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NWT, warming faster than anywhere in Canada, feels it most in winter


The Northwest Territories has warmed more than any other jurisdiction in Canada, trends over the past 75 years show.

Whereas the country has warmed 1.9C on average since 1948, the NWT’s temperature trend over that period shows a significantly higher 2.8C of warming.

The Arctic in general is considered to be warming at least three times – and possibly four times – faster than the global average, which is just over 1C over 150 years.

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David Phillips, a senior climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, said: “There is the Northwest Territories leading the way.”

Phillips was reviewing trends for Cabin Radio after a series of climate monitoring agencies published their analyses of 2022. While not the warmest year on record, either globally or in the NWT, 2022 remained significantly warmer than average. 

Overall, Phillips said, the territory’s warming has been most drastic during winters, which are now 5.1C warmer in the NWT than they were 75 years ago.

“When old-timers and Elders say our winters aren’t what they used to be, they’re absolutely right,” he said.

Looking ahead to 2023, there may well be more in store.

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A remarkable characteristic of 2022, Phillips said, is that yet another warm year was recorded despite the effects of La Niña, a phenomenon marked by cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific that tends to bring cooler winters to western Canada, including the NWT.

After three consecutive La Niña years, the phenomenon is on its way out.

“La Niña is almost dead in the water,” Phillips said, which means 2023 may be a neutral or El Niño year (the opposite of La Niña).

NWT had scorching 2022 summer, fall

Among global analyses published last week, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared that the world’s average temperatures in 2022 were 0.86C warmer than the 20th-century average, making it the sixth-warmest year on record.

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Nasa, meanwhile, reported that 2022 was tied with 2015 as the fifth-warmest year on record, echoing European climate scientists’ assessment that the year was the fifth-hottest.

In Canada, 2022 was another warmer-than-normal year, said Phillips. It was the 27th consecutive year in which temperatures were hotter than average, based on records going back 75 years.

“That is really quite something,” Phillips said.

In a normal climate, you would expect as many warmer-than-normal years as you would colder-than-normal years, he said, but Canada has clearly been on a warming trend.

Last year, temperatures throughout the country were 1.2C warmer than normal, Phillips said, making it the 16th-warmest year on record. Overall, a not-so-warm winter and spring were followed by a very warm summer and fall.

Patterns in the Northwest Territories were similar, Phillips said. “It’s a huge territory, and often how the Northwest Territories goes, so goes Canada.”

In 2022, Phillips said temperatures in the NWT were 1.5C warmer than normal, making it the territory’s 17th-warmest year.

For the Yukon, NWT and Nunavut as a whole, temperatures were 1.8C warmer than normal last year, according to Phillips. Of note, Baker Lake had its 10th-warmest year in 72 years of data and Rankin Inlet had its eighth-warmest year in 41 years of data, added Natalie Hasell, a warning preparedness meteorologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Focusing on the NWT, Phillips said the winter was slightly cooler than normal and the spring was slightly warmer. But summer was 1.9C warmer than normal, making it the fourth-warmest in the 75-year record. The fall was the third-hottest on record. It was 3.3C warmer than normal – “just on fire,” he said.  

In fact, the warm summer and fall likely contributed to the territory’s active and unusually long-lasting wildfire season, according to Phillips. Compared to the 25-year average, 2022 in the territory had 25 percent more fires and the area burned was about 17 percent larger.

A higher-than-normal number of lightning strikes may also have played a role, Phillips said. In 2022, 156,000 lightning strikes were recorded in the territory, making it the year with the seventh-largest number of strikes in 21 years of monitoring.


This article is produced under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0 licence through the Wilfrid Laurier University Climate Change Journalism Fellowship.