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Beautiful, scary weather warming the North

Beautiful, scary weather warming the North

Historic high temperatures this March are melting ice and snow much sooner than expected.
By Jacob Boon
Mar 19

Put away the parkas. 

A March heat wave is breaking temperature records across the North and causing big concerns for communities expecting a more frigid spring.

This week, Yellowknife has been surpassing 8 degrees C during the day. The city's previous highest temperature for the same period? That would be 5.6 degrees, set all the way back in 1956. Fort Good Hope smashed its prior high-temperature benchmark this week by a full 16 degrees, while Fort Simpson was warmer on Monday than it normally is in May.

The mild temperatures are expected to continue all week, but their effects are already being felt. The popular Polar Pond Hockey Tournament in Hay River has been canceled, and Yellowknife's beloved snow castle has announced it will close during daytime hours to protect its frozen structure. 

“This is the first time in its 24-season history that Snowking’s Winter Festival has had to close, and the first time that a March warm spell has threatened the castle,” says a release from festival organizers. Evening and weekend events are still scheduled—for now—but even the partial daytime closures will be a stiff blow to the festival's revenue.

Elsewhere, the impacts are more severe. 

Both the Tłı̨chǫ Winter Road network and Mackenzie Valley Winter Road system are now restricted to night travel only until further notice—possibly, until next winter. The GNWT's department of infrastructure advised residents on Tuesday that the winter roads are “rapidly deteriorating and could close with little or no notice.”

The Mackenzie system alone services several remote communities and industrial concerns that rely on the frozen transportation network to bring in essential supplies. Its early deterioration will mean shipping those items via far longer and much more expensive methods. Cabin Radio is reporting that communities in the southern NWT have been instructed to “rush completion of important deliveries” across the ice roads while they still can.

The early melt could also have dire implications for wildlife. Journalist Jimmy Thomson notes on Twitter that melting snow freezing at night creates an ice layer on top of tundra, starving caribou and other species. Meanwhile, the potential thawing of permafrost could wreak havoc on infrastructure throughout the Northern territories.

“Living in the North, you expect cold weather in the winter and through the spring,” Thomson writes. “It can be hard, but no cold snap is as disturbing as watching everything melt two months early. I can’t speak for everyone, but this beautiful weather has me terrified.”