The extreme cold in Western Canada has sent temperatures plummeting across the region, with Edmonton forecast to record its coldest day in more than 50 years.
Environment Canada says temperatures in Edmonton dropped to -37 C Friday morning and may hit -40 C overnight for the first time within city limits since January 1972.
Alberta Health Services says freezing temperatures have triggered an “air handling system issue” that has disrupted heating at the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s emergency department, causing patients to be diverted to other hospitals for a time.
In Calgary, temperatures as low as -36 C have resulted in flight delays and cancellations, as well as knocking out the city’s light rail transit in the downtown core.
In British Columbia, rescue crews say two skiers are lucky to be alive after they became lost in the Fitzsimmons Creek area near Whistler late Thursday as wind chill dipped around -50 C.
North Shore Rescue says on social media that a helicopter was used to hoist out the pair who were hypothermic with frozen feet, and it’s “unlikely the skiers would have survived the night.”
The blast of winter also struck Metro Vancouver, with three centimetres of snow causing havoc on icy roads on Thursday before temperatures dropped to -13 C Friday morning with a wind chill of -24 C.
Social media was filled with scenes of ice-sheened roads, stalled buses, sliding vehicles and traffic gridlock.
The Transport Ministry’s DriveBC service said one crash involved more than 25 vehicles on Highway 91 in Richmond, south of Vancouver, disrupting traffic for hours during Thursday’s evening commute.
Richmond RCMP say there were “multiple clusters of smaller non-injury motor vehicle collisions along Highway 91 at Nelson Road, but police responses were limited to serious-injury collisions due to call volume.
The cold snap set new low-temperature records Thursday in the coastal B.C. community of Bella Bella, B.C., at -12.7 C, the Malahat area on Vancouver Island at -9.1 C, as well as in the Alberta communities of Breton, Hendrickson Creek and Red Earth Creek.
The weather agency says Breton, 110 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, saw temperatures drop to -37.6 C, breaking a 56-year-old record.
DriveBC says roads across the province are showing icy or snowy conditions, and drivers are asked to “drive with caution no matter where your travels take you today.”
TransLink says on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that SkyTrain service on two lines has been delayed by the weather.
Environment Canada cold and Arctic outflow warnings are splashed in red across the agency’s map of Canada, from Haida Gwaii, B.C., to western Manitoba.
It says the cold snap won’t shake loose until at least Saturday, and forecasters warn the gusting winds can make temperatures feel like -40 or even -55 in some parts.
That means frostbite can develop within minutes on exposed skin.
Those who do venture outside are told to watch for symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain, muscle pain and weakness, numbness, or fingers and toes changing colour.
While extreme cold puts everyone at risk, Environment Canada says the risks are greater for young children, older adults, people with chronic illnesses, people working or exercising outdoors, and those without proper shelter.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2024.