Head in the clouds, feet on the ground

Few people pay more attention to the weather than Newfoundlanders, but even few Newfoundlanders have as much interest in meteorological and climatological phenomenon as Jordan Ford of Mount Pearl.

The 19-year-old just started his second year studies at Memorial University, taking environmental physics as his major subject in the hopes of becoming a professional meteorologist.

Ford has been interested in the weather for a while. He even contacted four of the province’s current meteorologists, who all suggested the "easiest thing to do on route to becoming a meteorologist was some type of physics," Ford recalled. "I chose environmental, because I thought that would be the most applicable to the meteorology program, which you actually have to do afterwards."

Ford’s goal is to travel to Halifax to complete his meteorology diploma when he is finished his undergraduate degree in three years. Although there are a few places across the country which offer the program, Dalhousie University is his first choice right now.

"Outside of sports, I’ve always had an interest in science, and more specifically, meteorology," said Ford. "I have always just had an interest in the weather of some sort, whether it be snow or the temperature outside."

Ford credits his comfort with and interest in math and science to the influence of an "amazing" group of high school teachers at O’Donel High, specifically Murray Park, Dave Furey, and Anne-Marie Singleton. "Without them being such strong teachers, it would be tough for me to go into university with confidence," he admitted, acknowledging something many students have experienced their first year at university, that the math and sciences can be difficult if you do not have a good foundation starting out.

Ford said the local meteorologists are extremely helpful, specifically Brian Walsh of Provincial Airlines and Rodney Barney of Environment Canada. Whenever he has questions, said Ford, these guys never hesitate to answer.

"When I first graduated, the trend amongst my friends was either to do business or engineering," said Ford. "And I tried engineering to start, but it was weird because I was studying engineering, but I was studying physics within engineering, and I just really liked the physics."

The passion that one of his university professors, Danny Dyer, had for math, got Ford thinking. "He really liked math, and he made me realize that if you really have a passion for something, you can really excel in it," said Ford. "That’s when I realized that you shouldn’t do something because that’s the trend or that’s what everyone else is doing. I should do what I know I can succeed in rather than something I’m not sure if I like or not."

Ford said that after a few conversations with Dyer and support from his family and friends, including the local meteorologists, he made the switch to environmental physics to pursue his dream. According to his physics professor, Dr. Kirstin Poduska, the physics class this semester is only about half its normal size, and with there being so many branches of physics, Ford doesn’t think there is anyone else his age pursuing meteorology right now. "It’s a rare interest," he allowed.

When asked if the weather is really changing, as many people claim, Ford noted global warming is just a theory, and that there is no way to currently prove that things people are suggesting as signs of global warming are valid.

"I think that as of right now there is a positive trend in terms of temperatures rising slightly, but there’s a bunch of theory as to whether that’s because of the ozone or just a natural warming process that might cool down again," he explained.

But humans do have a negative influence on the environment through excessive vehicle use and constant burning of fossil fuels, Ford added, and it does cause considerable damage to the atmosphere.

"It’s called Global Warming Theory for a reason," Ford said. "It’s not 100 per cent proven, just like most scientific theory."

There have been noticeable changes in the weather in this province, Ford said, pointing to decreased amounts of snowfall in the winter months over the past few years and with temperatures no longer diving below -20 C as often. There have also been random bursts of heat well into the fall.

Ford has been volunteering for Environment Canada since 2013, and began with collecting snowfall measurements that they needed from areas that did not already have a weather station. His location, of course, is Mount Pearl and his station is set up in the backyard of his family home.

"Any day really, you will find a three, four, or five-degree difference between here and the airport temperature, because of different geographical factors," Ford said.

He takes snowfall measurements every morning during the winter at 7 a.m. Environment Canada uses those statistics, especially during big storms, to show the difference in snowfall between Mount Pearl and the major weather stations in St. John’s and Gander.

"I still follow the program," he said. "I use it, and meteorologists will pick it up off that site and they use it in their storm summaries when they need to."

Ford said the more stations they have, the more accurate data can be supplied for those who are interested in the mechanics of weather.

Ford started a twitter account, Mount Pearl Weather, dedicated to bringing accurate weather details and information to residents in Mount Pearl two years ago when he was still in high school, still only just learning about weather himself. "I didn’t really have the math down that I do now," he said. "Now I’m always studying calculus and differential equations, and all kinds of physics and math-related things that you need for meteorology. So now I can interpret it better, but back then I was still learning."

Although his girlfriend teases him about being a nerd for tweeting the weather throughout the day, Ford has some 370 followers and the number continues to rise.

If you are interested in Jordan’s journey to becoming a meteorologist, you can follow him on Twitter @mountpearlwx.

Posted on September 24, 2016 .