Record-breaking temperatures hit Yukon with a splash

It may be the first official day of spring, but Yukon's been seeing winter melt away for days now — and pooling up.

Whitehorse deals with overflowing storm drains as snow rapidly melts

City workers have been dealing with backed up storm drains in some parts of the city this week. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

It may be the first official day of spring, but Yukon's been seeing winter melt away — and pool up — for days now.

Record-breaking temperatures this week have created massive puddles on some Whitehorse streets, and city workers have been scrambling to deal with the drainage problems.

"We are continuing to receive urgent calls from around the city, and ask the public to support the safety of our crews working around roads, and be patient as we manage this melt," said City of Whitehorse spokesperson Myles Dolphin, in an email.

Quartz Road, which runs between Second Avenue and the Marwell industrial area, has been especially troublesome. Overflowing storm drains left some sections of the road under several centimetres of water. 

Dolphin said Tuesday that the overflow was under control — for now.

"That area is an especially maintenance-intensive part of the storm network, and we are still anticipating significant flows coming down from the top of the escarpment and the airport," Dolphin's email says.

'It was literally like a little river flowing through here,' said Porter Creek resident Jody Morey, who had an overflowing storm drain in his yard. (Submitted by Jody Morey)

Porter Creek resident Jody Morey has also seen problems, not just on his street but in his yard. He lives down an embankment from Centennial Road and the Alaska Highway, and melt water from above flows through a storm drain that goes through his property.

On Monday, he was called home to find water bubbling up and pouring through his yard.

"It was literally like a little river flowing through here," he said, "it's discharging through the manhole in my backyard." 

"I see it all over the city as well, same types of issues."

Effects on wildlife

Temperatures in many parts of the North have been breaking records this week. In Yukon, some communities were in the double-digits on Tuesday, and the forecast was calling for more of the same through the rest of the week.

Whitehorse and Dawson City both reached 12 C on Tuesday, making it the warmest March 19 those communities have seen in more than 70 years. The average high temperature for the first day of spring is usually closer to zero. 

Out for a playground paddle in Whitehorse on Tuesday. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

These early warm temperatures may feel great to some, but Yukon government biologist Tom Jung says they can be tough on wildlife — in particular, species that den or burrow in river valleys.

"I've heard accounts from some First Nations in the past, out in Haines Junction in particular, that some of these rapid thaws have led to flooding, and die-offs of ground squirrels, for example," he said.

Jung says animals can also struggle when there's rapid melting during the day, and freezing at night. 

"It develops a thick crust which makes it difficult for caribou to run in, or to dig though to get to the lichens they need," he said.

'There's winners and there's losers,' said Yukon government biologist Tom Jung. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Birds, on the other hand, are likely to thrive in early spring weather. Jung says warm weather means they don't have to burn their remaining fat reserves.

"There's winners and there's losers," Jung said.

Good for downhill, bad for cross-country skiing

There are also winners and losers when it comes to skiing.

March break is typically a busy time at Whitehorse's Mount Sima ski hill, and this week has been a good one on the slopes.

"I think it's expected that spring break means spring conditions, and the sun's coming out so I don't think anyone's sad about the powder missing," said Tyler Nichol, who works at the hill.

'It's nice to take off the jacket and ride in a hoodie,' said Tyler Nichol, who works at Mount Sima in Whitehorse. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

"It's nice to take off the jacket and ride in a hoodie, and just play in the snow and be warm."

He says the melt is not a concern right now — the ski hill spends weeks early in the season making snow and it's not about to disappear overnight.

"We're good for snow. We've got a really good base," he said.

It's a different story at the Mount McIntyre cross-country ski trails, where trail conditions have quickly deteriorated in recent days.

On Wednesday morning, the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club said it had just groomed the trails for the last time this season.

"Grooming in current conditions is not safe for our equipment. Skiing is not recommended," the club posted on Facebook. 

Written by Paul Tukker, with reporting by Mike Rudyk