Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Iqaluit November 27, 2017 - 8:00 am

When the weather’s bad in Nunavut’s capital, business takes a big hit

Saturday's storm brings economic losses as well as personal inconvenience

When Connie Nowdluk of Iqaluit woke up early Saturday, this was the scene outside her window. The snow and blowing snow would continue all day, keeping residents at home and shutting down all municipal services until shortly before 7 p.m. when conditions improved. (PHOTO COURTESY OF C. NOWDLUK)
When Connie Nowdluk of Iqaluit woke up early Saturday, this was the scene outside her window. The snow and blowing snow would continue all day, keeping residents at home and shutting down all municipal services until shortly before 7 p.m. when conditions improved. (PHOTO COURTESY OF C. NOWDLUK)

There have already been nine days worth of municipal service suspensions in Iqaluit since September—and it’s not even December yet.

Most recently, this past weekend, snow and blowing snow paralyzed Nunavut’s capital, forcing the second city-wide shutdown of the week.

This caused more cancelled flights, shuttered businesses and numerous postponements of activities and pre-Christmas parties, fundraisers, sales and events, such as a “write a letter to Santa” afternoon for children, who last month saw Halloween postponed by one day due to stormy weather.

Ironically, in a 1995, pre-Nunavut referendum, arguments in favour of choosing Iqaluit over Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet as the future capital of Nunavut boasted that Iqaluit had “excellent air service and few closure days due to blizzards.”

However, now there’s a big dollar figure attached to these more frequent extreme weather events in Iqaluit, in addition to the inconveniences, frustrations and losses experienced by the city’s nearly 8,000 residents.

On Saturday, Nov. 25, all stores around Iqaluit remained closed, including some that normally stay open in bad weather.

DJ Specialties corner store, a place you can buy anything from an avocado to disposable diapers, had never before shut down for the entire day.

“It does, of course, have a monetary impact, but safety always comes ahead of sales,” manager Mona Godin said Sunday about the decision to close.

There were a lot of factors that played into the decision to close Saturday, she said, such as whether the city and other businesses were shutting down.

“We have accommodations at the store for staff, therefore, even if we decide to stay open, they are never at risk,” she said.

As well, most of their customers had prepared for the storm beforehand.

“By the end of day Friday, we were sold out of milk, bread and a few other items that folks would have stocked up on,” Godin said. “For this reason, we chose to remain closed for the day and let the city crews clean the many drifts from the roadways.”

Northmart’s general manager, Mike O’Connor, said that the impact on business in his large store “is immense when we have to close for an entire day like Saturday.”

“Losing a full day of sales on a Saturday does hurt us financially,” he said after the store reopened early Sunday. “This has many ripple effects.”

O’Connor said the biggest worry Sunday was for his staff’s safety because “deciding on whether or not we remain open or closed is based on ensuring that we take care of them first.”

“As well, many of our staff need those wages and want to come to work, so it impacts them financially,” he said.

Such a closure also creates an impact on fresh products such as meat, vegetables and dairy, which lose a day of shelf life, potentially increasing the amount which is wasted—and that situation is compounded by flight cancellations, he said.

“This creates a backlog of product sitting in Ottawa or Winnipeg waiting to be shipped, which then potentially arrives in Iqaluit unable to be sold, although we donate all possible product that is safe for consumption,” O’Connor said.

With respect to operations, especially during peak seasons like Christmas, and specifically this past weekend with the Black Friday sale, lots of planning and preparation efforts were wasted, he said.

“One last thing that impacts our team, but not necessarily the business, is the negative comments we receive on social media whether [or not] we remain open,” he added.

There are also institutional costs associated with such an Iqaluit storm. For example, the Qulliq Energy Corp. keeps a crew that operates on a stand-by schedule, “to ensure that the corporation is able to respond to power-related issues at all times.”

But its repair efforts can be hampered by storms, adding extra costs, and “our response time can sometimes be delayed during severe weather conditions to ensure the safety of our employees,” the QEC told Nunatsiaq News.

The city didn’t put a dollar figure on what the suspensions of municipal services mean for its budget, but said “there may be some costs associated with the suspension of service, in that overtime hours may be required once normal business hours resume.”

“This is to be expected when working in the North, where severe weather must be taken into consideration, especially for staff who work outdoors,” the city said.

At the airport, on top of the 30 or so cancelled flights on Saturday alone, the warmer-than-usual and even record-breaking temperatures of the past week have also proved costly and difficult to manage.

“Airports have a lot of trouble with mild but below freezing weather,” said Iqaluit’s airport director, John Hawkins, on Sunday. “Air temperature that’s higher than ground temperature causes frosting, and any wet precipitation that reaches the ground will also freeze. They’ll be sweeping constantly and applying anti-icing chemicals, but it’s a battle to keep ahead of it.”

“Snow, when it’s cold, is relatively easy to manage‎. It can be pushed out of the way and swept off the surfaces without much effect on the friction characteristics,” Hawkins said.

All these additional challenges are in line with forecasts about the logistical and financial impacts of Arctic warming.

Arctic warming comes with a big global price tag, said a recent economic analysis of the financial cost of climate change in the Arctic by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program.

This estimated that Arctic warming would carry a total cost—between 2010 and 2100—of US $7 trillion to US $90 trillion, depending on the warming scenario.

According to the Bank of Canada, the overall costs of climate change in Canada remain “uncertain,” but that these are “likely to be significant.”

In Iqaluit, the recent storms did create money-making opportunities for some offering 24-hour towing, who worked through the night, as well as for people offering snow shovelling services.

A young woman who said she wanted to raise money to go to Pangnirtung at Christmas by shovelling snow immediately had many offers for work.

She may find she has even more work this coming week: Environment Canada said on Sunday that “blizzard conditions with poor visibility occasionally near zero in snow and blowing snow are expected” are expected in Iqaluit by late in the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 27.

“The brunt of the blizzard is expected Monday evening, where 10-15 cm fresh snow driven by northwest winds gusting to 90 km/h will give zero or near-zero visibility in snow and blowing snow. The snow and strong winds will taper off on Tuesday,” the forecast said.

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(21) Comments:

#1. Posted by Sad on November 27, 2017

The saddest thing was seeing people on facebook say “we need smokes, food for our children, and pop!”

It was a 1-DAY CLOSURE! I just wished people who can afford a pack of smokes and pop to have a little foresight and have a stach of food for their children for days like these. I’m not angry at these adults, just incredibly sad that they don’t know better.

#2. Posted by So be it! on November 27, 2017

When the weather affects everyone its a firm reminder that nature is in control and no one else!

#3. Posted by GN Worker on November 27, 2017

In this pic we can see across the street and a lil beyond.
When we ask for storm closures in our community, we cannot even see across the street and yet most times we are refused and we go to work in storm conditions.

#4. Posted by also a GN worker on November 27, 2017

#3. I agree, that’s why when we close down in somewhat ok conditions, we call it pulling a “Iqaluit”.

#5. Posted by GN Westerner on November 27, 2017

There’s quite a difference in what the people in the east call a storm, than what an actual storm looks like.
2km of vis in the east is a storm and closure day, whereas 0 to 1km of vis in the west is “man I really hope they call a storm day today” but they don’t lol


#6. Posted by Iqalummiut on November 27, 2017

Visibility may be fine in this photo but notice the road. It has covered most of the road. Not everyone has proper winter tires (even though they should). Safety is the most important thing to consider when it isn’t normal weather conditions. After the freezing rain we had the roads and “sidewalks” are still pretty slippery. I would much rather stay home and avoid a possible accident than feel “tough” and trudge to work. Also, we are the capital city. Not everything is just a short walking distance. People live in apex, road to nowhere and the plateau. Can’t just casually walk to work when conditions are terrible.

#7. Posted by Westerner on November 27, 2017

Safety of people is always number 1.

Straight up though…..

Westerners are tough and Easterners are soft. 
No point in trying to challenge that.

#8. Posted by Bluster on November 27, 2017

Ah the age-old commentary of what constitutes a storm day…“Here in the communities we would have to go to work in that!” The difference of course being that Iqaluit has at least 5 times the workforce of the next largest community and over 1000 vehicles on the road, meaning far greater danger to pedestrians and each other is less than ideal conditions. It is normal to see a 1 km long traffic line-up in the capital while I have often noticed how you could lay down untroubled in the middle of the main street in many communities. So yes, what constitutes dangerous storm conditions in Iqaluit is different than it does in Gjoa Haven.

#9. Posted by Northerner on November 27, 2017

Westerner’s can act tough compared to the Easterner’s but it has nothing on us Northerner’s. It’s just as cold (and sometimes colder) in the West though, I’ll give them that.

#10. Posted by phil on November 27, 2017

#4 what community are you at?

#11. Posted by not on November 27, 2017

The difference between Iqaluit and other communities is population and roads maybe, getting a number of people home in smaller communities is easier here there are over 800 to 2000 workers and hundreds of students, if making sure one person is safe was up to you people it wouldnt be very good would it?

#12. Posted by Captain Arctic on November 28, 2017

The thing is, it’s not that bad and the city closes, roads are not that bad, just lots of 2 wheel drive cars and SUVs, -5 weather, it’s a joke when this city closes down, feels like we are in Ottawa in a snow storm.

Difference with Iqaluit is there is a lot of southerners and they don’t know what to do in a little bit of snow and wind.

Shuts the whole place down!

You are in the Arctic, proper clothes, proper vehicles (4X4), proper tires, commen sense!

The way we are going, in ten years 40k winds and little bit of snow the city will shut down.

Embarrassing for the rest of Nunavut and for Inuit.

#13. Posted by Uh? on November 28, 2017

Funny people could even make this about east and west. It’s got nothing to do with your region vs. my region. In smaller Baffin communities, yesterday’s weather would never have been enough to shut a town down outside of Iqaluit. I don’t think it has so much to do with weather conditions as it does road conditions and the ability to get people safely home. That also includes people with children who need to make sure their kids get safely home. As manageable as the weather was in town, I wouldn’t have wanted to walk to Apex from the Northmart if I had to. When cabs go off of the road, what are you going to do for those who don’t own a vehicle?

#14. Posted by Blizzard Man on November 28, 2017

It’s not about who’s “tougher” when it comes to a blizzard, Iqaluit has a larger workforce then most communities total population.

A blizzard that affects 8000 plus people is handled differently then a community of 1,500. The roads get so bad that it’s impossible to drive or do anything.

Some of these commenters just cant get passed that small town mentality.

#15. Posted by Small towner on November 28, 2017

Totally agree with #12, #3 and #4.

#13 and 14, privileged much? We have small children in small communities as well. We have to shovel our driveways as well. We have slippery roads as well. It’s a matter of will.

Come on Iqaluit, do you guys miss Polar Man that much?! I’m not kidding, I heard he shovelled alot to help others and all. Is this what’s missing in your privileged “City” life? I think you guys will want a swimming pool next… oh wait… Or a beer store… oh wait… Or a movie theatre… oh wait… Or a port… Oh wait (it’s coming).

Getting things at the cost of the rest of Nunavummiut… “Because we have lots of people”... “Because we have paved roads that get slippery”... “Because it’s unsafe”... List goes on, while the respect for you from us “Small towners” goes down.

You guys have everything any of us would want from the small towns… everything except the will and having small town mindsets, we are a community.

#16. Posted by Charles on November 28, 2017

Never heard about a division East-West in Nunavut… Where is the division line? Probably Chesterfield Inlet, I guess… Is Kimmirut a soft Eastern community? Or Pang? Please tell me #7!

#17. Posted by WHATEVER on November 29, 2017

Northmart manager says being closed for one day hurt them financially…HA whatever, with the way they gouge people for money I’m sure they were doing just fine.

#18. Posted by Calamity Sam on November 29, 2017

It’s funny just cause some areas are inaccessible or too far from the core, no vehicle, blah, blah, blah shut everyone else down for those who live “too far”.

#19. Posted by My eye twitches every odd minute on November 29, 2017

When the blizzard comes, I strip off my shirt and feel that wintery blast.  There is nothing like diving in the snow when you can’t see anything.  A few times, I’ve dived into the snow and hit my head on rocks.  One knocked me unconscious once.  I almost died, but I’m still here!  I tell ya, there’s no capital like the Capital Suites!  We must learn to survive without the stores.  We must become one with the wind and frozen H20.  Some people go to Arctic Bay;some people go to Iqaluit.  I dive to the snow with great passion and concussions.

#20. Posted by Dick Johnson on November 29, 2017

Yeah the last couple times the city closed the weather was just a little windy and a couple places it was a little bit hard to see but nothing major.

With the city closed yesterday and the schools too because the city took too long to clear some snow, all the kids were outside playing in the -3 beautiful weather.

This year has to be the worse with premature closers, we are not in Halifax or Ottawa, maybe a reminder this place we live in is in the Arctic and most of us know what a real blizzard is and how to use some common sense. 🤯

#21. Posted by redbrew on December 01, 2017

In other news Canadian cities and towns get ready for the same thing, it,s called winter.

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