Yukon is located in the northernmost part of the North American continent, a region known for its extremities of climate. When most people think of Yukon, they think of polar bears, snow, glaciers, and freezing cold temperatures. While this is mostly accurate, you might be surprised to learn about Yukon’s climate diversity and the types of animals and plants that can thrive in such a foreboding environment.
Yukon’s climate is actually somewhat moderate by Arctic standards, and is known for its extreme variations in temperature during inclement weather. Read on to learn more about weather and climate in Yukon.
Weather and Climate in Yukon
Yukon’s climate is largely the result of the Earth’s axial tilt. Most know that with regards to its orbit around the sun, Earth’s position is not fixed; the planet is partially tilted on its axis. This tilt is the reason why much of the planet goes through seasonal shifts. The portion of the Earth that is tilted towards the sun experiences summer due to an increased amount of sunlight, while the part that is tilted away from the sun experiences winter due to a comparative lack of sunlight. The Earth is divided into two hemispheres, the north and south hemisphere, each with opposing seasonal schedules depending on the time of year; when the northern hemisphere is experiencing summer, the southern hemisphere is experiencing winter and vice versa.
As one journeys further away from the equator, seasonal effects become more pronounced. Because the equator is at the center of the Earth, it receives roughly the same amount of sunlight all year and has little seasonal variation. The further north or south you are, the more extreme seasonal changes become. At the North and South Poles, the parts of the Earth that are furthest from the equator, the shifts between seasons are huge.
Yukon is partially located in the Arctic Circle, and because of this, it experiences brief, cool summers that are marked by large amounts of daylight, with many days featuring perpetual daylight due to twilight from the sun not sinking far enough below the horizon to darken the skies. Conversely, during the winter, days are extremely brief, and many days, the sun does not rise at all. As expected, this creates a wide gulf between the seasons. Much of Yukon is classified as a subarctic climate for this reason, with the northernmost tip of the territory being classified as a tundra climate.
Yukon’s weather is similar to neighboring Alaska’s, but is distinguished by a lack of coastal moderation. Alaska’s extensive Pacific and Arctic Ocean coastlines act as a moderating influence across much of the state, preventing temperatures from dropping as low as they otherwise might. Yukon is largely inland save for its short Arctic coast, which translates into colder winters and hotter summers than coastal regions along the sea. The neighboring Northwest Territories also has a slightly warmer temperature due to its larger Arctic coastline.
One climate issue specific to Yukon is its heat waves and cold snaps. During periods of extreme cold weather across northern North America, Yukon is known to experience exceptionally steep temperature drops. It is not uncommon for winter temperatures in Yukon to dip as low as 60 degrees below zero Celsius (76 degrees below zero Fahrenheit). At the same time, summers in Yukon feature more intense heat waves than Alaska and other Canadian territories. The all-time temperature recorded in Yukon occurred in June 2004 near Whitehorse, where the temperature reached 36.5 degrees Celsius (97.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Additionally, heat waves in Yukon tend to occur much earlier than in the rest of Canada, happening in May and June instead of July, August, and September.
Ice is an ever-present reality of Yukon’s Arctic waters, which make sea travel dangerous to outright impossible during cold months. This fortunately does not present a problem to logistics in Yukon, since the coast’s isolation and lack of population means it lacks any ports. Virtually all goods brought in and out of Yukon are done so via the Alaska Highway, air, or via boat traffic on the Yukon River.
Due to Yukon’s iciness, local wildlife boast a number of evolutionary adaptations to keep themselves warm. This include pockets of blubber, thick fur coats, and tiny orifices (ears, eyes, noses, and the like) that keep heat loss to a minimum. Many Yukon mammals, such as bears, will also hibernate during the winter to conserve energy, while birds will migrate south in order to avoid cold weather. Much of Yukon is located north of the tree line, the border delimiting territory where trees cannot grow due to permafrost and cold weather. The tree line can be easily viewed by traveling north through Yukon; as you approach it, trees will become progressively shorter, and at the tree line itself, trees will appear misshapen or deformed.
Finally, Yukon weather is known for unpredictability, with storms and clouds developing without warning. Because of this, travelers to Yukon are advised to bring warm, multi-layered clothing, even if they are visiting during the summer months. Despite Yukon’s lack of sunlight in the winter, it is still possible to get a sunburn from prolonged periods outdoors. Because of Yukon’s icy climate and remote location, human settlement in the territory has been historically limited.
Yukon weather is known for being treacherous, unpredictable, and a danger to the unprepared traveler. Despite its reputation for icy winters, it is still possible to enjoy warm summers and sunshine in the territory. Regardless of when you visit Yukon, you should prepare for the experience by bringing warm clothing and survival necessities to ensure that you remain insulated from the elements. By planning your vacation carefully, you’ll ensure that your visit to Yukon will be safe and enjoyable.