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Power outages, huge puddles as ‘exceedingly rare’ storm hammers Whitehorse

Rainfall in Whitehorse from July 21-23 was 33.3 mm, equal to the total precipitation in July of 2022

Whitehorse was hit with an onslaught of stormy weather over the weekend, with severe wind and rain downing trees, strewing debris across roads and causing power outages for city residents.

On July 22, the territorial capital experienced gusts as strong as 74 kilometres per hour and 8.6 millimetres of precipitation.

The following day, wind gusts clocked in at approximately 50 km/h, with nearly 24 mm of precipitation falling. Of the total rainfall on July 23, 22.6 mm fell in one hour from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., which Environment Canada meteorologist Matt Loney describes as “exceedingly rare.”

“There’s sort of a one per cent or even less than one per cent chance of that happening in any given year,” Loney said.

The total rainfall in Whitehorse from July 21 to 23 was 33.3 mm, roughly equal to the total precipitation that fell throughout the entire month of July 2022. This past weekend’s precipitation numbers are only slightly lower than the total rainfall for July 2021.

According to publicly available weather data on Environment Canada’s website, this month is the rainiest July in Whitehorse since 2020, when 65.6 mm of precipitation was recorded in the city. Total rainfall for July 2023 is currently at 45 mm, as of July 26.

“We’ve got this plume of high water vapour sitting over the [territory]. Then we’ve got high temperatures, you know, a hot air mass, and then we had a disturbance come through yesterday, which caused this rainfall [and] thunderstorms to generate,” Loney told the News, speaking to the meteorological reasons behind the extreme weather phenomena.

According to Oshea Jephson, a spokesperson for the City of Whitehorse, no serious injuries resulted from the weather, and public transit ran largely unaffected. However, the heavy rain and wind increased pressure on city departments.

“The Whitehorse Fire Department responded to over 10 calls for service starting on Saturday night and into Sunday morning,” Jephson said.

“And then the city also has an after-hours trouble line; on that one, we received about 20 calls. And that’s sort of those odds and ends that might not be captured in a 911 call.”

City work crews were out clearing debris and repairing damages over the weekend, according to Jephson, although clean-up efforts are expected to continue throughout this week.

In addition to sporadic power outages, the storms also resulted in large puddles in roadways, with at least one road closure in Whitehorse.

“There was one closure on Sunday that was on Second Avenue, and that was just to clear one of those large puddles,” Jephson said.

The weather impacted communities outside Whitehorse. Falling trees cut power to 12 residents in Johnson’s Crossing twice over the weekend, with a six-hour outage on July 22 and a four-hour outage on July 23, according to Yukon Energy communications manager Lisa Wiklund.

Like Whitehorse, Burwash Landing also experienced a downpour that was unique in its scale. Between 11 p.m. on July 23 and 3 a.m. on July 24, the community was inundated with 39.4 mm of precipitation.

While the ferocity of the storm Whitehorse experienced last week is perhaps rare, Jephson noted that people should consider preparing a basic emergency kit with enough supplies to last 72 hours.

“These types of weather events show that they can happen any time of the year, and we should always be prepared […] So stuff like a 72-hour preparedness kit is one of the easiest ways that people can stay prepared in the event of a severe weather event or an emergency.”

The stormy weather has continued into this week in Whitehorse. While the city was spared rain on Monday, July 24, Environment Canada issued an alert for severe thunderstorms on July 25. Thunderstorms are also currently in the forecast for today, July 26, and tomorrow, July 27.

Contact Matthew Bossons at matthew.bossons@yukon-news.com