El Nino slows ice roads, hunting
Rain in Paulatuk sure sign of weird weather

by Glenn Taylor
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Nov 17/97) - Blame it on El Nino. Weather stations all along the Mackenzie Valley have been posting plus-side temperatures for more than a week.

Many residents are embracing the wacky weather, which has been linked with the unusually strong Pacific current that has produced temperatures 20 degrees warmer than normal in Inuvik in other communities in the region.

But the mild weather is playing havoc with hunters and ice-road builders in the Beaufort-Delta, raising costs and effecting food supplies.

"We can't get started on the ice road -- it's just too warm," said Brian Kelly, Tsiigehtchic's senior administrative officer.

Ice levels on the Arctic Red River were as low as three inches last week, too weak even to safely walk on.

The road crews there need at least five inches of ice before they can begin construction by drilling holes and pumping river water to make more ice.

Until the Arctic Red and the Peel rivers congeal, the Dempster Highway remains closed, and milk prices at Fort McPherson and other communities linked by the highway remain upwards of $7 to $8 for a 2L carton.

Paulatuk -- traditionally one of the coldest communities in the Inuvik Region -- has really seen strange weather. "It rained yesterday -- I mean it really rained," said Millie Thrasher, last week. "The beaches are full of water, and we lost most of our snow."

The weather, combined with blowing winds, has made caribou-hunting difficult, she said. "A few hunters were going out, but without good snow and all this wind, it slowed them down. Now the caribou have all left."

Work at the Peel River crossing near Fort McPherson is under way now, but the mild weather may delay the road opening by two weeks.

"I've never seen it so late," said Gurdev Jagpal, regional superintendent for the territorial Department of Transportation.

As of last week, there was still open water on the Peel. It will be at least another month at this rate before grocery truck-size vehicles are able to cross, according to Jagpal.

"Some say it was supposed to be minus 26 yesterday -- it was plus 1," said Jagpal.