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Thursday, November 21, 2019
Connecting Our Communities

For he’s a jolly good fellow … of the meteorological society

Pioneering work on tornadoes helps Wellesley’s Michael Newark earn prestigious honour in the field

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A Wellesley resident’s pioneering efforts in studying tornadoes has earned him a prestigious honour for his contributions to Canadian meteorology.

Michael Newark was last month named an Honorary Fellow of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS).

The designation, given to an individual outside of the organization itself, recognizes Newark “for his vision, dedication, and research into the nature of tornados and severe weather in Canada and for informing the public and meteorological community through publications and public speaking.”

“It’s a recognition of a lifetime’s work, really,” explained Newark of the award he received in Montreal.

Newark was instrumental in the study of tornadoes in the country in his decades-long career, including his groundbreaking academic article entitled “Canadian tornadoes – 1950-1979” in 1984. The immense investigation that went into publishing the work began after a devastating tornado hit Windsor in April 1974. Nine people died, 30 were injured and a curling club was destroyed.

Newark remembered being questioned about this event during a previous job contributing freelance commentary to CBC radio.

“I was asked by the host of the show … ‘How many of these [tornadoes] do we get?’ I was a little taken aback that I didn’t have a ready answer. … I usually have a ready answer for everything, but this time I didn’t.

“So I said ‘I’ll have to look that one up, I’ll report back to you tomorrow,’ and to my surprise, there was virtually nothing known about tornadoes in Canada. They’d escaped the radar, so to speak.”

Thus began a decade-long study dedicated to understanding tornadoes in a North American context: their regional characteristics, as well as the threat posed to Canadians.

“That was the first such nationwide publication,” said Newark. “I was looking through all kinds of newspaper archives, clipping services, ground surveys – all kinds of unusual sources of information. I finally had a picture of what this hazard was for Canada.”

This was not his only major publication, as he also authored “Understanding the Severe Local Storm Hazard in Canada” in 1988.

Tornado damage – June 16, 1985

Newark also founded Chinook magazine in 1978, aimed at those interested in meteorology. It was comprised of a mix of feature articles, book reviews and news items, including many articles in French. He published and edited it for six years before CMOS took ownership in 1984. The works are still available online.

His passion for meteorology started early in life. Born in the UK, Newark was already working with the meteorological service there before he emigrated to Canada in search of greater opportunities.

The octogenarian recalls an early incident in which a Toronto newspaper issued a warning about a tornado headed for the city. The news caused a considerable reaction from the public, and emergency workers were put on standby, for instance.

“In fact, no tornado occurred, and there was not even a thunderstorm,” explained Newark. “The weather office realized the gravity of what had happened and no further attempt to issue a tornado warning was made for the next 17 years, by which time the technology of communicating warnings had improved considerably, as had the expertise of the weather office.

“It wasn’t expressed really, but it was understood in the meteorological community that you didn’t want to alarm people.”

He dedicated many more years studying and working in the city, helping to improve the system, especially where tornadoes were concerned.

Michael Newark (right) makes an appearance on CFPL-London’s Morning Break, hosted by Jim Swan and Carol Campbell, in 1978. [submitted]
After graduating  from the University of Toronto, where he studied math and physics, he went on to work as a weather forecaster at what was then known as The Toronto International Airport, now Pearson International.

Newark moved to his current residence in Wellesley in 2007 where he lives with his wife, Sharon. They have four kids, one stepson and six grandchildren.

Sharon said his work keeps on coming, citing his latest contributions to the Avataq Cultural Institute archives. The organization is dedicated to preserving Nunavik Inuit culture.

“He’s just spent about three weeks working on a very intense project for them where he’s taken all the photographs and information that he gathered while he was there in the ’60s and giving it to them. They are just over-the-moon excited because they have photographs that they would have never had access to any other way,” said Sharon. “I’m very proud of my husband.”

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