No, it is not cold year round in the Northwest Territories. In fact, most of our communities have a temperate climate. Temperatures are just a few degrees cooler in summer and colder in winter than most locations in southern Canada. For example, though we experienced minus 40 degrees in the winter of 2012/2013, most communities also enjoyed several weeks of plus 25 degrees that summer.
The NWT climate is generally dry, with little annual precipitation. Our snow season extends from late October to late April, and though the snow volume is small, our steady temperatures conserve a sparkling white blanket throughout the winter, even in the city. Our summers are our best-kept secret. They can be exceptional, with long sunny days, some years for weeks on end.
The northern climate has its advantages. For one, wet slush is usually confined to late spring, or rubber boot weather. In winter, our roads and highways are mostly snow covered, and graded to a smooth surface. Salt is not used on NWT roads which greatly reduces vehicle corrosion. We don’t receive a lot of snow, compared to more southern regions, so there’s less shoveling.
Although snow cover lasts through to April, or May in the far north, “spring” usually starts everywhere in the NWT in late March, when the daylight hours are approaching maximum. Reflections off the snow cover are exhilarating. The rapidly increasing daylight draws everyone out to enjoy the weather. Hardy types often can be seen in shorts by mid-April.
Both the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions have seen increasingly warmer summers in recent years, but they remain relatively dry, with low precipitation and lots of sunshine. The warmest months are usually July and August, after the sun has reached its maximum height in the northern sky. While the sun rotates overhead, temperatures can reach the low to mid 30°Cs, with some regional variation.
In Yellowknife, for example, boating season on Great Slave Lake starts after ice leaves Yellowknife Bay in early June. Smaller lakes nearby warm up more quickly. In Hay River, breakup of the river occurs in early May. In Inuvik, boating season begins in late May or early June, when the Mackenzie River clears of winter ice.
Historical average minimum and maximum temperatures in degrees Celsius:
30-year average annual precipitation:
- Yellowknife: 26.7 cm
- Inuvik: 25.7 cm
- Hay River: 34.2 cm
- Fort Simpson: 36.0 cm
- Toronto: 83.4 cm