• A display at the Ontario Science Centre's 2016-17 exhibit, Wild Weather

    A display of weather hazard signs at the Ontario Science Centre's Wild Weather exhibit, on now until January 7, 2017. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Canadian Geographic)

Canadians love to talk about the weather, but how well do we understand it?

Wild Weather, a new exhibit on now at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, aims to raise the level of discourse on everyone's favourite watercooler subject with an in-depth look at how weather is formed, how it's forecasted, and why it's important to be prepared for its extremes. 

"Having an exhibit on weather is always timely, because we're always experiencing weather in one way or another and there's always something going on somewhere that would fall into the category of 'wild' weather," says David Sugarman, a researcher with the Ontario Science Centre who helped develop the content for the exhibit. "I would hope people come away knowing a bit more about what they experience and knowing what to do during a severe storm." 

Through a variety of interactive displays, quizzes and games, visitors can learn the scientific names for clouds and the kinds of weather they portend, how experts determine the strength of a tornado, and what it's like to fly into a hurricane in the name of research. A model cabin with explorable cupboards and closets presents an important lesson about what supplies to keep stocked in your home in order to survive for up to 72 hours after a natural disaster, while a display on lightning features beautiful super-slow motion footage that will surprise even the most weather-savvy. 

There's plenty of silly fun on offer too, including a chamber where kids can dance to generate a thunderstorm and a digital photo booth that sends your likeness flying around a vortex, Wizard of Oz-style, along with cows, cars and sharks. 

But underpinning the entire exhibit is a serious message about climate change and its potential to alter the weather we've come to expect.

"Weather is a short-term, local phenomenon; climate is long term," explains Sugarman, "but people have noticed that over a number of decades, the weather has changed, and the implications are serious." 

A display on drought shows how five years of drier than average winters and hotter summers have dramatically altered the landscape in parts of California and Utah, while the section of the exhibit on hurricanes shows how warming sea surface temperatures can lead to stronger, more frequent storms. 

"We want people to leave knowing a little bit about extreme weather events in the context of climate change so that when they hear climate change is making them stronger, it might make them think, 'Can I do anything about this?'" Sugarman says. 

Wild Weather is on at the Ontario Science Centre until January 7, 2017.