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Tornado on the Delta

Unstable weather spawns spinning funnel cloud in Inuvik and Mackenzie's Horseshoe Channel

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Aug 06/01) - It may not be Tornado Alley, but the Mackenzie Delta was blowing like an Oklahoma dustbowl on a day which can only be described now as typical in a long summer of unusual weather phenomenon.

Ken Dalton, base manager for Aklak Air in Inuvik, could barely believe his eyes when he saw what appeared to be a funnel cloud or even a possible tornado twisting over the Mackenzie River's Horseshoe Channel July 28.

"I was standing out on the patio with one of the guys, and there was a big, black cloud over the river and a finger touching down," recalls Dalton.

"I said, 'hey that looks like a funnel cloud,' so I went and grabbed my camera."

Dalton's photos soon found there way onto the Internet and to Environment Canada's office in Edmonton.

According to meteorologist Yvonn Bilan-Wallace, tornados in the NWT are not as uncommon as one might think.

It is simply a matter of low population density and the North's remoteness that tends to keep NWT tornados off the newsstands.

"I imagine at least once or twice a year we have a tornadic event in the Northwest Territories," says Bilan-Wallace.

"They seem to follow the highways," she added, meaning that is where tornados are most commonly sighted.

A lack of highways -- like in the NWT -- means less tornado sightings.

Bilan-Wallace says weather in the Delta area has been particularly noteworthy this summer.

Inuvik experienced record highs on July 20 and 22 at 32.8 and 31.4 degrees celsius. The record on the 20th breaks the all time high of 32.5 degrees set Aug. 2, 1994.

Overall, the weather in the Delta all summer long has been marked by tropic-like heatwaves broken up by torrential thunder showers.

In case one might be concerned that killer twisters, like the one that ravaged a campground in Pine Lake, Alta. last summer might soon been a common occurrence in the North, Bilan-Wallace says such scenario is still highly unlikely.

There is simply not enough warm air travelling through the NWT to generate the super F5 tornados that have wrecked havoc in southern Canada and the United States, she explained.

"One thought though is that climate change will bring more extreme weather," Bilan-Wallace says, but noting there's not enough record to compare with.