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Retired meteorologist will tell Nanaimo astronomers how to avoid dreaded clouds

Reg Dunkley is the Nanaimo Astronomy Society’s guest speaker May 23
Former Environment Canada meteorologist Reg Dunkley will share his knowledge about astronomers’ worst enemies, clouds, and how to predict the best nights to avoid them at Nanaimo Astronomy Society’s next meeting. (Photo submitted)

The Nanaimo Astronomy Society’s next guest speaker will tell how to track and, hopefully, avoid the primary enemies of optical astronomers: clouds.

Reg Dunkley, former president of the Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, will be the astronomy club’s guest presenter Thursday, May 23.

Dunkley had a 33-year career with Environment Canada and worked in forecast offices in in Comox, Whitehorse and Vancouver and, in addition to forecasting weather, was head of data management.

“I served many roles in my 30-plus year career at Environment Canada and one of them I did we called a forensic meteorologist,” he said. “Basically what happens is there are investigations of major weather events, so I was the guy who did the autopsies on major storms.”

Dunkley said he would compile satellite imagery, upper air charts that showed the atmospheric flow at different levels, surface observations from Canada’s network of airports and automated sites, and also our upper air soundings from weather balloons.

“So I’d pull all this stuff together to try and sense what made a particular storm so intense and interesting,” he said.

The data he compiled about storms was used by various government agencies interested in heavy rainfall events that resulted in flooding, damaging windstorms and aviation accidents.

At this week’s meeting, Dunkley plans to demystify the bane of optical astronomers by answering questions, such as why don’t clouds fall down, what causes air to move, what energy sources drive weather, and what circulation patterns produce clear skies. He has some favourite websites that help him determine cloud locations and where they’re moving to in the near future. Putting the information together can help identify windows of opportunity for observing the night skies.

“We have wonderful information now that we did not always have that, first of all, shows you where the clouds are right now and where they’re moving,” Dunkley said.

One service that has arisen from evolving weather prediction technology is the cloud forecast for astronomical purposes, created by Environment Canada.

“They have all of this information about where the moisture is, where the rising air is and where clouds would be forming and where the cloud is predicted to be for the next 84 hours,” he said. “I’ve been monitoring this product for at least a decade and I am astonished at how well it does.”

Dunkley will make an in-person presentation to Nanaimo Astronomy Society members Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m. at Beban Park Social Centre. To learn more about the Nanaimo Astronomy Society and how to become a member, visit

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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