David Grimes: Retired Assistant Deputy Minister, The Meteorological Service of Canada

Man wearing a black coat and glasses smiles against a snowy backdrop.
Photo: David Grimes
Picture of a man wearing blue jacket and a woman wearing a black jacket and sunglasses. There is a mountain in the background.
Photo: David and his life partner of 48 years, Karen.

“Understanding, predicting and communicating about changes in weather, climate and water have such potential to improve quality of life. The committed people of the MSC make this possible.”

During his 44 years with Environment and Climate Change Canada, David Grimes made a mark on Canada and the world through leading the significant modernization of the Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), protecting the health and safety of Canadians, and advancing monitoring, science and services over the world’s polar and high mountain regions. He served as Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) of the MSC from 2006 to 2019 and as President of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) from 2011 to 2019.

He is known for inspiring the people around him, his passion about what science can offer, his commitment to service and his self-confidence. He is recognized worldwide for his capacity for leadership and engagement, building consensus when it was difficult and lending a voice for those who could not be heard. David often speaks of the importance of the journey rather than the destination, realizing that success only happens when no one is left behind. His achievements are a reflection of his leadership style and the trust, commitment and support of the people of the MSC, its partners and collaborators, and the WMO.

David arrived as a weather forecaster only four years into the creation of ECCC. A little known fact is that he developed and implemented the “Probability of Precipitation” for daily weather forecasts. While doing so, he suggested that the daily weather bulletins should be issued from Environment Canada, to help build the profile of the weather service. Today, “weather” and “Environment Canada” are synonymous to Canadians. This experience served as David’s point of departure from forecasting at the Pacific Storm Prediction Centre to the world of science, policy and management.

As ADM, David put a spotlight on people and the importance MSC plays in supporting Canadians and Canada’s future. One of David’s accomplishments was securing and leading a significant modernization that brought new technologies, radars, high performance computing and added capabilities leading to improved weather, climate and water monitoring, modelling, prediction and warning capabilities. His attention to improving weather services in the Arctic saw the realization of new responsibilities for Canada in providing improved meteorological services, especially for marine safety in the Arctic under the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. Also, in his quest to support improved health outcomes, he championed with the provinces and territories, a truly national reporting system for air pollution, the Air Quality Health Index, followed by Extreme Heat Alerts with escalating risks of heat stress.

Being the first Canadian President of WMO was an honour for David but the decision to run was not an easy one as he knew the time commitment would be significant. He recalls spending the equivalent of a “night shift” discussing the idea with Karen, his life partner of 48 years.

David is respected for his foresight and strategic thinking, which led to recasting WMO’s vision and strategic plan for the coming decade. David is renowned for his role in driving the most significant restructuring of WMO, and the development and implementation of the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS), a global partnership of governments and organizations working together to improve capacity, knowledge and insight to inform climate-related actions.

As President, he also co-chaired the WMO Executive Council Panel on Polar and High Mountain Observations Research and Services (EC-PHORS). Under his direction, EC-PHORS implemented the Global Cryosphere Watch, created the Arctic Regional Climate Centre Network, got official Observer status for WMO on the Arctic Council, helped form the Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks initiative, championed the Polar Prediction Project, and helped develop the Antarctic Observing System.

David has shared his knowledge through many high-profile speaking engagements, including giving the keynote addresses at the first Arctic Science Ministerial Summit (which he also partnered with the White House to lead) and the 46th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

David’s dedication to serve Canadians and the world was made possible because of the love and commitment from his family. Karen often remarks that they moved more than 26 times during these years and visited most of Canada and a good part of the world, especially in the last decade. Their children and their spouses were all so supportive. In David’s farewell address to the WMO Congress in 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland, his emotion touched everyone as he spoke to Karen, Chris, Allison and Kim, in the audience, thanking them for their love and endless support in sharing him with Canada and the world.

David draws his passion and motivation from his family and the awareness that good meteorology has a direct, positive impact on people.

“Understanding, predicting and communicating about changes in weather, climate and water have such potential to improve quality of life,” he says. “The committed people of the MSC and WMO make this possible by turning science into action. Much was accomplished under my leadership because I listened to and gave voice to the people I was working with.”

In 2020, David was named a Member of the Order of Canada for outstanding leadership in meteorology. He was also awarded the WMO’s International Meteorological Organization (IMO) Prize for his significant contributions to meteorology. On June 9, 2021, David was announced as the recipient of the 2020 Patterson Distinguished Service Medal, a prestigious award recognizing service to meteorology in Canada.

Learn more about the Patterson medal

Here are a few random facts about David:

  • What was your first job? Not my first but one of the coolest jobs was a lighthouse keeper...but most meaningful job was being a bartender where I met Karen!
  • If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be? Switzerland - so many high points and wonderful memories.
  • What is your favourite game or sport to watch and play? Football, I’m a true CFL fan.
  • If you could go back in time, what year would you travel to? 1973, year I was married and the music was great too!
  • How many pairs of shoes do you own? 10 but only wear three now!
  • What's your favourite zoo animal? Lion.
  • Summer or winter? Summer, I love our backyard.
  • What's your favourite food? BBQ.

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