By Sonja Puzic and Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
Much of Canada spent Saturday either shivering in record-setting frigid temperatures or digging out of a messy winter storm as weather warnings remained in place from the West Coast to the Maritimes.
On the Prairies, high demand for electricity due to the extreme cold prompted the Alberta Electric Systems Operator to issue grid alerts Friday and Saturday, and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf warned there was a high risk of rotating outages Saturday night.
“We are calling on all Albertans to reduce their electric demand immediately to essentials only,” Neudorf said in a news release.
The grid alert was later declared to be over at 8:40pm local time.
AESO President and CEO Mike Law praised Albertans for cooperating in conserving energy.
“On behalf of the AESO, I would like to extend my thanks to all Albertans who responded to the call for action, which ensured we didn’t have to progress to rotating outages,” said Law.
With more cold temperatures expected on Sunday, AESO is asking Albertans to conserve energy during the peak demand period of 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Wind chill values in some parts of British Columbia and the Prairies have resulted in temperatures that feel like they’ve been hovering between -30 C and -50 C, and the icy conditions are not expected to let up until late Sunday or Monday. Environment Canada is warning that arctic air, combined with strong winds, can lead to frostbite and hypothermia “within minutes” if people don’t take proper precautions while outdoors.
“It’s really cold. I’m not used to this,” said Victoria resident Mari Jagt. “I moved from Ontario, but I acclimatized to Victoria, so now that it’s dropping this cold, I have no defences anymore.”
Environment Canada reported Victoria, at -6.4 C Saturday, broke the previous cold temperature mark of -3.3 C set for the day 53 years ago.
It was -10.7 C at Victoria International Airport Friday, topping the 1963 record of -9.4 C.
Jagt, who moved to Victoria from Sarnia, Ont., said she borrowed a winter coat from a friend Saturday to go out to do errands. She said she didn’t have gloves.
Isaac Bates, shivering in a thin coat while waiting for a bus in Victoria, said the temperatures may be lower across Canada, but he was feeling the chill.
“It’s been absolutely atrocious,” he said. “I need to get a pair of gloves actually, because my hands are just cold all the time.”
Environment Canada reported a record low temperature of -45.9 C at Edmonton International Airport, beating the previous 1969 record of -39.4 C.
The operator of Alberta’s power grid has asked people to delay the use of major power-consuming appliances such as washers, dryers, dishwashers and space heaters because of high demand due to the cold.
Compounding the problem, the operator said Friday, was the fact that two natural gas generators weren’t operating and little renewable energy was being produced due to low winds and a shortage of daylight at this time of year.
“On top of high demand of our own energy generation, Alberta’s grid receives electricity from neighbouring provinces,” Neudorf also noted.
“Extreme weather in Saskatchewan and British Columbia is impacting electricity sharing, which is also a contributing factor to tonight’s grid alert.”
Manitoba Hydro, meanwhile, announced on social media Saturday that it needed to implement an emergency outage affecting about 3,000 customers in the Interlake region in the afternoon. It said the outage would last approximately 30 minutes and would tackle necessary adjustments to handle the cold.
WestJet issued a news release saying it was so cold Saturday morning that de-icing fluid didn’t work at airports stretching from the B.C. Interior, across Alberta and into Saskatchewan.
A 27-year-old man died after the Jeep he was driving collided with a snowplow Friday night in Calgary.
Despite the cold, some people in Vancouver were taking the rare opportunity to skate outdoors on frozen urban lakes, including one person skating and stickhandling on a pond at a construction demolition site.
Further east, a winter storm dumped up to 30 centimetres of snow in some parts of Ontario, causing hazardous road conditions and flight cancellations at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
A power outage map on the website of electricity provider Hydro One showed just over 18,000 customers were without electricity across Ontario as of Saturday evening, but the utility said it had restored power to more than 90,000 customers since the storm began on Friday.
The company said its crews were working to fix damage caused by high winds that toppled polls and brought trees down onto power lines.
“We anticipate outages will continue throughout the evening as high winds continue to affect customers across the province, with the highest winds anticipated along the shores of Lake Erie and parts of Lake Ontario in eastern Ontario,” Hydro One said in an emailed statement.
Much of Quebec was also under snowfall or winter storm warnings on Saturday as the storm moved across the province. Forecasts called for between 15 and 40 centimetres of snow in regions along and north of the St. Lawrence River.
Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault said that while areas south of the river were mostly seeing wet snow and rain, snow was already piling up in the swath of the province between Quebec City, Montreal and the Outaouais region north of Ottawa.
Legault said blowing snow and low visibility due to high winds were a concern in many areas of the province. Further east, high winds prompted storm surge warnings in riverside regions ahead of high tide Saturday afternoon.
Hydro-Québec said about 7,300 customers across the province were without power as of Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, parts of Atlantic Canada were facing powerful blasts of wind and tidal surges along coastal areas as the storm moved through the region.
Northern New Brunswick was expecting 15 to 20 centimetres of snow, but the warm air associated with the system meant most of the East Coast would see snow turn to rain.
Environment Canada forecaster Jean-Marc Couturier said wind gusts of between 90 and 100 kilometres per hour were expected along the province’s southwestern coast as the storm moves up the Bay of Fundy.
Wind warnings for gusts over 80 km/h were also in effect for all of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and parts of western Newfoundland.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2024.
— With files from Thomas MacDonald in Montreal, Michael Tutton in Halifax and Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton