HEADINGLEY -- Westbound cars and semis were lined up as far as the eye could see here Sunday after wintry weather and treacherous driving conditions returned to the Winnipeg area and prompted the closure of the Trans-Canada Highway to Portage la Prairie.
"It's just part of the deal," said Saskatchewan trucker Darrel Unger just before the highway re-opened at 2 p.m. He'd been waiting in Headingley since arriving there at 5:30 a.m. Sunday from Toronto with an empty tanker he was hauling to Lloydminster, Alta.
It's not the first time the trucker of 35 years has been forced to wait out bad weather on the bald prairie in Headingley, he said. He now comes prepared with a couple of books. This time he read Margaret Atwood's novel The Blind Assassin while waiting for the traffic to move again.
"It's excellent," Unger said, just before the RCMP announced they were re-opening the road.
The re-opening was good news for eye surgeon Dr. Guillermo Rocha and the patients in Brandon expecting him to help restore their eyesight.
'There worse things than being here. You could be sitting upside down in the ditch'
Rocha is scheduled to perform a cornea transplant in Brandon today.
"I need to be there by tomorrow," he said calmly early Sunday afternoon.
The doctor left Winnipeg in his SUV and gave himself plenty of time to get to Brandon and get settled before today's surgery. He wasn't expecting a highway closure, he said, parked outside Nick's Inn in Headingley.
Other waylaid motorists had time to kill and made the most of it.
"There's worse things than being here," said Barry Truesdale, from Riding Mountain. "You could be sitting upside down in the ditch."
Truesdale had been waiting for just over an hour in Headingley and made a friend in Cliff Langan from Rivers, who stopped nearby. Langan said Sunday afternoon he'd been waiting for the highway to open since 9 a.m.
He was driving home after a disastrous weekend bowling tournament in Winnipeg. He hurt his shoulder on Saturday and could no longer play. Lucky for him, he stayed until Sunday and got held up in Headingley. If he'd driven home Saturday night, Langan would've driven into the worst of the snowstorm that hit the Interlake and Riding Mountain areas. There, it dumped up to 10 centimetres of snow, Environment Canada meteorologist Danielle Fingland said Sunday.
Winnipeg got up to five centimetres of snow on Sunday, she said. The storm system moved in from Alberta and another system is expected later this week -- a blast of northern air that will see temperatures plunge to well below normal, said Fingland. "Arctic air is moving in."
A daytime high of -13 C in expected in Winnipeg by Wednesday, she said. The normal daytime for this time of year is -3 C.
Truesdale was taken aback by the quick turn in the weather this weekend.
Balmy conditions welcomed Santa Claus at his parade in Winnipeg Saturday before blowing snow closed the highway just west of the city Sunday.
"We went from the penthouse to the outhouse," Truesdale said.
For city crews and auto-rescue services, the timing of the first blast of wintry weather couldn't have been better -- a day before the weekday rush hour.
City crews Sunday were salting and sanding streets and clearing sidewalks, a city news release said. This weekend, close to 30 units of heavy equipment were out on city streets, it said.
"With pieces of heavy equipment out on the roadways, we are asking motorists to use extra care and caution," Jim Berezowsky, manager of streets maintenance, said in the release. It asked drivers to give themselves more time to get where they're going, to slow down to a safe travel speed for winter conditions, and to allow themselves enough room to stop.
CAA Manitoba was reminding motorists to clear snow and ice from their vehicles before driving off. On Sunday morning in Winnipeg, some drivers struggled to see where they were going because they had cleared only a small patch of their windshield, spokeswoman Liz Peters said.
"It's a recipe for disaster."
Temperatures hovered around 0 C outside Winnipeg, creating black ice on highways that was hidden by blowing snow, she said.
On Sunday morning, there were a couple of rollovers near Lorette, and a lot of people going off the side of the road, Peters said. It was a little busier than usual but there wasn't the onslaught of calls for help.
"We expect a big burst of calls (today). No matter what time of year, Mondays are always busy."