Editor's notebook

Editor's notebook McGill University

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Home > McGill News > 2002 > Spring 2002 > Editor's notebook

Editor's notebook

This year, Montreal experienced its warmest winter on record. During one spell in February, temperatures were considerably warmer here than in Florida. Now, with three days until the official start of spring, there's a blizzard raging outside my window. Apparently the coasts are also being battered -- Vancouver is buried under snow and

St. John's is braced against 100km/hr winds. Calgary's temperatures have dropped 25 degrees below normal and prairie farmers are predicting a drought because they've seen so little of the white stuff this winter.

It seems the only thing predictable about the weather these days is its unpredictability. But McGill scientists may one day get to the bottom of the weird goings-on. In December -- on an appropriately unseasonably warm day -- Dean of Science Alan Shaver announced McGill's involvement in a new network of eight Montreal-area research centres to coordinate and promote research in atmospheric sciences. McGill is also raising funds for an endowed chair in extreme weather. In yet another initiative, two members of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences will head up projects to improve forecasting.

Dr. Isztar Zawadzki, director of McGill's Marshall Radar Observatory, is one of them. He's been watching weather for years and his specialty is "nowcasting,"the short term (0 to 6 hours) forecasting of extreme events like the sudden downpour in Montreal in 1987 which submerged cars on the Decarie Expressway, causing one motorist to drown. Of course, wild weather patterns aren't just Canada's problem, so in this issue's Q&A we asked Dr. Zawadzki to talk about what in the world's going on and why.

We're delighted that we heard from so many of you after the last issue. One letter let us know that we were off by a few years when we gave the title of first married couple to graduate together in medicine to Drs. Ken and Eileen Cambon. The Cambons, featured in our planned giving ad, graduated in 1951, but Barbara (Brooks) Gilbert wrote to say that she and husband John Ellis Gilbert beat them to it in 1943 (see our Letters section).

Just yesterday we heard of another couple, Aileen (Layne) Webb and the late Eugene Webb, who also graduated in 1943. Sharp-eyed readers will note that Barbara Gilbert's degree is shown as MDCM'43A, and that's because the medical classes of that year were doubled in order to make up for a shortage of doctors caused by the war. The Webbs were part of the class of '43B. Both classes graduated in the same year, but the A group's convocation took place in May, while the B convocation was in the fall, so the Gilberts did pip the Webbs at the post. Any other contenders out there? If so, let us hear from you. Incidentally, there is no doubt about Barbara Gilbert's claim to another title -- that of longest-serving class representative. She has been keeping in touch with classmates, organizing Homecoming parti-cipation and producing an annual class newsletter for the past 59 years.

This issue features some truly inspiring stories. Our cover article on Sally Armstrong profiles someone who is in many ways quite ordinary -- a housewife and mother who worked outside the home while raising her family. But as she became more involved in journalism, reporting on issues ranging from child abuse to ethnic cleansing, her advocacy on behalf of the people she wrote about increased. Armstrong traveled to Bosnia to talk to victims of state-sponsored rape; to Senegal to learn about female circumcision; and most recently, to Afghanistan to report on the plight of women under the Taliban. But her involvement never ends with getting a story. She becomes an activist -- raising funds, joining committees, making speeches -- and she keeps on telling the story. To Armstrong, the choice is clear: in the face of evil, we can either do something or we can look the other way. That she has always refused to look away is what makes this ordinary woman so extraordinary.

And we have a story about some students using what they learn in their engineering classes to make a difference in the lives of people in rural areas of Third World countries. They are volunteers who, by bringing a cheap and low-tech source of light to isolated villages, have improved local health care and education.

These stories remind us that there are things we can do if we are prepared to devote even a little time and effort. They, along with some of the striking images sent to us by alumni in New York, help us remember that if all we have to deal with is a bit of inclement weather, then we are enormously fortunate.

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