Baffin enjoys record-breaking temps
Above-average temperatures set to persist
On March 18, when the high temperature in Pangnirtung reached 6.5 C, kids in rubber boots played in puddles out in the bright sun.
The weather conditions, residents say, were more like you’d see in early May than in mid-March.
That unusual warmth has a name: Chinook, a term for a gusty wind that accompanies rapid warming in the foothills of Alberta.
“I usually joke that Pang is getting a Chinook when I see them warm rapidly,” said Yvonne Bilan-Wallace, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada.
Bilan-Wallace said she isn’t sure if Pangnirtung experienced exactly the same conditions as an Alberta Chinook, but the mountains around Pangnirtung would create an ideal environment for that kind of unusual warming, she said.
This happens when a moist column of air blows in from the southeast or east and is forced up and over the mountains. As the warm air moves up the windward side of the mountains, the air cools and drops snow.
But, as the air then moves over the top, the now-dry descending air warms much more rapidly.
When the light to moderate southeast winds in Pangnirtung changed to gusts from the east around 7 a.m. on March 18, temperatures jumped from - 5 C to 6 C in a matter of a couple of hours.
“Not that uncommon an event for them,” Bilan-Wallace said.
But the day was still likely a record-breaker in Pangnirtung, with its 6.5 C temperature breaking the previous record of -3.1 C in 1996 (although the data record is not complete, Bilan Wallace notes).
There was another apparent record-breaker in Pangnirtung on March 19 when the high temperature of 4.2 C broke the previous high for that day of 2.6 C from 1997.
Usual temperatures for this time of year in Pangnirtung range between a high of -18 C to a low of -28 C.
Pangnritung is not the only community in the eastern Arctic to see warmer than usual temperatures.
The same mild easterly flow of Atlantic Ocean air also led to new temperature records for Clyde River and Resolute Bay on March 18, Bilan-Wallace said.
The March 18 high temperature for Clyde River of -4.4 C, broke the previous high of -10.3 C set in 1979. In Resolute Bay, the temperature climbed to -7.5 C, breaking the previous high of -9.8 C set in 1997.
Records were also set March 19 in Resolute Bay, where the high temperature of -9.8 C broke the old record of -11.1 C in 1997, and in Clyde River, where the -7.3 C high broke the old record high of -10.5 C in 1997.
The daytime high temperature was also record-breaking March 19 in Eureka on Ellesmere Island, with its high of -14.8 C breaking the old record of -15.6 C from 1950.
While it reached 1.1 C in Iqaluit under sunny skies during the afternoon of March 19, Bilan-Wallace said it was even warmer in 1955 on this date: 3.9 C.
But that’s still more than 10 C about the normal average daily temperatures for Iqaluit on this date.
The low for March 19 only fell to -11.3 C — that’s 16 degrees warmer than the usual -27 C low.
Asked why temperatures are mild, Bilan-Wallace also points to lots of storms, which have been bringing warm air from the South into the Arctic, especially over the eastern Baffin area.
And, according to Environment Canada, the warm weather will continue, with a string of suns and temperatures between -8 C and -18 C displayed on its website’s forecast for Iqaluit.
Many may continue to enjoy the weather, but mild conditions can also bring danger because avalanche risks rise when there are dramatic temperature changes accompanied by snowfall.
Nine people died in an avalanche in Kangiqsualujjuaq on Jan. 1, 1999, when falling snow crashed into the local school.
In March, 1997 a 24-year-old Arctic Bay man died in an avalanche as he was travelling on his snowmobile outside the community, while in April 2004, an 11-year-old Pond Inlet boy died after being hit by an avalanche near an area known as the Coal Mine on the Salmon River, where he was playing.
An avalanche also occurred last week on the hill behind the former Hudson Bay Co. houses in Apex.
Avalanche safety publications suggest traveling routes that avoid steep slopes.
Slopes with a sun crust or south-facing slopes are particularly dangerous because loose layers underneath can move, unleashing an avalanche.
Snowmobilers are advised to travel in pairs, to carry a shovel and a collapsible probe that can be used to search for people buried in snow.