS/torstar news service
“We’re a nation of 32 million weather weenies,” says David Phillips, Environment Canada’s senior climatologist, author and weather go-to guy. “It’s the one thing we all talk about. It’s the thread that unites us.”
Weather is not unique to Canada, of course, but Phillips believes this country has bred a culture of “chronic weather junkies.” He points to our climate’s changeability as a distinguishing feature, something you don’t see a lot of in latitudes closer to the equator.
Phillips, who often speaks to educators, says there’s a need to teach the principles of weather. “We don’t have a gentle climate. Weather can kill you.”
It’s out of this respect for the weather that led Humber College professor Mike Badyk created a course in weather forecasting, a component of the college’s part-time Outdoor Education certificate program.
Badyk recognized the need for the course after 12 boys and their leader drowned to death, caught in a storm during a canoe trip on Lake Timiskaming in 1978.
While the course is intended for outdoor education teachers and counsellors, Badyk says about half his students are recreation enthusiasts who want some basic weather forecasting skills.
“I get lots of canoeists, sea kayakers, sailors, mountain bikers, pilots and more. Part of the course is directed to those people, like myself, whose idea of a vacation is no electricity, no radios.
“If you’re not listening to the radio, how do you forecast the weather? That’s where I introduce the study of winds, wind direction and clouds.”
He’s a big proponent of watching the sky — a skill practised by generations of farmers and others who derive their livelihood from our fickle climate.
Badyk also discusses selecting the best route and campsite with respect to the weather. It can make the difference between an enjoyable trek and one spoiled by cold, damp conditions.
He has enormous respect for lightning and counsels his students to take shelter early.
“Don’t try to paddle across the lake, hike over that hill or complete your round of golf. Go inside if you can. Otherwise, get off the water, get to lower ground and don’t go near tall trees, especially isolated ones.”
For his part, Phillips applauds educators like Badyk who are teaching old-school forecasting. “There’s something to be said for wetting your finger and sniffing the air,” says Phillips. “Our ancestors didn’t have weather forecasts. For them, the clouds were billboards for the weather.”