Welcome to this Cambridge Bay climate guide! Located in Nunavut, Canada, Cambridge Bay (also known as Iqaluktuuttiaq) is the largest settlement on Victoria Island. The place is characterized by very long and cold winters, while the summers are short and cool. In this article, we will examine the geographical factors shaping Iqaluktuuttiaq’s climate, discuss the typical weather you can expect, delve into seasonal variations, and explore extreme conditions.
The climate of Cambridge Bay: A tundra climate
Situated at 69 degrees north, Cambridge Bay’s climate is shaped by its high latitude, the closest ocean being dominated by the cold gulf stream, and the fact that the area is surrounded by sea ice for most of the year. The sea surface area around Cambridge Bay is relatively small, with vast stretches of land to the north and further south.
As a result, the region experiences extremely long and cold winters, and short, cool summers. The yearly average temperature is -13.9°C. With every month, including the summer months, having an average temperature below 10 degrees, Cambridge Bay has a polar climate. Since the average temperature does rise above 0 degrees in the summer months, the climate is classified with subcategory tundra climate (Köppen climate classification: ET1).
Typical weather in Cambridge Bay
With an average frost-free period of just 66 days, Iqaluktuuttiaq has a very short summer season. A positive temperature has never been recorded between October 31st and April 19th. The average date of the last spring frost occurs on June 22nd, while the average date of the first fall frost is August 29th. The windchill is below -40 on 125 days per year on average and there is a snow cover present on 264 days of the year, with a snow cover typically lasting from late September or early October until halfway through June.
Most precipitation occurs from June to October, with rain occurring mainly in the summer months, specifically from June to September. The wettest month is August, with an average of 25.7 mm of precipitation, while the driest month is February, with just 4.9 mm. August to October are the months with the highest number of precipitation days (12-13). The yearly precipitation amount is rather low with 141.7 mm.
Seasonal variation in Cambridge Bay: What to expect throughout the year
Cambridge Bay sees four seasons, however, their duration varies significantly. The winter season is particularly long, lasting 6 months, while the other seasons are rather short. For this reason, we deviate from the standard meteorological seasons to describe Cambridge Bay’s climate.
Cambridge Bay winter climate (November to April): extremely cold, snow covered and partially dark
In part due to the dark conditions, with the polar night occurring from December 1st to January 11th, winters in Cambridge Bay are long and harsh. Between these dates, the sun does not rise above the horizon. During this period and the months after, the average temperatures stay below -30°C. Daily minimum temperatures commonly reach around -40°C, and even minimum temperatures below -50°C are observed on rare occasions. A permanent snow cover, several decimetres deep, provides some light in the dark, while the wind exacerbates the already frigid temperatures.
As winter progresses, daylight length increases rapidly, but the conditions remain extremely cold, with temperatures only showing a slight increase as March and April approach.
Cambridge Bay spring climate (May to June): Temperatures gradually rising as midnight sun starts
Despite being the sunniest time of the year relative to the amount of daylight, spring in Cambridge Bay is still cold, with temperatures gradually rising above freezing. The midnight sun begins around May 21st, providing continuous daylight. The maximum snow depth is typically reached in the beginning of spring, while snowmelt occurs towards the end of spring.
Cambridge Bay summer climate (July to August): cool, yet warmest time of the year
Summers in Cambridge Bay are short and cool, with temperatures occasionally surpassing 15°C. July is the warmest month of the year, and frost is uncommon during this specific month. August generally sees the first night(s) with temperatures dipping just below freezing.
In absolute numbers, summer is the sunniest season due to the long days. The midnight sun lasts until July 23rd. Rain is quite common during the summer months, while snowfall is less frequent but can still occur on a few days. These snow events only rarely lead to accumulation of snow and an eventual, thin snow cover would be rather short-lived.
Cambridge Bay autumn climate (September to October): plummeting temperatures
During the early part of autumn in Cambridge Bay, rain remains relatively common. However, as the season progresses, temperatures experience a rapid decline. The first substantial frost and snowfall typically occur within this period, along with the initial ice days. By the end of October, a permanent snow cover has generally formed. As daylight hours rapidly decline, temperatures cease to rise above the freezing point, marking the onset of the region’s characteristic long and cold winter season.
Weather extremes in Cambridge Bay
The highest temperature ever recorded in Cambridge Bay was 28.9°C on July 1st, 1930, while the lowest temperature ever recorded was -52.8°C on January 3rd, 1935. The lowest wind chill recorded was -73.4°C, on 12 January 1975.
The average snow depth is the highest in May and the record snow depth of 59 cm is set in the same month in 1993. Most snowfall in one day was 20.8 cm on the 8th of October, 1962. Remarkable were also the 17.8 cm of snow on the 19th of June, 1929 and 15.8 cm of snowfall on the 21st of August, 1996. Most rainfall on a single day occurred on July 24, 1988: 35.8 mm
In conclusion, Cambridge Bay, or Iqaluktuuttiaq, experiences a tundra climate characterized by long, harsh winters and short, cool summers. The area sees four distinct seasons, with winter being the longest, spanning six months. Precipitation is relatively low, with most of it occurring between June and October. Extreme temperatures range from a high of 28.9°C to a low of -52.8°C. With seasonal variations and weather extremes in mind, those planning to visit or live in Cambridge Bay, , or Iqaluktuuttiaq, should be prepared for the unique and challenging climate conditions.