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Brace for a hot, dry NWT summer and yet more warm weather in YK

The Salt Plains in Wood Buffalo National Park in August 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The Salt Plains in Wood Buffalo National Park in August 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio


There’s no end in sight for abnormally warm temperatures in parts of the Northwest Territories through the next week, with an anticipated high of 21C in Yellowknife next weekend. 

The average temperature for the entirety of an ordinary May in Yellowknife is 4.6C, said David Phillips, a senior climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada.

This May’s average temperature for Yellowknife? 



“Well, it’s been 11.5C,” said Phillips. 

It’s difficult to predict how much warmer temperatures will be over the next week, said Sara Hoffman, a meteorologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada in Edmonton, but we could expect temperatures five to 10 degrees higher than average. 

Yellowknife’s extremely warm month is accompanied by very low precipitation across the NWT, said Phillips.

Since January, the territory has had around 40 percent of what it normally gets. Even since September last year, our precipitation has been only about 50 percent of what is expected. 



Plus, since temperatures have been higher, there’s been more evaporation. Phillips called that “a recipe for concern” since this type of dryness can lead to drought and, around this time of year before the forests have greened up, it can lead to wildfire. 

“The intensity of the fire season so far is directly tied to the lack of precipitation and the warm weather,” said Kyle Brittain, a weather specialist based in Calgary. 

Yellowknife has been seeing above-average temperatures since April 5, he said.

“There has not been a single day where your daytime high temperature has been below normal for the time of the year,” Brittain told Cabin Radio.

“That’s a long stretch of warm weather. And that’s another one of the reasons why we’re seeing increased fire behaviour across the Northwest Territories.”

‘Hang my hat’ on a hot summer

These unusual conditions are likely due to a mixture of global weather patterns and human-induced climate change, said Phillips. 

It’s an El Niño year, meaning warmer-than-usual weather, he said, although that weather is now composed of natural shifts and human activity. 

“Climate change has begun to bite deep and hard in the Northwest Territories,” said Phillips. “There’s no other place on Earth that has warmed up more than what we’ve seen in the north of Canada – in the Yukon and Northwest Territories and Nunavut.” 



Large high-pressure weather systems from the United States and southern Canada bring hot, dry air to western Canada, said Phillips. 

When night-time temperatures don’t cool down that much – which can easily occur with limited darkness – heatwaves can happen. 

That said, Phillips didn’t expect next week to breach the heatwave threshold.

However, he said June will also be warmer and drier than normal.

“This forest fire threat has begun early. It’s going to be with you all summer, because the forecast is for warmer-than-normal conditions,” Phillips said. 

“What I would hang my hat on is the fact that once again, Canada is going to see a hot summer,” said Hoffman. “We will likely break records.” 

She said the heat is mostly concentrated in the southern NWT, extending up to Wrigley. Then, past Wrigley, the temperature gradually drops the farther you go north. 

If there’s not a fire ban in your area and you’re able to have a campfire, ensure you have thoroughly extinguished the fire once you’re done, said Hoffman. The GNWT website contains information about fire prevention. 



“Hot dry weather is not going to improve the fire risk situation. It will make it much worse,” she said.

“The last thing we want is a human-caused fire to start.”