A bobcat is used to help clear snow in downtown Whitehorse on Nov. 4. According to Environment Canada, the Yukon has experienced record-breaking precipitation this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

A bobcat is used to help clear snow in downtown Whitehorse on Nov. 4. According to Environment Canada, the Yukon has experienced record-breaking precipitation this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon will have “delayed spring” after heavy winter snowfall

After record levels of precipitation, cold spring will delay melt

The Yukon experienced record-breaking precipitation this year, leading to heavy snowfall unlikely to melt quickly this spring, according to Environment Canada.

About 130 millimetres of precipitation hit the Yukon from November to February. Environment Canada estimates a 10-to-one ratio when gauging how much snow results from precipitation, meaning that 130 mm of precipitation resulted in about 130 cm of snow in the Yukon this year.

“That’s the most ever for that period … it’s a record wet winter, and most of that would have been snow,” said Doug Lundquist, Environment Canada meteorologist.

A winter storm in the beginning of November brought heavy snowfall which stayed for the remainder of the season. The month of November saw record-high snow depth.

On March 1, there were 77 centimetres of snow on the ground — second place for the deepest snowpack on that date. The record is 94 cm, recorded in 1972, Lundquist said.

A combination of factors led to heavy snowfall this season: climate change, warm sea surface temperatures and arctic ice.

“There’s no one answer — the weather is made up of many tricky things together,” Lundquist said.

Climate change has potentially caused warmer temperatures, which can hold more precipitation. Arctic ice is also tracking record-low levels, resulting in more open water contributing to more precipitation in the environment. The Pacific coastline from British Columbia to Oregon was also generally warmer this year, adding to the wetter weather.

“The fourth (reason), and this is the most important, perhaps: there’s randomness to meteorology and weather. Weather is random, so we’ve just been unlucky,” Lundquist said.

“Those other three reasons are possible scientific reasons, and only hypotheses.”

The Yukon hasn’t seen anywhere close to this much winter precipitation since 2008-09, which saw 119.5 mm. March 1 was the first day of Environment Canada’s three-month spring period. The department is projecting a “colder than usual” spring season, Lundquist said.

“The temperature is going to go up more slowly than in a normal springtime,” he said.

A cold spring means it might take longer than usual for the snow to melt.

“That being said, spring is our driest time of year. The amount of precipitation we get in spring is very low, so even though it may take a little longer for the snow to melt because of perhaps a delayed spring … we don’t get a lot of snow in springtime, or rain,” Lundquist said.

The Yukon can look forward to a fairly temperate start to March, however, with expected highs of -4C and lows of -15C.

“You’re going to be anywhere from zero to -4 for daytime highs, so that’s a little warmer than usual,” Lundquist said.

“It’s changing so fast, every three days is going up by a degree.”

There is, at least, one place in the Yukon that has positively benefited from the heavy snowfall.

“It’s been an amazing winter, people are just loving it,” said Sam Oettli, Mount Sima ski hill general manager.

“We just had one of the nicest weekends we’ve ever had as far as conditions are concerned.”

The ski hill was dumped with 45 cm of snow in the middle of snowmaking, at the start of the season, he said.

“There was so much snow we actually had a crew doing snowmaking that got stranded, so that was crazy,” he said.

Mount Sima will generally get one to two “really great” powder days every season. This year, they’ve already seen about five, he said.

The ideal conditions this season are welcome after last year’s heavy snow season was cut short by COVID-19 closures. This year has turned out to be even better than the last.

“It’s been more consistent across the entire season, for the most part almost every week we’ve gotten a bit of snow. It was a bit of a dry spell during that cold snap, which is pretty normal, but before and after that we have just been getting dumped on, so it’s great.”

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

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