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Record heat wave bakes northern Canada, too

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic
Mariska Wright photo

Historically high heat during the past week has led to broken temperature records in all three of Canada's northern territories but residents aren’t complaining. Temperatures across Canada’s three territories have been about 10 degrees above normal this week.

In some communities, like Kugluktuk, Nunavut, it has been even more remarkable: Temperature records were set for six consecutive days.  On Tuesday, hitting 84 degrees F. Typically, in Kugluktuk, it’s about 55 degrees F this time of year, according to Environment Canada.

Local teacher Barbara Olson and her family found a unique way to deal with the scorching temperatures. They’ve been snorkeling in the Arctic Ocean.

“Every day when the kids wake up, it’s already pretty warm,” she said. “They ask to go swimming every day … They ask to go swimming all day long. The heat’s opened up a lot of things we’ve been able to do. Growing up here, I’ve never felt an August this warm for this length of time.”

In Whitehorse, water is also the preferred method for cooling off, and residents are flocking to Long Lake, a short drive from downtown.

But some residents like the heat more than others. “I think it’s great for two or three weeks,” said Rosemary Nichol, who brought her grandchild with her to cool off. “After that, I’m looking for cool weather. But the kids love it all the time.”

Increased fire risk

But a Northern heat wave doesn’t just mean beach days. Combining extreme temperatures with the dry climate of the Arctic creates ideal conditions for wildfires. Last weekend, two new fires sparked in the Yukon — one in Dawson, the other near Whitehorse. Near the Northwest Territories’ community of Fort Simpson, Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park has remained closed for more than three weeks due to a nearby fire.

Sections of nearby highway have opened and closed numerous times because of wildfires -- similar to what's been seen in Interior Alaska much of the summer. These conditions are very unusual for us at this time of year,” said Maureen Clark, an officer with the Alaska Fire Service. “Usually, by August we have rain, and that puts an end to our fire season.” Weather officials have warned residents to be extremely cautious and to make sure they properly extinguish all fires.

In the Northwest Territories, fire bans have been imposed in numerous territorial parks, as well as the city of Yellowknife.

Rain, cooler air coming

Fire officials may not have to wait long for rain as cloudier skies are forecast across the Canadian north this week. Both Yellowknife and Whitehorse should have rain by Friday.

Yet, even with the end in sight, it’s weeks like this that will keep Northerners like Whitehorse’s Mike Toews going six months from now, when the territories return to their status as Canada’s coldest region. “Yukon, what can I say?” he said. “Yesterday, we were tubing, water skiing on my friend’s boat an hour out of town… it’s that easy.”

“Of course, I like it this hot.”

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.