Nunavut has seen lots of snowstorms, but no one was ready for what struck the Kivalliq region last winter. Between 2 a.m. on January 16 and 10 a.m. on January 23 – a record-breaking seven days and five hours – Rankin Inlet looked like it was drowning in skim milk. Winds gusted above 90 kilometres per hour and never dropped below 74. Temperatures sank as low as minus-58 with the wind-chill. For a week visibility was less than 800 metres. Flights were grounded. Store shelves went bare. Doctors tending to a teenager with a failing liver had to postpone the evacuation.
“The water in my toilet bowl was sloshing around,” says Amanda Marshman, a Rankin midwife. “I kept thinking, ‘I wonder if my building is going to fall?’” When the wind finally died, giant, rock-hard snowdrifts that looked like surf waves were piled so high that snowmobilers traversing them had to duck to avoid power lines.
According to Environment Canada, it was by far the nation’s longest blizzard – defined as a snowstorm with winds above 40 kilometres per hour, visibility under one kilometre and wind-chills of at least minus-25. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the runner-up whiteouts had also been in Nunavut: 89-hour blizzards in Baker Lake in 1987 and Resolute in 1977, and an 87-hour storm in Iqaluit in 1979.