Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Iqaluit November 27, 2017 - 8:00 am

When the weather’s bad in Nunavut’s capital, business takes a big hit

Saturday's storm brings economic losses as well as personal inconvenience

When Connie Nowdluk of Iqaluit woke up early Saturday, this was the scene outside her window. The snow and blowing snow would continue all day, keeping residents at home and shutting down all municipal services until shortly before 7 p.m. when conditions improved. (PHOTO COURTESY OF C. NOWDLUK)
When Connie Nowdluk of Iqaluit woke up early Saturday, this was the scene outside her window. The snow and blowing snow would continue all day, keeping residents at home and shutting down all municipal services until shortly before 7 p.m. when conditions improved. (PHOTO COURTESY OF C. NOWDLUK)

There have already been nine days worth of municipal service suspensions in Iqaluit since September—and it’s not even December yet.

Most recently, this past weekend, snow and blowing snow paralyzed Nunavut’s capital, forcing the second city-wide shutdown of the week.

This caused more cancelled flights, shuttered businesses and numerous postponements of activities and pre-Christmas parties, fundraisers, sales and events, such as a “write a letter to Santa” afternoon for children, who last month saw Halloween postponed by one day due to stormy weather.

Ironically, in a 1995, pre-Nunavut referendum, arguments in favour of choosing Iqaluit over Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet as the future capital of Nunavut boasted that Iqaluit had “excellent air service and few closure days due to blizzards.”

However, now there’s a big dollar figure attached to these more frequent extreme weather events in Iqaluit, in addition to the inconveniences, frustrations and losses experienced by the city’s nearly 8,000 residents.

On Saturday, Nov. 25, all stores around Iqaluit remained closed, including some that normally stay open in bad weather.

DJ Specialties corner store, a place you can buy anything from an avocado to disposable diapers, had never before shut down for the entire day.

“It does, of course, have a monetary impact, but safety always comes ahead of sales,” manager Mona Godin said Sunday about the decision to close.

There were a lot of factors that played into the decision to close Saturday, she said, such as whether the city and other businesses were shutting down.

“We have accommodations at the store for staff, therefore, even if we decide to stay open, they are never at risk,” she said.

As well, most of their customers had prepared for the storm beforehand.

“By the end of day Friday, we were sold out of milk, bread and a few other items that folks would have stocked up on,” Godin said. “For this reason, we chose to remain closed for the day and let the city crews clean the many drifts from the roadways.”

Northmart’s general manager, Mike O’Connor, said that the impact on business in his large store “is immense when we have to close for an entire day like Saturday.”

“Losing a full day of sales on a Saturday does hurt us financially,” he said after the store reopened early Sunday. “This has many ripple effects.”

O’Connor said the biggest worry Sunday was for his staff’s safety because “deciding on whether or not we remain open or closed is based on ensuring that we take care of them first.”

“As well, many of our staff need those wages and want to come to work, so it impacts them financially,” he said.

Such a closure also creates an impact on fresh products such as meat, vegetables and dairy, which lose a day of shelf life, potentially increasing the amount which is wasted—and that situation is compounded by flight cancellations, he said.

“This creates a backlog of product sitting in Ottawa or Winnipeg waiting to be shipped, which then potentially arrives in Iqaluit unable to be sold, although we donate all possible product that is safe for consumption,” O’Connor said.

With respect to operations, especially during peak seasons like Christmas, and specifically this past weekend with the Black Friday sale, lots of planning and preparation efforts were wasted, he said.

“One last thing that impacts our team, but not necessarily the business, is the negative comments we receive on social media whether [or not] we remain open,” he added.

There are also institutional costs associated with such an Iqaluit storm. For example, the Qulliq Energy Corp. keeps a crew that operates on a stand-by schedule, “to ensure that the corporation is able to respond to power-related issues at all times.”

But its repair efforts can be hampered by storms, adding extra costs, and “our response time can sometimes be delayed during severe weather conditions to ensure the safety of our employees,” the QEC told Nunatsiaq News.

The city didn’t put a dollar figure on what the suspensions of municipal services mean for its budget, but said “there may be some costs associated with the suspension of service, in that overtime hours may be required once normal business hours resume.”

“This is to be expected when working in the North, where severe weather must be taken into consideration, especially for staff who work outdoors,” the city said.

At the airport, on top of the 30 or so cancelled flights on Saturday alone, the warmer-than-usual and even record-breaking temperatures of the past week have also proved costly and difficult to manage.

“Airports have a lot of trouble with mild but below freezing weather,” said Iqaluit’s airport director, John Hawkins, on Sunday. “Air temperature that’s higher than ground temperature causes frosting, and any wet precipitation that reaches the ground will also freeze. They’ll be sweeping constantly and applying anti-icing chemicals, but it’s a battle to keep ahead of it.”

“Snow, when it’s cold, is relatively easy to manage‎. It can be pushed out of the way and swept off the surfaces without much effect on the friction characteristics,” Hawkins said.

All these additional challenges are in line with forecasts about the logistical and financial impacts of Arctic warming.

Arctic warming comes with a big global price tag, said a recent economic analysis of the financial cost of climate change in the Arctic by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program.

This estimated that Arctic warming would carry a total cost—between 2010 and 2100—of US $7 trillion to US $90 trillion, depending on the warming scenario.

According to the Bank of Canada, the overall costs of climate change in Canada remain “uncertain,” but that these are “likely to be significant.”

In Iqaluit, the recent storms did create money-making opportunities for some offering 24-hour towing, who worked through the night, as well as for people offering snow shovelling services.

A young woman who said she wanted to raise money to go to Pangnirtung at Christmas by shovelling snow immediately had many offers for work.

She may find she has even more work this coming week: Environment Canada said on Sunday that “blizzard conditions with poor visibility occasionally near zero in snow and blowing snow are expected” are expected in Iqaluit by late in the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 27.

“The brunt of the blizzard is expected Monday evening, where 10-15 cm fresh snow driven by northwest winds gusting to 90 km/h will give zero or near-zero visibility in snow and blowing snow. The snow and strong winds will taper off on Tuesday,” the forecast said.

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