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The weather is in charge

While the Kivalliq was hammered ever harder by blizzards early in the season, Baffin Island saw some truly wacky weather – and this resulted in more service closures than in recent history.

In Pangnirtung, winds of 145 km/h sent sea cans bouncing.

A cabin blew across Pangnirtung and into the harbour when winds reached 145 km/h the week of Nov. 20.
photo courtesy Ron Ladd

"Just think of a Lego block you used to play with when you were a kid and throw it along the ground and that's what a sea container looks like when it's bouncing across the community," said senior administrative officer Ron Ladd.

"I actually have a picture of a cabin in the ocean – a cabin that blew half a mile from up top and landed in the middle of the harbour. It's sitting in the middle of nowhere."

Temperatures were also above zero, and residents took to Facebook to warn of slippery conditions.

Ladd said he did hear of someone falling and breaking a hip.

Iqaluit received warming temperatures, and rain and ice caused closures. Then back-to-back blizzards brought impassable roads and city and school closures.

At a city council meeting Nov. 28, councillor Kyle Sheppard expressed his frustration about what he viewed as unnecessary school closures after the weather cleared.

"I realize safety has to be paramount, but I truly believe we are being far too conservative. I truly don't understand why heavy equipment wasn't on the roads much earlier. I don't think at any point overnight, that I saw, I would consider it to be too dangerous to get heavy equipment on the roads," said Sheppard.

"We're preventing our kids from going to school. It's absolutely ridiculous as a Northern capital that our kids couldn't go to school this afternoon because our roads weren't cleared."

While kids were out of school and having fun on Dead Dog Lake Nov. 28 as the City of Iqaluit struggled to recuperate from two back-to-back blizzards, Coun. Kyle Sheppard wanted to know: how can we do better and keep kids in school?
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

Councillors agreed response times for closure and resumption of city services were greatly improved over the last couple of years, and there was agreement to pursue further improvement.

Coun. Simon Nattaq, emphasizing safety as the most important consideration, noted conditions in the city have changed dramatically with new subdivisions and new buildings, and snow drifts in areas where they never were before.

"Usually, there isn't so much snow on the roads," he said through a translator, "but this year there is a lot of snow."

He added: "Drifts have changed."

"Our main priority is to ensure the safety of residents and employees," roads manager Cameron DeLong told Nunavut News by email. "We are always open to constructive suggestions on how the city can deliver exceptional service."

However, he also detailed the complexities of the job.

"A variety of factors come into play, current conditions, wind, forecast within the following three to five hours, safety of residents, school bus operations, staff, time required to safely allow business and government to shut down and get home safely. We try to make decisions based on information available and communications from other service providers in the city."

The aftermath is a different story. The city has, on average three to four snow plows it can dispatch, as well as sand trucks.

"Depending on the weather event, we have storms that can take one-and-a-half to two weeks to clean up after. We are presently dealing with two back-to-back storms within a week. We will be clearing up now for the remainder of this week, into next."

Mayor and council may agree Iqaluit is an Arctic capital that should be able to manage weather events, but Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Brian Proctor says south Baffin is on the eastern end of a trough-shaped weather pattern, and the region should expect similar weather as 2017 comes to a close.

"The very strong pattern brought cold air flooding down from the Arctic archipelago down to the base of that trough, which then enables the storms that are tracking up the east side of that trough, which are the storms that have been impacting Baffin Island."

Nunavik has it worse, Proctor noted.

As for schools, the Department of Education does not have a policy to replace lost days.

"To make up for the contact days that were lost to weather, schools have designed buffer days. Some schools teach more than the minimum hours. The calendar responsibilities are under DEA’s decision and the DEA will adjust the calendars accordingly based on student performance," said communications officer Sandi Chan via e-mail.

As for the price tag, DeLong said, "Persistent weather like we have had can eat away at your budget quickly. When considering time, equipment, maintenance and aggregate used for an average snowfall event, the cost to the city can average $5,000 to $10,000."

And back-to-back events?

"Those storms and their aftermath can cost double that easily."