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As a meteorologist, Cindy Day is a household name in Atlantic Canada.
She’s worked hard to earn that status, but if the Transport Canada Training Institute (TCTI) hadn’t been built in Cornwall, ON, when she was in Grade 12, our weather could have come from someone else over the last two decades.
“It’s interesting, that for so many years in front of the television camera, and still now doing video, I get dressed up and fix my hair,” says Day.
“But I envisioned a life where I’d be in steel toe boots, jeans, and a plaid shirt, milking cows and taking in the crops. Which I love to do when I go home, but I never would have dreamed in a million years that my career would have taken me this path.”
Growing up on her family’s farm in Glengarry, ON, Day learned to follow the weather as only people who depend on the soil can. A presenter from Transport Canada opened her up to the possibility that there were other ways to help farmers.
“I grew up around people who were always observing and commenting on the weather. Good or bad weather could dictate a good or bad Christmas for kids. So, it was always very important, and we always watched the weather conditions,” says Day.
“I thought, ‘Someday, I would like to be able to forecast this weather to help the farmers.’ The farmers seemed to struggle with late frost and droughts and too much rain at certain times.”
'The science of the atmosphere'
At the TCTI, Day was drawn further into the world of meteorology.
“I just became fascinated by the science of meteorology. There was so much more that I wanted to learn that I decided to make a career of the wonderful world of meteorology, studying the science of the atmosphere,” she says.
“Not just helping the farmers but trying to answer all the weather questions that people might have to help them plan their day, to keep them safe.”
Day worked with Environment Canada, including as a pilot briefer at the McDonald-Cartier International Airport in Ottawa. She eventually landed at radio station in Ottawa in 1988, becoming the first full-time meteorologist in private radio in Canada. She branched out, becoming a weather columnist and doing TV spots, then launched her own business, Weather by Day. Farmers and sailors could call in for information.
The weather giveth, and the weather taketh away. Weather by Day was a victim of the ice storm of 1998, when the infrastructure Day’s company relied on was broken by the storm.
“That whole system went down, and I was at a crossroads, wondering what I should do with my career. Should I go back to radio, TV, or print, or try to get the business going again?” remembers Day.
A news director at Global Television in Halifax called to set up a meeting. That turned into a 10-year career with Global, which segued into nine years at CTV, and finally a move to the SaltWire Network in 2017, where she now does twice-daily online forecasts for SaltWire.com and runs weather forecasts in the network's daily newspapers as chief meteorologist.
Passion for weather
The weather doesn’t take days off. When Day was on TV, well-meaning people would come up to her and suggest that her job must be easy, believing she was only working 10 minutes each day.
But Day, who puts together her own weather forecasts, is on that grind long before anything goes on video. Her morning starts when she fires up her computer to check the latest weather data and charts. It’s science, but there’s an art in knowing the local geography well enough to build a forecast that’s suited to individual communities.
“That information is available to anybody and all meteorologists. What makes a local forecast better, or accurate, is when a local meteorologist just takes that information and then massages it to suit the region,” explains Day.
“If I was sitting in Alberta and didn’t know anything about the Cape Breton highlands, or didn’t know anything about the Wreckhouse area of Newfoundland or Digby Neck, it would be difficult to forecast accurately for local regions of Atlantic Canada.”
The key to a career like Day’s is to truly love the day-to-day work. Each day, she does the six-minute regional forecast in the morning. Then she breaks that down for the afternoon into four more videos - mainland Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, PEI, and Newfoundland. Each of those is five to seven minutes long, depending on the day.
Passion for predictions
After decades spent building her knowledge base and expertise, she remains excited by the unique possibilities in each weather event.
“I still jump out of bed excited about looking at the weather maps and seeing what has transitioned while I was sleeping. A system yesterday that was west of Lake Michigan is now tracking towards North Bay, Ontario. How much moisture did it pick up over the Great Lakes? Is the high off Labrador going to slow it down? What does that mean for our wind gusts?" she says.
No two weather systems are exactly alike, and for Day, that's part of the attraction.
It can be hard to remember how far the science and technology behind weather forecasting has come.
‘“When I started in radio, the longest-range forecast was three days. I remember it very well. The news director came to me and he said, ‘I’d like you to do a five-day forecast that would include the weekend’, and I thought that was really stepping outside the box,” says Day.
“Today, seven-day is common. And you go to some sites and they’ll give you a 14-day trend. I think technology has absolutely improved, and that helps us, at least initially. But a slight shift or a change could speed up a system, slow it down. So much can happen, it really just becomes a temperature trend beyond that. Seven days is about the limit of predicting the weather with any degree of accuracy.”
People plan their lives around the weather, calculating travel risks based on forecasts. Day takes the responsibility seriously - it's why she stays active on social media during weather events.
“I take it very personally because I do my own forecasting. I take the information and I produce a product. And, so, I feel responsible for that product. If there’s a lot of weather moving through, and especially when the weather can be dangerous weather. During lobster season, if it’s a powerful storm, or when there’s a transition from snow to rain and the road conditions are a concern, I really take it to heart.”
March 23 marks World Meteorological Day, and SaltWire Network is celebrating its own chief meteorologist with a focus on meteorological stories each day this week. Learn more about the weather, climate change and more this week with Cindy Day.
Five facts about Cindy Day:
1. I always wanted to be a farmer – just like my dad
2. I am a Montreal Canadiens super-fan!
3. I played the tuba in school; bought a valve trombone – it’s easier to carry around
4. I love to cook and bake
5. I gave up chocolate for Lent and Easter can’t come fast enough