Let’s take a look back at TV weather forecasting and where it might be headed

Let’s take a look back at TV weather forecasting and where it might be headed

The Prairies Climate Change Project is a joint initiative between CBC Edmonton and CBC Saskatchewan that focuses on weather and our changing climate. Meteorologist Christy Climenhaga brings her expert voice to the conversation to help explain weather phenomena and climate change and how they impact everyday life.

Weather forecasting on television has gone through many iterations. 

What started out as a meteorologist drawing front lines with chalk or marker on a map progressed to magnets, radar images and now to the modern computer graphics we see today. 

The changes for those forecasting the weather were rapid, especially in the ’80s and ’90s as technology improved. 

One person who saw the change first hand is Claire Martin. She began forecasting weather on television in 1996 in Edmonton and spent the next 18 years as on-air forecaster before retiring from CBC in 2014.

We caught up with Martin to chat about the evolution of weather forecasting from her experience.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Claire Martin is a meteorologist and former CBC weather presenter. (Claire Martin)

What was it like in those early days of forecasting on TV?

I’ve got to take you all the way back to the UK Met Office. We used to get forecast model data on huge sheets of paper that were wet because they’ve been printed like a printing press, an old newspaper printing press, highly flammable, probably not very good for your health, and we would draw maps on that. 

When I got into television, I mean this was pre-graphical packaging systems, the gentleman that worked before me still had a marker, a pen and a big huge map. I was slightly more advanced, technologically speaking, and we had automatic weather stations put around Edmonton, which was just massive. 

I could tell that the temperature in Sherwood Park was different from St. Albert, which was huge. And then by the time I moved to Toronto, we had these systems where we could generate graphics on a georeferenced globe, anywhere in the world, any kind of element, and we could interact with them live on TV. So I went from literally highly flammable pen and paper through to these incredible systems.

Talk us through some of those major changes? 

It’s akin to having a black and white TV with four channels, which I grew up with my friend, to satellite TV. I think what was really cool as a forecaster was the visualization, like we could actually see a storm in 3D. We could see the downdrafts, we could see where the hail forms. That was always really difficult prior because it was maps, papers.

The ability to visualize the world, the atmosphere, was just immense. It’s that ability to visualize the atmosphere that has changed the career entirely.

What do you see as the future for meteorologists going forward?

Well, two things are really going to change your world. Number one is climate change. We look at single events and you can say, yeah, that’s 10 per cent juicier or 30 per cent windier because of climate change. So climate change is going to be the biggest part of the job moving forward.

And then the technology. I’ve been on those green screens that have a grid in the back, so there’s one colour of green and a second colour of green. So you get 3D. You can actually interact with the graphics. 

Being able to take a cumulus cloud and turn it around to show the backside, the downdraft. Yeah, I’d like to be around for that. If I get a second chance at a second life, I’d love to do that.

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled “Our Changing Planet” to show and explain the effects of climate change. Keep up with the latest news on our Climate and Environment page.