In our post-modern, computer-driven world one would be forgiven for assuming all scientific measurements are taken using the latest technology available.
But if you want to know how what the weather “was” in Chilliwack — emphasis on the past tense — there is a man in his Garrison Crossing backyard using a plastic rain gauge, a square snow board, a ruler and a seemingly anachronistic weather station complete with mercury and horse hairs.
Every single day since 1988 Roger Pannett has recorded humidity, maximum and minimum temperatures and precipitation as Environment Canada’s volunteer weather observer for the city.
And while it might seem this week he has been very busy, he takes these measurements every single day.
This week it’s just been a whole lot more interesting.
Since the storm that hit Chilliwack on the weekend began, and before the freezing rain hit starting to wash it away, Pannett measured 90 centimetres (cm) of snow. So how does he measure it? Quite simply on a square board in his back yard. Given the massive snowfall so far, by Tuesday he had cleared the area around the board leaving it about two feet down from the surface of his yard.
But is it accurate? He admits it’s not an easy science, but says his board is possibly in a better spot than other ones in other communities in quite wide open areas. Drifting can be a problem, but Pannett says he gets very little based on his observations.
“It’s in a good spot here protected from the wind,” he said. “We are not in a wind tunnel here as they are in Sardis and a bit further south in Garrison Crossing.”
While Pannett’s snow board is completely inconspicuous on his lawn, and his rain gauge is hard to spot, especially with this snow, what is visible and often mistaken for a beehive by passersby at the park behind his house, is his Stevenson screen.
This is a unit about the size of a microwave oven that holds a maximum and minimum thermometer and a thermo-humidity recorder.
About half a dozen horse hairs are delicately stretched out attached to recording instruments. The hairs expand and contract with the weather and measure temperature and humidity over the course of each and every day.
Behind this contraption are two old-school thermometers that measure maximum and minimum temperatures each day.
“The mercury and alcohol is still the most accurate,” Pannett says.
He is the only person recording Chilliwack’s weather in an official capacity. Environment Canada relies on Pannett and volunteers like him for data where there are no official stations.
He records all these numbers, and has every single day for nearly 30 years, and reports them to Environment Canada.
As for forecasting or live current conditions on Environment Canada’s website, anything you see about Chilliwack comes from a weather station in Agassiz where the weather can often be quite different.
In 2012, Pannett was honoured by then-Chilliwack MLA John Les with a Diamond Jubilee Medal for both for his weather observation but also his duties as the provincial dairy technologist, a job he still holds.
Pannett has a passion for recording the weather and its associated data in great detail. He used to do it in England before he moved to Canada. Even as a teenager he said he had a wet bulb and a dry bulb to measure moisture, and then he would look at a chart to find out the humidity levels.
The technology to measure weather has moved little beyond the 19th century, but it’s a subject important to our daily lives and one that Canadians just can’t stop talking about.
“I enjoy doing it,” he says.