The Coldest Months in Canadian History

dawson

Dawson, Yukon

As we close out the 70th winter since records began in the high arctic, I thought it would be interesting to count the number of very cold months, and further, determine the coldest of the lot. The map below shows all locations fortunate enough to achieve at least one month with an average mean temperature below-40 (Celsius or Fahrenheit, you choose).

minus40map2

The two areas of Canada most prone to extremely cold months are the central Yukon and the high arctic in Nunavut. Most of the locations in the above map are one-offs. But not Eureka, Nunavut. It’s the grand winner, having recorded 37 different months with a mean average temperature below -40. The coldest month of all time was February 1979, with an average temperature of -47.9°C (-54.2°F).

The second coldest month ever recorded in Canada was way back in December of 1917 when Dawson, Yukon, recorded an average temperature of -46.3°C (-51.3°F). Since Eureka is further north than Canada’s northernmost settlement, the Dawson record is the coldest month at an inhabited place. In some respects this month was more impressive. Starting on the last day of November, the temperature dropped below -40, and never rose above that mark — even during the day — for 31 consecutive days.

Interestingly enough, the two coldest places in the Yukon — Dawson and Mayo — also enjoy the hottest summers in Canada’s westernmost territory. The same sort of trend occurs in Alaska where the places with the warmest summers also have the coldest winters.

Prior to 1947, Dawson recorded one other month below -40 (as did Mayo). Both have recorded 4 additional winter months below -40 since then, with the last one being January of 1982.

The only other location in North America to record more than 2 months below -40 over the past 70 years is Shepherd Bay, Nunavut, at 5 occurrences (the last time being February of 1990).

Shepherd Bay is located on a sheltered peninsula devoid of the Arctic Ocean’s moderating effect, and outside of Eureka and Dawson, has the coldest month on record. Like most places in Nunavut, the record was set in February of 1979, only in this case the mean average temperature was -44.4°C (-47.9°F).

The coldest January ever recorded in Canada was set in Dawson in 1966 at -43.4°C (-46.1°F). This was the beginning of a two-decade period of inordinately cold winter months (as evident from the graph below). The only other months colder than this Dawson reading are February of 1987 and February of 1984, both set in Eureka.

minus40can

At least in Dawson the spring and summer months can be nice and warm. And even those extremely cold winters are relatively infrequent, especially since the 1980s. By contrast, winter hangs on so long in the high arctic that Eureka has averaged as low as -42.2°C (-44.0°F) in March (set in 1977). It’s the only place in Canada to average below -40 in March, and has done so 7 times!

Summing up, Dawson holds the record for the coldest December and the coldest January while Eureka holds the record for the coldest February and the coldest March.

The coldest months might be comparable between the two, but one need only compare the picture of Dawson at the top to one of Eureka below to fully grasp who has the nicer climate on average.

So there you have it, the Yukon is not as cold as you’ve been led to believe! Or at least, not as cold as some places.

eureka2

Eureka, Nunavut

Coldest Months Ever Recorded in the Respective Jurisdictions:

  • Eureka, Nunavut [February 1979] = -47.9°C (-54.2°F)
  • Dawson, Yukon [December 1917] = -46.3°C (-51.3°F)
  • Fort Yukon, Alaska [December 1917] = -44.6°C (-48.3°F)*
  • Fort Good Hope, NWT [January 1966] = -42.5C (-44.5°F)
*The thermometer recording daily maximum temperatures at Fort Yukon in 1917 used mercury instead of alcohol, and since 26 of the 31 days did not rise above -38°F, the month’s temperature had to be estimated based upon the the daily lows recorded with alcohol and the normal difference between the maximum and minimum readings. Up river from Fort Yukon, Eagle was able to record the daily highs because it was using an alcohol thermometer. The monthly average was -43.3°C (-45.9°F).
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