UBCO parking lot to ground weather station

Long-standing Kelowna Upper Air Station set to close so university can build parking lot

It may be a hub of research, but UBC Okanagan is putting an end to a longstanding source of data collection that could affect everything from weather reports to better understanding of the ozone layer, says a contractor for Environment Canada.

Afeworki Mekonnen has operated the Kelowna Upper Air Station, located at the UBCO campus, for Environment Canada for the last 12 years.

The facility has been at its present location for 20 years and is part of a Canada-wide network of 31 selected sites countrywide.

Twice a day he releases balloons attached to a radiosonde, a sophisticated weather instrument that gathers data pressure, temperature, relative humidity and wind information.

That data is collected during a climb as high as 110,000 feet in the air, and sent down to ground equipment operated by Mekonnen.

“The ground equipment then processes and codes it and sends it out to the Canadian Meteorological Center for use in weather forecast models and other important areas, including aviation for flight planning and so on,” he said.

“And on Wednesday’s we send up another balloon where we collect ozone data from the atmosphere and it’s used for research purposes.”

It’s been 12 years of work that Mekonnen believes has been of the utmost importance to Canadians, but it’s set to close in the next few weeks when construction on a parking lot commences.

“Environment Canada told me just last Friday, that they weren’t able to persuade UBCO to at least postpone the parking lot project to give them a chance to explore other options, such as relocating the facility,” Mekonnen said.

According to a statement from UBC Okanagan ’s communications staff Nathan Skolski, a long-term agreement was put in place between UBC and Environment Canada in July 2015 with respect to the use of the Mountain Weather Office.

“UBC Okanagan has been working co-operatively with Environment Canada over the last two years to find ways to effectively share the facility,” he said.

“With respect to the redesign of the parking lot near the Mountain Weather Office, UBC Okanagan has been engaging regularly with Environment Canada over the past 12 months. During these consultations, UBC Okanagan incorporated input provided by Environment Canada into the design process to accommodate the needs of their weather balloon program.”

Environment Canada did not respond to a query regarding this consultation process.

Mekonnen has been in touch with them and was told that data collection will simply cease going forward because the parking lot’s proximity has made it impossible to conduct balloon launches, due to lack of clear and safe launching space.

It’s something he finds quite galling.

“I personally find it quite astonishing that UBCO would choose to sacrifice the vital service provided by the facility—a service that has significance at the national level—for a parking lot project that could easily be postponed,” he said.