C° Versus F°

Nearly 40 years after converting to Celsius temperature readings, Environment Canada has been hit with a blizzard of complaints over its unofficial use of the Fahrenheit scale.

Records show the department’s online forecasting – the most popular government website in Canada – was targeted by howling protest over dual use of C° and F°.

MP Scott Simms, a former TV weatherman, said the sensitivity of the issue was unsurprising.

“Canadians talk more about the weather than Americans,” said Simms, Liberal MP for Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland & Labrador; “If it’s not hockey, it is weather. If weather prediction ever becomes an exact science, it will be a sad day.”

Simms worked ten years as a Weather Channel forecaster in Montréal and Mississauga, Ont. before becoming a parliamentarian: “I tell people it’s why I became a politician, to stop lying to them.”

Environment Canada this year revamped its website, weather.gc.ca. The site attracts 47 million visits a month with an estimated half-million page views, by official count.

However the department received 32 pages of emailed complaints from baffled users vexed by the mixed use of C° and F°. The website uses Celsius as a default setting, though management noted visitors might “inadvertently click” on the wrong symbol.

“How do I change it??????” one exasperated viewer wrote Environment Canada. “Please turn the weather information back into Celsius; I am forty-five and can no longer understand Fahrenheit,” another wrote.

The correspondence was released through Access to Information. Other visitors wrote:

  • “Why the heck is the temp suddenly in Fahrenheit??”;
  • “Not everybody approves of your rewriting of meteorological history”;
  • “U.S. citizens travelling to Canada only use Fahrenheit. Help!”;
  • “Why are the temperatures in Fahrenheit & the winds in mph on your site for Winnipeg?”
  • “I grew up under the old system and it’s difficult for me to make the conversion in my head in order that I can make sense of it. Yes, I know people like me will soon be gone”.

All official weather forecasting was changed to Celsius on April 1, 1975 as mandated by the Metric Commission and Atmospheric Environment Service. It was then the nation’s biggest changeover in measurement standards since 1858, when Canada replaced English sterling with a decimal-based dollar currency.

“Most people are very familiar with the temperature in Celsius which is the standard way of expressing the temperature in Canada,” a department official told one software developer who requested guidance in devising a weather app. “However a portion of the older population is still more familiar with the temperature in Fahrenheit which is why we offer the option to convert.”

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq did not comment.

By Tom Korski

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