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The Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games Experience

5. The Mesonet

This section focuses on the foundational piece of the Project on which the rest of the IT infrastructure and meteorological services were built: the atmospheric monitoring network known as the Mesonet. This high spatial and temporal resolution network was comprised of new automated land- and marine-based weather stations, and additional experimental monitoring platforms. ECCC designed the Mesonet to monitor weather at the venues, while providing close tracking of southern Ontario lake breezes, which can be associated with severe weather initiation and high air pollutant concentrations. Knowledge about lake-breeze location would also increase our understanding of heat and air quality patterns, particularly in the urban environment.

The section begins by defining the operational monitoring network and then proceeds to describe, in detail, the technologies that were put into place to develop a world-class, urban-scale network that performed beyond expectations during the Games. There was an entirely separate network of science-related monitoring that was created for research purposes. The science components are discussed in detail in Section 11.

5.1 Mesonet – Definition

ECCC’s forecast, alerting and monitoring efforts in support of the Games were heavily dependent on a new and enhanced atmospheric monitoring Mesonet installed across southern Ontario. The instrumentation in the Mesonet is described in greater detail in later subsections of Section 5, while the general concept of a Mesonet is described below.

“Mesonet” combines the words “mesoscale” and “network,” where “mesoscale” refers to a scale of between a few kilometres to several hundred kilometres. Within ECCC, and the field of meteorology in general, a Mesonet is a network of weather stations designed to observe mesoscale meteorological phenomena. Mesoscale weather events or phenomena range in horizontal scale from generally 1 km to 250 km, with time spans from several minutes to several hours.

An atmospheric Mesonet can provide high-resolution detection and tracking of mesoscale features such as lake breezes, convective rainfall events (i.e., showers, thunderstorms), urban heat islands (see Section 8.5.1) and other fine-scale weather phenomena. The small areal size and short time scales of most of these phenomena drive the Mesonet design, requiring closer spacing of the weather stations and higher frequency reporting than what presently exists in observing networks.

As with the phenomena it is designed to detect, our ECCC Games Mesonet was short-lived, with almost all stations decommissioned in fall 2015.

5.2 Design of the Mesonet

The Treasury Board document directed ECCC to provide enhanced weather monitoring and venue-specific weather warnings, watches and advisories to ensure the safety and protection of athletes, staff, volunteers and spectators during the 2015 Games (see Section 2.2). ECCC worked closely with the TO2015 Host Committee and sport organizations to identify sport-specific and venue-specific needs and reconcile against gaps in existing forecasting and atmospheric monitoring locations. The initial design of the Mesonet was centred on limiting station installations to sporting venues.

ECCC scientists expanded the Mesonet design to better track the lake breezes across the Games footprint. The proposed Mesonet met all operational requirements while also providing a unique research opportunity for scientists. The data from the Mesonet would be used to inform the weather forecasting and alerting program for the Games and a “next generation” weather forecasting demonstration at two Research Support Desks (RSDs) within the Ontario Storm Prediction Centre (OSPC) in Toronto (see sections 8.1 and 8.2). It also provided some verification data for new, high-resolution numerical weather prediction models.

The existing weather monitoring networks across southern Ontario have a heavy reliance on NAV CANADA and the Department of National Defence (DND) for the provision of observations, with ECCC automated stations comprising the remainder. To push the limits of the data acquisition without impacting forecast or monitoring operations, ECCC would need to build, install and operate a Mesonet that could be controlled and isolated for test and evaluation. The Mesonet that was subsequently built provided both high-density station spacing and high-frequency minute-by-minute reporting. It reported standard meteorological variables, as well as new elements such as black globe temperature (used in evaluation of heat stress on the human body).

To track the lake breeze, existing land and marine monitoring capacity was identified (Figure 5) and expanded to define the Mesonet. This took into consideration our commitment to add an atmospheric monitoring station to any Games venue that did not fall within three kilometres of an existing station. The new monitoring “lines” became the numbered transects that would comprise the Games Mesonet. A total of six transect lines were defined, as shown on the Mesonet map in Figure 6.

ECCC then looked internally for capacity to build the Mesonet. Ten Automated Transportable Meteorological Observing System (ATMOS) stations were refurbished, and new processing software was provided. Forty compact stations were built from commercially available parts using an in-house design. Installation on private land required that each station have a land lease or a land use permit. To minimize real estate negotiations, the compact stations were designed to be stand-alone, i.e., not requiring connection to utilities or any disruption of the host site. To minimize costs and maximize the Mesonet, a significant number of dataloggers and instruments were drawn from national inventory. ECCC committed to a proposal to use the Games Mesonet to test and evaluate a new end-to-end monitoring data acquisition system that could modernize the existing system post-Games. As part of the Games legacy, ECCC installed three standard automated MSC Auto8 weather stations (Uxbridge West, Mono Centre and Brantford) across southern Ontario. The intent was to provide the best locations to suit the Games monitoring requirements while meeting long-term national monitoring goals for weather observations across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). These stations permitted ECCC to test and evaluate new datalogger software, new reporting formats and increased reporting frequency without impinging on operational stations. All aspects of the modernization of data collection and processing were completed with the full support of IT experts under the auspices of the ECCC Data Management System. All work completed was fully tested and certified for use on the operational networks, making it available for use by existing MSC networks post-Games, should they so desire. 

The new automated surface weather stations were configured to report every minute, a sharp departure from the standard hourly reporting. The minute-by-minute reporting was successfully implemented at all 53 new automated weather stations in the Mesonet. The map of the Mesonet below shows the location of the stations.

The planning, building and deployment of these stations took three years. Most of the work was easily understood and attributable. However, the information management aspect of the Project contributed greatly, in fact was mission critical, extensive in nature, and complex.

Figure 5. Location of stations in the existing atmospheric monitoring network prior to the TO2015 Games

Map of stations in the atmospheric monitoring network (see long description below)


Map of the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area of southern Ontario showing the location of stations reporting hourly weather observations in the existing atmospheric monitoring network prior to the TO2015 Games. Station locations in Downtown Toronto and harbor area are shown in the map inset (upper left).

Locations of the following station types are shown on the map:

  • CLDN (Canadian Lightning Detection Network)
  • Radar
  • Air Quality

Figure 6. Location of stations in the Mesonet

Map of stations in the Mesonet (see long description below)


Map of the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area of southern Ontario showing the location of all weather stations reporting hourly and minutely weather observations in the Mesonet the new enhanced atmospheric monitoring network for the Games.
Station locations in the Downtown Toronto and harbor area are shown in the map inset (upper left).

Locations of the following station types are shown on the map:

  • TO2015 Venues
  • LMA (Lightning Mapping Array)
  • CLDN (Canadian Lightning Detection Network)
  • Radar
  • Compact Venue
  • Compact Transect
  • Auto8
  • Air Quality
  • UV Sensors
  • Toronto Buoys
  • Existing Buoys
  • The six Mesonet Lines (transects) are also shown on the map.

5.3 New Automated Surface Weather Stations

As described in Section 5.2, ECCC added 40 compact stations, 10 ATMOS stations and 3 standard automated MSC Auto8 stations to the existing networks to form a high-resolution monitoring system across southern Ontario known as the Mesonet. Photos of 4 of these new stations are shown in Figure 7. These stations provided both high-density spacing and high-frequency minute-by-minute observations. Standard meteorological variables were reported--atmospheric pressure, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, temperature and precipitation amounts--as well as a new element recorded by a black globe thermometer, used in the evaluation of heat stress on the human body.

The stations used solar cells for power and a cellular modem for communication. The standalone design allowed for an easy installation at temporary locations and for a simple decommissioning process after the Games. For the first time, ECCC collected weather conditions minute by minute in contrast to the hourly reports provided from standard network stations.

 As with so many technologies, weather instrumentation has decreased in size and cost rather quickly, while maintaining much of its robustness and measurement accuracy. While these stations could not replace a standard ECCC automatic station at this time, they could provide affordable and dependable measurements from locations previously beyond consideration. These stations have low power consumption, allowing the use of solar panels and batteries. They are compact and lightweight, allowing for easy installation. With the 2015 Games, the timing was right for ECCC to use these compact stations to measure weather conditions at the venue sites while evaluating their utility as a measurement platform for the provision of high-resolution data for dense urban areas. The stations in the Mesonet made it possible to measure conditions on a finer scale in order to validate the high-resolution urban modelling work being done at ECCC’s Canadian Meteorological Centre (CMC) in Montréal, Quebec.

Figure 7.

Photos of the ATMOS, Vaisala WXT520, Lufft WS600, WS601 weather stations
Photos of four weather stations, clockwise from top left: technician installing an ATMOS 10-m station in a snowy field (photo © Larry Dusolt), Vaisala
WXT520 compact weather station in a grassy field (photo © Barry Funk), LufftWS601 compact weather station in a grassy area (photo © Barry Funk), Lufft WS600 compact weather station on a building rooftop (photo © Barry Funk).

5.4 WatchKeeper™ Buoy

An AXYS WatchKeeper™ buoy was one of two buoys deployed south of the Toronto Islands to provide meteorological and wave observations in support of the Lake Ontario open water events at the 2015 Games (see Figure 8).

The AXYS WatchKeeper™ buoy is a self-contained, solar-powered data acquisition system outfitted with a suite of meteorological and oceanographic instrumentation to measure wind speed and direction, air temperature, atmospheric pressure, water temperature, and wave height, period and direction. This WatchKeeper™ buoy is the first in Canada outfitted with a cellular modem to enable the transmission of weather reports every 10 minutes (standard is once per hour), directly to CMC in Montréal.

 The Games hosted a number of open-water events in the inner harbour and south of the Toronto Islands, an area where the competition or logistics could be affected by thunderstorms, severe weather or heat stress. This buoy was part of the Mesonet system of additional monitoring technologies, with higher than standard temporal reporting, put in place to inform the ECCC forecast process. The more frequent reporting of marine weather conditions was a test and evaluation designed to determine whether it could provide an improvement in marine forecast accuracy or response times for alerts during active marine weather conditions.

Figure 8.

Photo of the WatchKeeper™ Buoy
Photo of the WatchKeeper™ Buoy on land, before being deployed in Lake Ontario, south of the Toronto Islands.
Photo: © Shawn Richard

5.5 TRIAXYS™ Directional Wave Buoy

The TRIAXYS™ Directional Wave Buoy incorporates new technologies that increase the accuracy of measurement of wave height, wave period and wave direction. The TRIAXYS™ buoy was an outcome of a collaborative program between AXYS International Inc. of Sidney, British Columbia, and the Canadian Hydraulics Centre of the National Research Council in Ottawa, Ontario.

Unlike standard MSC lake buoys, the TRIAXYS™ Directional Wave Buoy reports specialized wave information but not weather observations. At less than 200 kg, this buoy can respond quickly to waves, including the smaller waves that do not register on our heavier buoys such as the WatchKeeper™. Its small size and light weight permit the use of small craft for deployment, a significant cost saving. This buoy transmitted data to CMC every 30 minutes by cellphone. These data were used to validate output from the new high-resolution wave models developed by CMC while also giving weather forecasters more-frequent, higher-resolution wind, wave and weather information. Post-Games, the TRIAXYS™ Directional Wave Buoy will be deployed into the ECCC operational network for ongoing support of the CMC wave modelling program. The buoy is expected to provide new insights into near-shore wave conditions and a surer response to wave conditions that affect small craft.

The efficacy of the wave measurement by the buoy will permit marine services to consider its utility for reporting under-keel clearances in active weather. Accurate wave height measurement allows the safe transit of deep draft ships or ships in heavy weather, especially when navigating a harbour entrance.

Figure 9.

Photo of TRIAXYS™ Directional Wave Buoy
Photo of TRIAXYS™ Directional Wave Buoy, in a warehouse before being deployed in Lake Ontario, south of the Toronto Islands.
Photo: © Shawn Richard

5.6 Ultraviolet Stations

Four ground-based radiometers (ultraviolet radiation instruments) were deployed in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area in support of the Games (see Figure 6 for instrument locations and Figure 10 for a photo of the instrument). They reported minute-by-minute observations of the ultraviolet (UV) component of sun exposure as defined by the Global Solar UV Index (UVI). The ultraviolet index or UV Index is an international standard measurement of the strength of sunburn-producing UV radiation at a particular place and time. The scale was developed by Canadian scientists in 1992, then adopted and standardized by the United Nations’ World Health Organization and World Meteorological Organization in 1994.

The readings from these sensors were used to inform the operational forecast program, particularly to provide data for validation of the UV index forecasts from the ECCC numerical modelling system (see Section 11.5).

Figure 10.

Photo of KIPP and ZONEN UVS-AE-T sensor
Photo of KIPP & ZONEN UVS-AE-T sensor (UV radiometer) shown next to a cellphone, to demonstrate the small sensor size.
Photo: © John MacPhee

5.7 Upper Air Trailer

During the Games, ECCC used its existing emergency Upper Air trailer to release upper air balloons equipped with radiosondes. Radiosondes are small instrument packages comprised of a radio transmitter and sensors to measure pressure, temperature and humidity as the balloon travels up through the atmosphere. The information collected from upper air observations is essential to create a global overview of the current and future state of the atmosphere.

Four radiosondes per day were released from a mobile Upper Air trailer located at ECCC’s King City radar location, north of Toronto (see Figure 11). As deployed, this trailer constituted an expansion to the national Upper Air network for the 27-day period of the Games. The four releases per day from this trailer contrast with two launches per day at a standard Upper Air monitoring station. This additional upper air data was used to perform a detailed analysis of atmospheric conditions across southern Ontario during the Games.

The Games served as a catalyst for ECCC to modernize the Upper Air trailer and the communications technologies that are used at all mobile Upper Air trailers across Canada. These trailers are used on an as-required basis, particularly during environmental emergencies.

Figure 11.

Photo of ECCC’s monitoring staff
Photo of Environment and Climate Change’s monitoring staff launching an upper air balloon at its King City radar location. The Upper Air trailer is on the left of the photo and the Radar tower and dome is on the right.
Photo: © Keith Clifford

5.8 Partner Support

A great deal of work was accomplished with the help of our partners, who were dedicated to the Project from its inception. The success stories described below demonstrate the power of partnerships in enhancing weather and air quality observations in the Mesonet.

5.8.1 Air Quality Stations

ECCC collaborated with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), York University and the University of Toronto to implement a study of traffic-related air pollution. The primary objective was to evaluate the utility of a network of air quality monitoring stations to assess and understand the levels of traffic air pollution in major Canadian cities. As part of the study, four new comprehensive monitoring stations were established in Toronto in advance of the Games. The stations are designed to operate in pairs, with one located near a major roadway, while the second is located away from any roads, such that it served as an urban background measurement. This configuration allowed researchers to track air quality changes as air-masses crossed the city and to characterize the pollutants originating from traffic on the major Highway 401 and in a typical downtown Toronto situation.

In addition to pilot studies on traffic air pollution, which are also under way in Vancouver, the data from this new network of stations provided air quality information to support the Games. Observations of ozone (O3), fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were sent to the MOECC to produce the AQHI, which was transmitted as part of the ECCC forecasts issued in support of the Games. These new AQHI reports augmented the reports already being produced from the long-term air quality network in the Toronto region (see Section 12.2.1) and throughout Ontario. The AQHI replaced the Air Quality Index on June 24, 2015, just prior to the start of the Games.

5.8.2 NAV CANADA Stations

Nine NAV CANADA monitoring stations (i.e., airport locations) fell within ECCC’s Mesonet footprint in southern Ontario, mostly at high-visibility locations where increased temporal reporting would be clearly beneficial. Upon request, NAV CANADA agreed to provide automated minute-by-minute reports from their Automated Weather Observing Systems (AWOS) and Human Weather Observing Systems (HWOS) stations. These observations were made available to forecasters, briefing teams, security services, the TO2015 organization, sports organizations and athletes. All clients reported that the increased reporting frequency was useful and insightful, particularly so during times of active weather.

5.8.3 Network of Networks

Network of Networks (NoN) is a voluntary, collaborative and multi-participant program initiated by ECCC that enables all participants to share their observational data and products. The NoN program aims to enhance access, interoperability and quality of hydro-meteorological data in Canada for the benefit of all users. As part of this initiative, ECCC established a “data-sharing agreement” via a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA), Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO), and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF). At the time of signing, this agreement granted access to more than 70 additional weather monitoring platforms of varying configurations. The increased density of stations reporting precipitation data is of particular use during periods of prolonged or heavy rainfall that can lead to flooding.

This “data-sharing agreement” granted ECCC access and permission to use the observational weather data provided by the GRCA, TRCA, MTO and OMNRF in support of ECCC’s commitment to provide weather warning and forecast support to the Games. This data was made available to ECCC forecasters, weather briefers and scientists for use in the standard operations and Games alerting programs, validation of numerical weather prediction models, and validation and development of CaPA (Canadian Precipitation Analysis) products.

Figure 12. Network of Networks – Location of Ontario wide observations

Map of Ontario (see long description below)


Map of Ontario and inset map of southern Ontario (lower left) showing the locations of Network of Networks weather reporting stations from Grand River Conservation Authority (magenta squares), Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (green circles), Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (yellow triangles), as of July 10, 2015.

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