Wednesday, January 13th 2021, 12:19 pm - Cartwright mayor says he's 'never seen anything like it'
People living in Labrador are used to cold and sometimes challenging winter weather conditions, but four straight days of freezing rain is unheard of, says the mayor of Cartwright.
Robyn Holwell says Cartwright and the surrounding area had extreme weather this past week with the freezing rain, in some cases even causing telephone poles to snap.
"After it was all over, there were trees covered in ice everywhere — there were probably thousands of trees bent or broken. I never ever seen anything like it — it's just amazing that we never lost power to the whole town," Holwell said.
Robyn Holwell says trees and poles have snapped under the weight of ice, after sustained freezing rain the likes of which he's never seen in Cartwright before. (Submitted by Robyn Holwell via CBC News)
"As far as I know, there was only one resident that needed repairs to their telephone pole.… It could have been much, much worse than it was. Some people call it 'Iceageddon.' It's just, you go out around anywhere and it's absolutely amazing to look at. There's up to four inches of ice covering some of the trees."
Holwell said there are Bell Aliant towers on a hill that have also been snapped off due to the freezing rain.
"Those towers are for internet and phones. There were six or seven poles broke off up there, snapped right off ... and in a day and age like this where internet is so important for just about everything, it could have been very serious," he said.
"We're quite lucky that we never lost power or anything like that.… I never, ever seen anything like it in my life."
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The Bell Aliant towers are located in an extremely inaccessible area, Holwell said: a forested area on steep terrain.
He added that Bell Aliant staff have already been to the site, where a backup generator is keeping things running, but "it could be a while before the poles are repaired and permanent power is restored."
Ice covers this outdoor seating area in Cartwright, after four days of sustained freezing rain. (Submitted by Robyn Holwell via CBC News)
According to Holwell, it's not just the impact on phones, internet and power that concerns him, but also what it will mean for wildlife, hunting and food resources.
Sea ice is used as a roadway for getting to hunting cabins, as well as for fishing, Holwell said. When the weather is unpredictable, as it has been recently, it means the ice isn't reliable.
"You can't trust it," he said.
"The ice affects the wildlife, the ptarmigan and the caribou especially, because with all the ice covering everything they're gonna have a lot of difficulty accessing their food sources. And weather events like this affect everything. Even our mental health is affected by something like this, especially in Indigenous communities like Cartwright, where you have subsistent hunting as a way of life.
Frosted trees in Labrador City. (Submitted by Stephanie Rideout via The Weather Network)
"For someone who might be providing food for their family on a regular basis … weather events like this, especially if they're happening more often, it's going to affect your ability to put country food on the table."
Holwell, who used to work at the Nav Canada weather station in Cartwright before it was turned into an automated station, said it's part of a larger pattern of changing winter weather in the region.
He points to the weather on Dec. 26, which saw temperatures in Cartwright hit 11 C.
"That's wholly unusual," Holwell said.
"This weather is not unique to Cartwright; I guess you could say it's part of a larger weather pattern, part of global warming. It's not just warming up, we're having more extreme weather events more often. It's normal every winter to have a little bit of freezing rain or a little bit of freezing drizzle every once in a while, but not like this."
This article was originally published for CBC News. Contains files from Labrador Morning.