There are people who might cringe at the idea of 40 years spent in the same line of work. Jim Steele isn’t one of them.
For the last four decades, Steele has forecast the weather, among other duties, as a meteorologist with Environment Canada. He retires Friday at 3 p.m., one month shy of his 41st year in the business.
Steele considers himself fortunate to have never lost interest in what attracted him to the profession in the first place — the weather.
“Even when I was going to high school, I was fascinated with the weather,” Steele said Wednesday. “The changes and storms and when it would snow or rain and when it wouldn’t. I found it really neat.”
Neat enough that when he saw a job notice for Environment Canada in the newspaper, he applied.
A post-secondary degree wasn’t required in those days. Steele wrote a series of tests and passed an interview. Next thing he knew, he was on a train from his home in Calgary to Ottawa for training.
Even then, Steele had no idea he’d spend the next 40 years with Environment Canada. Before he knew it, he was on what he describes as a tour of western and northern Canadian.
He’s worked in at least 10 communities during his career, most for a year or two at a time. A lot of movement occurred during the first eight years, and saw him stationed everywhere from Edmonton to the Arctic.
Steele forecast weather for the Distant Early Warning Line, a system of radar stations set up to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War.
“It’s about as isolated as you can get,” Steele said of Arctic. “I worked every day for a year. There was no use having a day off. There was nothing to do.”
Work brought Steele and his family to Kamloops in 1994. When he closes shop on Friday, the Kamloops outlet for Environment Canada will close its doors for good. Steele’s duties will be split between offices in Kelowna and Vancouver.
A lot has changed during his career. For one, Steele has done everything from observe the weather to communicating with the media.
The technology has also transformed. When he started out, the computers used to predict the weather were as big as a building.
“Now they’re the size of a closet,” he said.
The unpredictability of the weather remained the same. Steele said he’s made some inaccurate forecasts in his time, all because of a sudden shift in the wind.
“The storm motion changes by even a 100 kilometres and you’re in the cold air and it snows instead of rains,” he said. “The atmosphere has a mind of its own some days. It will do what it wants to do.”
Constant changes on the job as well as the weather meant Steele never got bored. And, if it wasn’t for his career, he wouldn’t have witnessed the sights he has, he said.
“I’ve toured around the Yukon, saw old gold mines, Dawson City and been to Alaska. I’ve seen blizzards like you’ve never seen blizzards. I’ve seen polar bears, big herds of caribou. All these things that people now pay serious dollars to go to,” he said.
Steele intends to keep busy and pursue a number of hobbies. He already has a round of golf planned for Saturday.