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COVID-19 presents unique challenges for meteorologists

Thursday, June 18th 2020, 6:55 pm - From our Viral Weather program: Chris St. Clair speaks to a panel of experts about how meteorologists are communicating weather warnings while maintaining social distancing.

Between thunderstorms, tornadoes, damaging hail, and the potential for flash floods, summer can be a busy season for weather forecasters.

It is imperative Canadians have access to timely weather updates, especially during a severe weather event. Delivering messages to the public is a collaborative effort that requires constant communication between meteorologists and, here at The Weather Network, broadcast and digital professionals.

But this summer presents unique challenges due to COVID-19 social distancing regulations.

Gerald Cheng, a warning preparedness meteorologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), says his organization has implemented a series of measures to make sure weather warnings are relayed to the public in a timely and efficient manner, despite the pandemic.

"In the office, especially where the meteorologists sit, we [now] have limited the number of people who can go into that area," he says.

Go here for our complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic

"There are sign-in sheets so we can track who's going in and coming out. Ensuring the health and safety of our severe weather meteorologists is key."

Gerald says face-to-face communication is an important aspect of his job, and that's been limited due to COVID-19 restrictions.

To compensate, the agency is using video-conferencing software and screen-sharing apps so meteorologists can discuss storms and how they will develop throughout the day.


"It's an interesting time right now," Gerald says, "because we're already dealing with one emergency, COVID-19. And what will we do if we have another emergency, like a power outage?"

Gerald says that very thing happened earlier this month in Montreal.

During that time, the Montreal office assigned its responsibilities to the Toronto office. Extra people were called in to communicate between the offices while maintaining social distancing.

It was a good exercise Gerald says, to see if the agency could maintain business continuity and deliver essential services to Canadians during a pandemic.


As of March 13, most Weather Network employees have been working from home -- a trend that is likely to continue through the season.

"We're trying to set up a virtual newsroom," explains Dayna Vettese, multi-platform video and editorial manager at The Weather Network.

"We have a limited number of people who are allowed in the office and they each have their own areas. We also have sign-in sheets and only allow certain people into certain areas. This is to ensure we can get that important, life-saving information to the public -- whether it's a tornado warning or a concern about flash floods -- even if it's a forecast for the next day."

The virtual newsrooms provide an open channel for Weather Network team members to communicate with one another.

"We've also set up people so that they can broadcast from home and from in the studio, just to ensure we're all communicating."


Thumbnail image courtesy: Kyle Brittain.

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