Record-breaking storm blasts Nunavut, 135 km/h winds rip off stairs and crush cabins


IQALUIT —
Pangnirtung mayor Eric Lawlor couldn’t see out his windows on Sunday.

That’s when a record-breaking blizzard hit the Baffin Island community of about 1,500, shaking houses and crushing cabins.

Environment and Climate Change Canada says Sunday’s storm brought record wind gusts and heavy snow to communities across Nunavut. In Pangnirtung, winds reached 135 km/h that day.

“It was like an all day thing. The wind was so strong,” Lawlor said.

Sky Panipak, who also lives in Pangnirtung, posted a photo to Twitter of one resident’s home where the front steps were torn clean from the door.

“Many shacks and cabins are gone. Many, many snowmobile windshields are gone. Some injuries we have heard of so far,” Panipak said, noting one resident had been medevaced to a southern hospital after being injured in the storm.

Sara Hoffman, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said the Dec. 27 storm affected most of the territory. Out of 25 communities, 23 were hit by the same storm, which came up from Quebec.

Hoffman said her team is looking into whether Sunday was a record-breaking day for such a storm in the territory.

“It’s pretty unusual for a storm like that this late in December. We don’t typically see that,” Hoffman said.

Lawlor said much of the storm’s damage affected Government of Nunavut housing. Right now, he said the hamlet’s priority is to keep the roads clear so people can get out of their homes.

He said it’s not unusual for Pangnirtung to see high winds, but they usually hit the community in the summer and fall months when the weather is warmer.

“We’re used to getting 70 to 90 km winds. During the summer it’s just as bad. A number of years ago we even had a vehicle that was flipped over because of the wind,” Lawlor said.

Hoffman explained that open water fuels storms, mixing cold weather with warmth from the water to create winds like the ones Pangnirtung saw Sunday.

“When Hudson Bay has open water, that is a major source of energy for storms … Parts of those areas stay ice-free longer and longer now,” she said.

Hoffman said cold weather from the northwest and warmer weather from the southeast collided to create the weekend blizzard that traveled across most of the territory, which set up the “perfect storm” for especially strong winds.

Pangnirtung set a new record Sunday for the highest recorded temperature in the community on Dec. 27, with a high of 4 C. The last record of -3.5 C was set in 2000.

Hoffman also said Pangnirtung, which is nestled in a fiord and surrounded by mountains, is the ideal place for a blizzard to brew.

“When they get a prevailing wind direction set up just right, the surrounding terrain can actually enhance that,” she said.

Hoffman said Coral Harbour, in the north end of Hudson Bay, was also hit hard by the same blizzard, with winds up to 115 km/h. Winds also reached 120 km/h in Kimmirut and 80 km/h in Iqaluit that day.

Two days later, there were still blizzard warnings in effect for Gjoa Haven and Grise Fiord.

“It’s much weaker than it was on (Sunday), but we still have alerts out for it because it was such a powerful storm,” Hoffman said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 29, 2020.



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Nunavut tightens restrictions in Kivalliq and Iqaluit as COVID-19 spreads


TORONTO —
Officials in Canada’s northernmost communities are bracing for a potential COVID-19 outbreak after three cases were confirmed in Nunavut in the last week.

The government has tightened restrictions in Kivalliq and the capital city of Iqaluit after an additional case was confirmed in Rankin Inlet Wednesday. Gatherings in the region are now limited to five people, with outdoor activities and gatherings at places of worship restricted to 50 people or half the building’s capacity.

On Thursday, Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, asked residents to avoid any non-essential travel within the territory, especially inter-community travel requiring a stop-over in Rankin Inlet.

Nunavut faces unique challenges in the fight against COVID-19 with many communities only accessible by plane and limited medical resources.

“If you look at Nunavut as a whole, we’ve had the most strict regulations already. Every community here is a fly-in, so we have southern isolation hubs and we will continue doing that,” Kenneth Bell, mayor of Iqaluit, told CTV’s Your Morning Friday.

Two of the territory’s confirmed cases are in the community of Sanikiluaq — one that lacks a proper health centre.

“They do have a brand-new health centre, but it’s not open yet. Their old health centre just doesn’t have the capacity. We don’t have doctors there — there are nurses, of course — but it’s all about capacity,” Bell explained, noting that the community’s airport is so small it’s difficult to fly in medical supplies.

Bell says federal funding has been key in providing resources to communities like Sanikiluaq, supplying additional sanitation supplies and aiding with the high cost of water.

“We’re feeding elders pretty regularly with food baskets,” he said. “A lot of our organizations and our government have all stepped up. We’re all working together to make sure we’re all safe.”

Nunavut’s travel bubble with the Northwest Territories remains in place, and the territory will not be requiring N.W.T. residents to isolate if they travel into Nunavut.

Officials said Thursday they are not releasing the travel history of the confirmed cases, because there have been instances of harassment towards people who have travelled for work or personal reasons.​ 



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