NNSL Photo/Graphic

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NNSL photo/graphic

Transportation department crews opened the Dettah ice road on Jan. 2 about two and a half weeks later than usual. Officials blamed milder-than-normal temperatures and heavy snow cover. According to Environment Canada, Yellowknife is in the midst of the second mildest winter since it started keeping records for the city 75 years ago. - photo courtesy of the Department of Transportation

Yellowknife in midst of second warmest winter
Environment Canada says this may be as cold as it gets

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Wednesday, January 27, 2016

It has been the second mildest winter on record in Yellowknife, according to Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips.

He said the agency has been keeping records for the city for 75 years and in that time, the only winter that was milder was 2005-06.

"If you look at the heart of winter, November, December and January - the average temperature in those three months, averaging all the highs and the lows, has come out to be -16.1 C degrees. The normal for November, December and January is -20.4 C - almost four full degrees colder," Phillips said.

In 2005-06 the average temperature for those three months was -14.7 C, according to Phillips.

There are other ways of demonstrating just how mild it has been, Phillips added.

"Days below -30 C - you've had 14 of those days when you would normally see 29 days by this time of year. So you've seen half of what you would call Yellowknife cold days. The coldest day you've seen this winter was -38 C on Boxing Day but it was back up, way back up to -2.8 C by New Year's Day. That's like a heat-wave.

"Boxing Day was the only day you had below -35 when last winter you had 14 days of -35 or colder. No matter which way you look at it - it has been fairly mild."

Phillips said ice road builders have had to deal with milder temperatures and heavy snowfall has also hampered their efforts. Surprisingly, he said snowfall is also down.

"There has been 73 centimetres of snowfall so far this winter when normally you would have about 104 centimetres. In a milder winter you typically might see more snowfall because there is more moisture in the air and larger, moist air masses," Phillips said.

The other good news for people who don't like the cold, according to Phillips, is that we are past the halfway point of what he calls the "dead of winter."

"That date for Yellowknife is Jan. 12 to 14. If you are not a fan of winter then you celebrate that because there are more cold days behind you than ahead of you. When we look at the forecast for this week, it's not a January thaw but this is as close to a Yellowknife January thaw as you are going to get. Temperatures are still below freezing so it's not technically a thaw. But you are looking at high temperature this week of -12 but it should be -22. Lows should be closer to -30 but what we are seeing for lows are around -19. You are still not seeing the normal frigid temperatures."

Phillips agrees that the mild temperatures are a good thing for most residents but a problem for people who are building ice roads and those who are dependent upon them. That would include the diamond mines and the Tlicho communities like Whati, Wekweeti and Gameti where there are no all-weather roads.

Phillips said that it appears to be very unlikely that Yellowknife will receive a cold stretch of weather for any real length of time this winter.

"We're calling for February to be milder than normal. Our models for February, March and April, are again showing milder temperatures. We're stuck in this pattern of westerly air and Pacific air.

According to Phillips, the weather phenomenon that has given us the milder than normal temperatures is called a "Super El Nino," a huge warm, moist air mass over the Pacific Ocean.

"Alaska is showing the same song sheet here - milder, moister conditions. It's just one of those years with a milder winter. There is just nothing that is going to erase this mild winter. What you see is what you are going to get," Phillips said.

The opening of the ice road to Dettah was later than usua because of milder than normal temperatures.

In that record mild winter in 2006, the winter road to the diamond mines closed after only 42 days due to the warm weather.

Diamond mines were forced to charter expensive, super-sized cargo planes to ship the rest of their supplies. Yellowknifer has reached out several times to Ron Near, a spokesperson for the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road which goes to the diamond mines for an update on the winter road progress but did not return calls

as of press time.

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