Arctic turns tropic?
Elders reflect on the North's changing weather patterns

Karen Lander
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 05/99) - Weather has always been a favourite topic of conversation, but since global warming and El Nino, it is being discussed more than ever before.

And Northern elders are no different. They, too, have noticed the changes in weather patterns over the past number of years.

But what they've noticed most of all is how the warmer temperatures are affecting Northern wildlife and customs.

"It used to be pretty stormy all the time until the 1980s, and there were no planes for two or three days. Now there's no more -50 C weather," said Tuktoyaktuk's Frank Cockney. "The caribou used to get skinny when cold weather comes, but this year there's lots of fat."

Cockney has also noticed that each summer, it seems to be getting hotter.

Kugluktuk's Sam Kikpak remembered the days when temperatures in the winter used to drop to -40 C or -50 C.

"The weather is really, really changed today," he said. "It's warmer now. When it gets cold it only goes to -30 C and gets warmer again."

Kikpak has also observed that the warm temperatures have even changed the times when the ice breaks up.

"Years ago, we used to travel by dog teams in the middle of July over the ice, and had to wait until end of July for the ice break-up, but now, by July, people are boating."

He also noticed that over the years, spring comes earlier and earlier. Kikpak commented on the rain as well.

"It was raining yesterday. Long ago, it never used to rain until the summer," he said.

But the weather isn't the only change Kikpak talked about.

"We used to have to go hunting to get food. Now we don't have to, we just go to the store," he said. "We hunt for food for family now."

Kikpak has taken all these changes in stride.

"If times have to be like that, it'll be like that.... We don't worry about tomorrow because we don't know tomorrow."

According to a media advisory released by Environment Canada in early March, last year was reported to be one of the warmest years on record in Canada. It stated that areas of the Arctic recorded annual temperatures more than four degrees Celsius above normal, compared to two degrees in the rest of the country.

This not only affects Northern wildlife, it could also have effects on roads built on permafrost. And the list goes on.

Born at Tiklavak Bay near Tuktoyaktuk, Mary Evik Ruben of Paulatuk has also noticed changes in the weather. However, unlike the central and eastern areas of the Northwest Territories, it seems to be colder there than any other place.

"Last year, spring was early. In May there was lots of water -- couldn't even travel by Ski-Doo," said Ruben.

"This year it's colder," she added. "There's no caribou, there's lots of traffic, too many planes and helicopters."

The warm March temperatures is a fact that has not slipped by Ahme Nowdluk of Iqaluit.

"It's warmer than it was 10 to 15 years ago," he said.

Nowdluk also spoke about how the change in weather has caused a change in animals.

"When it gets too warm, the animals go to where it's cooler," he said. "It's taking longer to get cold in the winter."