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
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
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