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Massey Medal

2005 Winner - Dr. Tim Oke

Tim Oke (Photo: Marina Dodis)

Urban weather decoder
As the world’s leading expert on urban microclimates, Vancouverite Tim Oke gets inundated with requests as varied as the weather itself. At home, for example, the University of British Columbia geography professor has been called on to assess the cause of serious road accidents: he studies the climate at a crash site and reports on icing, sunlight, location of trees, anything that might have affected driving conditions at the time.

Beyond our borders, Oke has looked at the sway of Hong Kong highrises to predict whether or not this would disrupt laser communications during a typhoon, and has been asked by several cities to advise on how to handle chemical or radioactive releases in city streets: the way wind flows around tall buildings can affect chemical dispersion and emergency responses.

During his 40-year career, Oke has also elevated the field of urban climatology — the study of how cities affect weather patterns — from a purely academic science to a more predictive one, with countless practical applications ranging from air quality to water and energy conservation. He is being honoured with the 2005 Massey Medal for outstanding achievement in the field of Canadian geography. Established by Governor General Vincent Massey in 1959, the award is administered by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Oke’s enthusiasm has inspired a number of his students to become important international players in climatology, says James Voogt, a professor of geography specializing in urban climates at the University of Western Ontario in London. "He’s an eloquent writer and speaker," says Voogt, who completed his master’s and Ph.D. under Oke. "He’s able to fully understand the science, but also to present it in a way that makes it more widely accessible."

More recently, Oke has been helping the Meteorological Service of Canada develop a new model, to be operational in a few years, that will more accurately forecast the weather for cities specifically, rather than larger regions.

"We will really be forecasting for Canadians, because 80 percent of us are living in cities," he says. "At present we just forecast for the big spaces in between"

— Monique Roy-Sole

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