Officials warn southern Manitobans to batten down hatches Major spring snowstorm has region in its crosshairs
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Experts are urging Manitobans to stock up on groceries, medicines and candles, warning the equivalent of a month of snowfall will pummel the province starting Tuesday night, while gusts will likely down Hydro lines through to Friday.
“This is going to be a historical event,” Environment Canada meteorologist Sara Hoffman told the Free Press. “People will remember this, moving forward. It’s incredibly important to take this seriously.”
The area around Dauphin and Riding Mountain National Park are expected to be the worst hit, with 50 centimetres or more of snowfall in three days.
Between Winnipeg and Brandon, 35-50 cm is forecast.
Hoffman said the agency’s snowfall monitoring at site in the Charleswood neighbourhood of Winnipeg measured 50.4 cm for the entire month of February.
“This is going to be a historical event… People will remember this, moving forward. It’s incredibly important to take this seriously.”– Sara Hoffman, Environment Canada meteorologist
In one 24-hour period, Winnipeg can expect 15-20 cm of snow, which Hoffman said is enough to make any municipality struggle to clear its roads.
Gusts of 90 km/h will likely mean poor visibility.
The threat loomed large enough the province delivered a special media briefing Monday, with the infrastructure minister and the head of the Emergency Management Organization taking part.
Elsewhere, Winnipeggers using the Weather Network app got the surreal notice Monday that the “worst blizzard in decades looms.”
The message got through to shoppers at the Costco store on St. James Street.
“Everybody is talking about it,” said Amy Hunter, who drove with her spouse and five children two hours south from Pinaymootang First Nation to stock up.
Hunter was involved in the community evacuation during the October 2019 blizzard, forcing her family into a Winnipeg hotel for three weeks.
“(We’re a) little anxious,” she said, loading sandwich meats, cereal and milk into the back of her already full minivan. “Even walking around the stores, people are like, ‘Oh, are you guys preparing for the storm?’”
Lines of vehicles snaked throughout the parking lot, with some drivers honking impatiently.
West End resident Domini Pool was also stocking up, but less concerned.
“I’m hoping everybody will be safe, and I really hope that as many people can stay off the roads as possible,” she said.
“I’m hoping everybody will be safe, and I really hope that as many people can stay off the roads as possible.”– Amy Hunter
Local hardware stores reported generators were flying off the shelves, while the Hyundai dealership on Portage Avenue said at least a dozen people postponed appointments to remove their winter tires.
“It makes things a little bit tight for some of the customers that were looking to book down the road,” said manager Ralph Schneider.
“The weather is becoming more and more unpredictable all the time.”
Across Manitoba, school divisions will decide whether to declare a snow day each morning.
“There’s certainly a lot conversations already,” said Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association.
Boards are loathe to send parents scrambling for child care and work-from-home arrangements until officials are sure students won’t end up called back to class, he said.
“This week will be about day-to-day decision making… in line with keeping students and staff safe.”
Manitoba Hydro is hoping cold weather will mean drifting snow that puts less of a drag on its transmission lines, but the Crown corporation is preparing for heavier, wet snow that appears in warmer temperatures.
Looking back: Winnipeg's Blizzard of 1997
The worst storm in Manitoba history virtually shut Winnipeg down on the weekend of April 5 to 7, 1997, closing the airport, shopping centres, all surrounding highways and knocking out hydro and phone service in some areas.
The storm began around 4 p.m. on Saturday, and before it was over it dumped nearly 50 centimetres of snow on the city.
"We don't have any other storms that beat it. We've beat all kinds of records," Environment Canada meterologist Michel Bisson said at the time.
The storm set records for most precipitation in a 24-hour period -- including the legendary March 1966 blizzard with at 25.6 cm and the November 1986 blizzard, with 35 cm of snow -- and records for the worst April storm since Environment Canada began keeping records in 1876.
“If it freezes, that wet, clingy snow brings down the line, and with a bit of wind, those lines start swinging… and then breaking,” said Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen. “That can potentially cause major outages in some areas of the province.”
Manitoba Hydro monitored weather patterns last week that increasingly suggested heavy snowfall, he said, and so the utility notified staff they can expect to be called in.
Since the 2019 blizzard, which led to a provincial state of emergency, Hydro has improved its emergency communications and stocked up on parts (such as wood poles) to allow faster repairs, Owen said.
He warned, however, inaccessible roads would hamper crews in restoring power to rural zones, urging patience.
“Every Canadian should have an emergency kit, which would prepare you for 72 hours without running water or power,” said Hoffman, who is based in Edmonton.
“It’s a reminder that we live in a really weather-wild place; we can experience extremes at any time of year, so it’s always good to be prepared.”
That includes storing water, canned food, blankets, candles with matches, flashlights with batteries, and adequate medicines.
“Every Canadian should have an emergency kit, which would prepare you for 72 hours without running water or power.”– Sara Hoffman, Environment Canada meteorologist
Owen noted Manitobans tend to already have these things in their homes, but should get them together in a central location that would be easy to access if the power suddenly went out at night. He also noted keeping a cellphone charged can be key for staying abreast of conditions and being reachable; he suggested Manitobans who have car chargers can plug in their phone in the driveway if needed.
Meanwhile, the province is keeping an eye on how the heavy snowfall will impact the flood forecast.
Officials told reporters Monday, even with a large amount of sudden precipitation, a gradual melt would be easily absorbed and even help with dry conditions around Duck Mountain Provincial Park.
“We don’t expect to see any melt until April 20, around there, so that gives us good time,” said Johanu Botha, head of the province’s Emergency Management Organization.
Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwnuik, who oversees that body, said crews will clear highways as soon as they safely can, with a goal of opening major routes within four hours.
“I encourage everybody to be prepared,” he said.
City of Winnipeg officials had the same message, encouraging people to have supplies on hand and follow official social media accounts.
“At this point, it’s premature to speak to potential impacts to programs and services,” wrote city spokesman David Driedger.
“However, our crews stand ready to serve and prepared to respond to the forecasted storm, and will undertake snow clearing and ice control activities, as required.”
This week’s projections will remind many of Winnipeg’s April 1997 blizzard, in which 48 cm of snow shut down the city for a weekend. Hoffman said this new, big storm is arriving on-schedule for southern Manitoba.
“A spring storm of this nature occurs once every 30 years.”
— with files from Tyler Searle, Katie May, Maggie Macintosh
Updated on Monday, April 11, 2022 6:01 PM CDT: Changes layout