“There are hotter years ahead”: Global News meteorologist Anthony Farnell on why he installed an at-home weather station
Farnell explains how forecasting local weather keeps him grounded in an era of extreme heatwaves, wildfires and floods
While working from home is the norm for many these days, it doesn’t usually involve climbing onto the roof. But, for Anthony Farnell, the head meteorologist at Global News, that’s an important part of his job. Two years ago, Farnell bought and installed a personal weather station on top of his Riverdale house. The compact nine-kilogram device delivers temperature, wind and air-quality readings that he uses for his nightly on-air weather summaries. The self-proclaimed climate nerd says that the device helps him nail most forecasts and keeps him up to date on important local data points. Here, he tells us why he thinks personal weather systems are becoming more common and why local weather readings are more valuable than ever in an age of extreme weather patterns.
Tell me about your at-home weather station set-up. How high-tech are we talking?
It’s an impressive little system, a Vantage Pro2 from Davis Instruments that I bought for $750. It’s roughly the size of a small dog, and it’s made out of durable plastic. It’s got a rain gauge, a thermometer, an anemometer—which measures wind—and an air-quality monitor. Generally, it’s pretty low maintenance. It powers itself with a lithium battery, which lasts five years, and a solar panel. I view the measurements online, but I do have to hop on my roof to clean it.
How long have you had it?
This one is on its third year, but I bought my first personal weather station when I was 15. They haven’t changed much in size or cost since then, but the current ones are connected to an app that displays readings from other at-home weather stations in the area.
Wait, at 15? You opted to save for a weather station instead of, I don’t know, a car?
Yes! I was already a weather hobbyist. I spent most of my allowance on weather-related books and the rest on that first station. I’m from Montreal, but I would spend weekends at my parents’ cottage in Vermont. I still remember me and my dad setting up that first weather station on the cottage roof. Right after that, I got to collect data on some of the most incredible floods Vermont had seen in decades. When I wasn’t there, it drove me nuts not knowing what the weather was.
When did it start to seem like a potential career path?
I got pretty good at weather forecasting as a teen. In 1998, I predicted a terrible ice storm in Montreal that nobody else—not TV networks or Environment Canada—was seeing. I was so adamant about it that I told my friends they shouldn’t bother studying for our tests that week. Luckily for them, I was right.
Has your enthusiasm for the at-home devices waned at all now that you’re a pro?
Not at all. I installed a second one outside our studio at Global News. It helps me know what’s happening outside in the neighbourhood, and those hyper-local weather conditions are a nice addition to the other data we get through radar, satellites and computer models. The difference in temperature and air quality between downtown and North Toronto on any given day can be massive—it goes to show how much the weather can vary even inside a single city. Sometimes, it’s raining at my house and snowing heavily at work. Knowing both helps me dress properly and prepare for my commute.
Can the rest of us manage our own set-ups, or do you have to be a meteorologist?
Personal stations are for anybody who’s interested in the weather. They cost between a hundred and a few thousand dollars, but you can buy a reliable station that does all the basic readings for around $250. In Toronto, it’s best to set them up on a roof so they can properly detect wind despite all the buildings and trees
Do you see many other personal weather stations around?
Definitely more now than in past decades. It used to be that only scientists, farmers or hard-core weather nerds had them, but in the past four years or so they’ve become more common. They’ve gone down in price and are generally more user friendly, which is part of it, and the general population is more conscious of the weather due to the rise in extreme climate events, like the wildfires in Canada this year. There’s value in having lots of these stations around. They feed data into supercomputers for modelling, allowing us to better predict future weather patterns at a local level.
But couldn’t we just all get our weather news from TV?
You could, but knowing the air quality right outside of your house is important—especially given all the wildfire smoke this year. For me, knowing what the weather is doing is very grounding, like a meditation. In a changing climate, being aware of what is happening outside my home gives me a feeling of control.
It seems better than curling up in fear. Can things like personal weather stations have any concrete effects on the climate itself?
Yes, actually—I’ve heard of people integrating these stations into their smart homes to save on energy. For example, if it detects rain one night, maybe your sprinklers don’t have to go on the next day. Or it can help you adjust your thermostat. Overall, they get people engaged with the climate and remind us that we can all do our part by living sustainably.
What’s it like being the face of the weather in an extreme climate era?
The weather has been my passion since I was a little kid. I’ve seen how extreme weather events affect people and property on countless occasions. There’s no denying the fact that we’re seeing more of that, but there’s also a ton of misinformation out there. I don’t like how climate change gets politicized or when every single weather event seems to be linked to global warming. Having a reliable, familiar face deciphering what’s really happening is more important than ever. I’m thankful for the opportunity to do that every single day.
Does the job get more stressful as the weather becomes more unpredictable?
I worry about our future, but I’m also excited to see some of the changes we’re making. Converting to electric to reduce greenhouse emissions, planting more trees to mitigate urban heat, protecting marshes and swamps to reduce flood risks—all of that will have immediate and long-lasting benefits on our quality of life.
Do you have any predictions for Toronto weather in the next few years?
I’m optimistic about Toronto and southern Ontario. The Great Lakes keep tornadoes down, limit the number of heat waves and lead to less extreme weather in the winter. But, globally, there are big concerns. There are hotter years ahead. It’s good that people are paying attention.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.