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Winnipeg meteorologist making a difference one weather forecast at a time

by Lucille Nolasco-Garrido

Meteorologist Dan Miguel “Miggy” Blanco with his parents, Dante and Mely, and older brother Dan Angelo

Pants or shorts? Sleeves or no sleeves? Should you wash your car today? Is it a good time to travel?

A lot of our everyday decisions depend on what kind of day it will be. Whether hot or cold, balmy, or windy, weather conditions set the tone for the quality of our day.

Meet Winnipegger Dan Miguel (Miggy) Blanco, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, who is helping people make decisions and set the tone for a quality day, one weather forecast at a time.

PE: What made you decide to pursue a career in meteorology?

MB: I have always been fascinated with the weather while growing up, especially with how ephemeral weather can be. I remember days in the summer having clear mornings, thinking that it would be a perfect day to go to the park. However, in the late afternoon, a strong thunderstorm would pass by with quarter-sized hail!

When I reached high school, I found myself taking an interest in math and physics. Then, while researching different career paths, I found that meteorology is all math and physics as well! So, it basically fit all my interests and was a perfect niche for me.

PE: Was this your dream growing up?

MB: Although I was always interested in meteorology and the weather, I would say it was not particularly a dream of mine growing up, as I was still unsure of what career I wanted when I was still in elementary and junior high. I always liked science growing up, though, which developed my interests in physics and math. Once I found meteorology as a viable career path that fit those interests, then it definitely became a dream of mine to become a weather forecaster. So, it was more of a late dream I had after finding this niche that fit what I enjoyed.

PE: How important is the role of a meteorologist?

MB: I would say it is very important since weather is something that affects everyone’s daily lives. On the public forecasting side, their forecasts will affect anyone from the general public to emergency management officials to search and rescue. They are issuing forecasts and weather warnings 24/7/365 to ensure you are prepared for any adverse weather.

On the aviation forecasting side (where I currently work), our forecasts ensure the safety and efficiency of aircraft flying into, out of, and within Canadian airspace. This includes general aviation pilots as well as every Canadian commercial airline. We write forecasts specifically for the airport terminals called TAFs (terminal aerodrome forecasts) and we highlight any significant weather around Canada such as areas of thunderstorms, turbulence, or icing. Pilots and flight dispatchers then use our forecasts and planning charts to prepare and file their flight plans safely.

PE: What challenges have you faced, or are still facing, with regards to being a meteorologist?

MB: The main challenge I have is the inherent chaotic nature of weather. With a small change in some sort of weather variable (temperature, humidity, cloud cover, type of cloud), the weather may change from staying clear all day to a severe thunderstorm outbreak. Fog is another example of this where it may seem very likely the next morning, but a slight change in wind direction could prevent any fog from forming. Fog also has a large effect on aviation operations, which adds to the challenge; it has the potential to cause flight delays and cancellations depending on its thickness and duration. However, these challenges just add to my fascination with weather and motivate me to learn more about these topics and to analyze more data to make a forecast as correct as possible.

PE: What did you take in university and what kind of training was required to get to where you are now?

MB: I graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Physical Geography with a focus area in atmospheric science from the University of Manitoba. Meteorology also requires a strong background in physics and math. So, I filled my electives with higher level math and physics courses and graduated with a minor in math as well. I also took a few computer science courses to keep my options open for meteorological modelling and research.

After graduating, I applied and was hired for the Meteorologist Operational Internship Program (MOIP) to become a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. The hiring process requires you to pass an exam and interview. If you are hired, you will have to move to one of their training centres in either Edmonton or Montreal. You will undergo about a year of forecasting training before being sent to one of the weather offices across Canada to join their team of operational meteorologists. For myself, I moved to Edmonton, finished the training, and was placed in the Canadian Meteorological Aviation Centre - West (CMAC-W), which is the aviation forecasting office in Edmonton.

PE: Any advice to our young readers who might also want to pursue this kind of profession?

MB: Take as many math, physics, and computer science courses as you can in high school and university. At its core, meteorology is all math and physics. Being able to fully understand and manipulate the fundamental equations of meteorology will help tremendously with weather forecasting.

In terms of opportunities, many universities across Canada offer co-op programs and jobs for their respective weather offices, allowing you to gain forecasting experience while only being a student. Here in Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba has a co-op program for the Winnipeg weather office as a “Severe Weather Assistant,” helping the operational forecasters with gathering severe weather reports.

Lastly, as someone who made it as a weather forecaster, the excitement about the weather never stops. I can truly say that I love my job and I am sure that if you are already passionate about the weather, you will love this job too.

PE: Anything else you would like to impart to our readers?

MB: I would first like to thank them for reading through this article. Also, I would tell everyone to at least consider meteorology and weather forecasting as a career, even if you are not that interested in math, physics, or the weather. It is a very rewarding career knowing that you are making a difference in the world and are directly affecting many people’s lives.

Environment and Climate Change Canada, is the department of the Government of Canada responsible for coordinating environmental policies and programs, as well as preserving and enhancing the natural environment and renewable resources. It is also colloquially known by its former name, Environment Canada.