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Chinook winds warm Inuvik
Temperatures near zero to start 2017

Stewart Burnett
Northern News Services
Monday, January 9, 2017

While Canadians in Alberta and British Columbia have been complaining about cold temperatures, residents of the Far North have been treated to a balmy start to the new year.

NNSL photo/graphic

Inuvik residents were treated to a balmy end to their holiday and new year as temperatures edged up to zero. David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, said that was caused by Chinook winds from the Pacific coast. - Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

"You've been hoarding all of the warm air, come on!" said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada.

Temperatures in Inuvik edged near zero degrees Celsius around New Year's Day, falling slightly during the next week and a half but still well above the usual average of -26 C for this time of year.

That heat wave was thanks to Chinook winds from the Pacific Coast. Those winds travelled over nearby mountains in the Mackenzie region and dried out as they crossed. Then, the winds would descend down the mountain, compressed and heated up, elevating temperatures in nearby communities.

"It's sort of like the idea of pumping a bicycle pump," said Phillips.

As the air molecules are pressed together on the descent from the mountain, they warm up.

"It's very local," said Phillips, noting it happens often around Calgary from winds off the Rocky Mountains.

"You can't sustain it. It's going to be here today, gone tomorrow."

However, the whole winter has been warmer than usual so far and so was 2016.

Only about seven or eight days this winter have hit -30 C, whereas Inuvik would normally have seen more than 20 days by now. November was particularly warmer than usual.

Snowfall around Inuvik is also down at about 50 to 60 per cent of its usual levels.

Although people might enjoy a few days of shedding their parkas, there could be some problems due to extra the heat, said Phillips.

"Certainly, building ice roads has been a challenge, as it has been in many recent years," he said.

Originally, Environment Canada was predicting a colder winter this year but its models have changed in the new year.

"All of our models were suggesting that in the west - Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta - we were showing colder than normal," said Phillips.

"That's changed in the last couple of days."

Now the organization is predicting a mild winter until April.

"The arrival of spring will be maybe a little earlier," said Phillips.

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