Polar Bear Blog

All you need to know about the weather in Churchill

Polar bear basks in the warmth of the Arctic summer sun
Enjoying the Arctic summer sun! | Photo by Ken Drozd

By Vanessa Desorcy

Some of our most frequently asked questions are about Churchill weather and how to prepare for it. In a nutshell, it’s…unique. Our recent Floe Edge expedition highlighted that fact in a big way. Some days were sunny and a balmy zero-ish degrees (Celsius), while others had high winds, blowing snow, and much colder temperatures.

People get caught off guard by how the weather can change from hour to hour or day-to-day. Sometimes it’s storming at the lodge, but calm and clear in Churchill, just a 15- to-30-minute plane ride away.

We’re going to break it down so that you know what to expect when you visit!

Churchill weather versus lodge weather

There are no weather stations at our lodges. We rely on Churchill forecasts as a gauge. However, conditions can vary drastically between town and our lodges. No matter how carefully we plan, weather can quickly throw us off course. Conditions change quickly and constantly in the north. On changeover days, our lodge manager is in constant communication with our staff on the ground in Churchill.

We know it’s frustrating to hear from someone on our team that your flight to the lodge is delayed due to low visibility at the lodge. Perplexing, too, when you’re standing on the tarmac in Churchill and the skies are mostly clear. Unfortunately, scenarios like this do happen. The good news is, most of the time delays are minor.

We do our best to transfer guests to and from the lodge as efficiently as possible, but sometimes we’re at the mercy of mother nature. Safety comes first!

Photographers brave the elements to capture polar bears
Photographers brave the elements at Seal River Heritage Lodge | Photo by Ian Johnson

Temperature patterns

Situated at 58 degrees of latitude, Churchill, Manitoba has a subarctic continental climate. This climate is characterized by long, cold winters (check!) and short, cool summers (check!).

Arctic summer is absolutely beautiful. When our season starts in July, the average daily temperature is around 15° Celsius (59°F). These types of temperatures continue throughout most of August until autumn arrives.

September is a month of varied and rapidly changing weather. The temperature starts dropping and the first frost occurs. This marks the start of the most colourful season when the foliage turns shades of orange, red, and gold. Average highs and lows in September are around 9°C and 3°C, respectively (equal to 48- and 37-degrees Fahrenheit).

In October, the temperatures start cooling off and the bear activity starts heating up. The cooler weather and impending sea ice trigger them to start sparring in anticipation of mating season out on the ice.

The average high experienced in October is 1°C (33°F), while temperatures can drop down to -4°C (24°F) or cooler.

November gets even chillier with average highs and lows both in the negative; around -9°C (16°F) and -16°C (3°F), respectively.

The next few months get even colder, but our lodges shut down in late November and we head south to Winnipeg where it’s slightly warmer.

In March, a few brave souls head back up for a special expedition to see moms and cubs emerging from their dens. It’s even colder than October or November, but it’s also peak northern lights season.

A polar bear crossing the tundra during a snowstorm
Snowy blowy day at Seal River Heritage Lodge | Photo by Ian Johnson

The wind chill factor

Often, guests from warmer or more temperate climates aren’t accustomed to the frigid Arctic winds that can take your breath away.

Wind chill temperature is how cold it actually feels outside when wind is a factor. The wind strips away the warm air near your skin and can drive “feels-like” temperatures down by an average of 10 to 15 degrees Celsius. For instance, if you’re at the lodge in November and the temperature reads -10°C (14°F) but the wind is blowing at 30 km/h (18 mph), it will actually feel like -20°C (-4°F) when you step outside.

The prevailing winds in the Churchill area are from the north, bringing extreme cold in the late fall and winter months. The winds start picking up in September with some of the highest speeds in November, often leading to delayed flights to/from our lodges. Historical data shows average wind speeds around 25 km/h (15 mph) in November, but it’s not uncommon to experience much stronger winds, or gusts exceeding 60 km/h winds.

Not only does this make flying unsafe, but it makes excursions very chilly. Our staff and guides will make sure you’re adequately prepared before you head up to the lodge and keep an eye on you on really cold days. Hypothermia can sneak up on a person and frostbite can occur in minutes when temperatures and wind chills are extreme.

We’re experts when it comes to dressing for the weather. We’ve got you covered with all the gear and recommendations needed to keep you safe and warm while out on the tundra. Check out our summer and winter packing lists for a starting point.

Lighting strikes across the taiga near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in northern ManitobaShores
Lightning strikes the taiga near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge | Photo by Didrik Johnck

Precipitation

Most subarctic climates have relatively little precipitation, typically no more than 380 mm (15 in) over an entire year. Away from the coasts, precipitation occurs mainly in the warmer months. Coastal areas with subarctic climates (where we are) see the heaviest precipitation during the autumn months when the relative warmth of the Bay is greatest. (Wikipedia)

At our ecolodges, we receive an average of 410 mm (16 in) of precipitation per year. August through November is when the bulk of the precipitation is received with nearly half of the annual rain and snow falling during this time. August is generally the wettest month, typically seeing about 60 mm (2.4 in) of rain, cumulatively, while October is usually the month with the most snowfall.

Key Takeaways

  • Our lodges are located along the coastline of Hudson Bay in a subarctic continental zone.
  • The temperature in Churchill during our operating season can range from 15°C (59°F) in July to -15°C (5°F) in November.
  • Windchill is no joke. It can make the air feel 10 to 15 degrees Celsius colder.
  • Subarctic climates like ours don’t get a ton of precipitation, but the “wettest” months are August (rain) and November (snow).
  • We’ll make sure you’re prepared with the right gear no matter what time of year you visit!

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