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A tale of two winters

Greenland is bathing in snow right now. Last year, they were just bathing
Sisyphus had it easy

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If 2016 will be remembered in Nuuk as the winter that almost wasn’t (by Greenlandic standards at least), 2017 is more than making up for it. Few would disagree that, even by Greenlandic standards, weather in the capital and throughout most of the country – with the exception of the eastern coast – has been colder and snowier than normal (by the official standards of the DMI, the Danish met).

During a period of just a few days this January, for example, 195cm of snow fell on Nuuk, or more than five times the 30 year average. The same thing happened in March, when 250cm of snow fell during a storm lasting three days.

“And, what’s more, the snow that fell didn’t melt, so it has all just piled up,” says Jesper Eriksen, a DMI meteorologist in Greenland.

SEE BELOW: What difference a winter makes. See pictures comparing April 2016 with April 2017

If there was a particular reason why this happend, the DMI hasn’t figured it out, according to Mr Eriksen.

“I think it’s a coincidence that it all fell during periods of just a few days. The winter months haven’t been abnormal otherwise,” he says.

The capital wasn’t the only place where there was more winter than normal this year. In Sisimiut, for example, snowfall in January was 84cm, compared with the 19cm the town averages for that month.

In the town of Qaanaq, in the far north, is wasn’t the snow that will be remembered (there is no official snow measuring equipment there), but the wind, after two windstorms with gusts reaching above hurricane force ripped through. The most recent, in February, saw wind speeds hit 180km/h. This, according to Mr Eriksen, in a part of the country where windstorms are rare.

SEE RELATED: A lousy thing happened to me on my way to Illoqqortoormiut

In Qaqortoq, on the south-western coast, the DMI weather station recorded 133mm of snow, compared with the 57mm norm for the month.

“So that was a record too,” Mr Eriksen says.

Tasiilaq, on the eastern coast, typically stands out for its enormous amounts of snow. January, however, was more wet than white. In February, there was a lot of snow, but it fell up in the mountains, according to Mr Eriksen.

SEE RELATED: Extreme Greenland heat continued during summer

The precise amount of snow Tasiilaq got this winter, Mr Eriksen says, is actually unknown, due to a warmer winter temperature there. “So, precipitation falls as rain or a mix, which makes it hard to calculate how much snow there actually was.”

All of that snow may be water to the mill of climate sceptics, but this is something Mr Eriksen does have an explanation for.

“As the global temperature rises, we expect more precipitation to fall. In the winter, that precipitation is still going to fall as snow, whether the temperature is -2° or -10°. So, our prediction is that Greenland is going to see more snow in the coming years.”

Going back to last year, Mr Eriksen points out that leading up to the Arctic Winter Games in Nuuk, the city actually had to truck in snow.

“There was a lack of snow. What that shows us is that drier periods will get drier and wetter periods will get wetter.”

SEE RELATED: Any which way but warm

Even though meteorologists talk about averages all the time, that isn’t the same as saying one abnormal season will be followed by an equally, but oppositely, abnormal season.

“The good thing about weather is that it has no memory. Right now, Nuuk is suffering under the huge amount of snow that fell in January. But, before you know it, it will be summer and we’ll start with a clean slate.”

When summer will start, he says, remains anyone’s guess.

“We can’t see that far ahead. The average temperature in Nuuk at this time of year is -3.8°, and right now, it’s -5.6°. The weather the rest of the month, should be normal, but the temperature is going to be below normal.”

A version of this article originally ran in the April 26 edition of  AG, a Greenlandic weekly published by this website’s parent company.

All photos: Leiff Josefsen