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Low snowfall in Deh Cho
Lack of winter precipitation a potential harbinger of drought, forest fires, climatologist warns

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Thursday, January 5, 2017

Snowmobile and cross-country skiing enthusiasts in the Deh Cho can only hope January proves to be a better month for snowfall than November and December were this winter.

NNSL photo/graphic

A view of the Liard ice crossing to Fort Simpson after it closed temporarily Dec. 8 to allow overflow on the crossing's approaches to freeze over. Temperatures for the month were slightly colder than normal while November was four degrees above normal. - April Hudson/NNSL photo

After a not-so-snowy November and dismal December, the region has yet to reach the average snowfall amount that comes by mid-December, according to Environment Canada.

Senior climatologist David Phillips said based on a 30-year average, the region usually sees 75 centimeters of snow by mid-month. As of Jan. 2, only 44.2 centimetres were reported this winter in Fort Simpson, although data for November is incomplete.

Despite the incomplete data, Phillips attests that snowfall for the month was fairly negligible. Snow that fell in October melted by the time November arrived and Deh Co temperatures were approximately four degrees warmer than normal throughout the month.

"When you average the whole month, to get four degrees warmer than normal is quite something," said Phillips.

Whereas the Deh Cho normally sees 33 centimeters of snow in that month alone, in Fort Simpson the snowfall measured nine centimeters.

"By this time, you should have had a lot more snow sitting on the ground. It may be hard to make up for that . but there's still some time to come," said Phillips.

"The snowiest (month) on average is January, so there's still certainly time to get the snow and keep it."

The first weeks of December brought cooler temperatures with it, dropping to -30 C on several occasions.

"Compared to November, it's like night and day," Phillips said, adding that temperatures in December were slightly colder than normal.

For communities along the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories, Phillips said residents can expect a colder winter than last year, which was one of the warmest winters on record for the area.

"Perhaps there will (also) be a longer snow season, so in the end it might be OK," Phillips said.

"We've almost seen a reality check, where nature has woken up to the fact that it should be winter and we should be seeing winter-like temperatures."

However, cold temperatures can also contribute to a lack of snowfall. Phillips said snowfall depends on moisture sources coming in off the Pacific Ocean and hitting the cold weather, which often creates snow dumps.

"There's always more time for that to happen," he said.

Low snowfall can impact the construction of winter roads and can also create problems in the summer if the ground is too dry.

"There's no denying that in this world, the one place that's warming up the fastest - and not necessarily in a good way - is the Northwest. You don't need to be a climatologist to know that," Phillips said.

"The snow we get, a lack of it or too much, creates issues for us in the warm season - it could be through water levels, power production, or through forest fires. It's an important part of the survival of the North to have adequate snow cover."

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