Manitoba braces for looming storm
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Flights have been grounded, school buses cancelled and hospitals are preparing beds for stranded health-care workers as Manitoba braces for its worst spring storm in 25 years.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority confirmed Tuesday it was putting into place extra precautions — including the staff option to bed down at work to avoid travel — to keep its health-care centres staffed and patients cared for amid the expected days-long severe weather.
“We are reminding staff to have contingency travel and child care plans in place and to bring necessities in case they do get storm bound,” a WRHA spokesperson said. “We are contacting vulnerable clients and their families to discuss backup plans if mental health and home care services are cancelled.”
RCMP announced Tuesday evening it planned to close all major highways in southern Manitoba around midnight or when the snow started falling. It advised people to stay home.
“If you do decide to travel, please be warned that first responders may not be able to get to you if you become stranded or need assistance,” RCMP said in a release.
All city school divisions — except Pembina Trails — announced late Tuesday classes would be cancelled. Pembina planned to switch to remote learning.
As of Tuesday afternoon, before the first snowflakes fell, the storm’s impact was already widespread.
The threat was deemed enough for Westjet to cancel all its scheduled flights Wednesday to and from the Winnipeg and Brandon airports.
It also moved the NHL to postpone Wednesday’s Winnipeg Jets home game against the Seattle Kraken (rescheduled to May 1), and the AHL to move Friday’s Manitoba Moose home game to Sunday afternoon. The WHL postponed Thursday’s match between the Regina Pats and Winnipeg Ice.
American punk rock band Rise Against axed its Thursday concert at Canada Life Centre.
All Brandon School Division facilities will be closed Wednesday. In a release, superintendent Mathew Gustafson attributed the decision to the “uniqueness of this weather system” and “safety concerns associated with a likely early dismissal.”
Assiniboine Community College campuses and programs will be closed Wednesday.
Winnipeg school divisions had yet to announce any class cancellations as of 6 p.m. Tuesday. However, parents and guardians will have to find an alternate way to get children to public school, as all student bus service was cancelled Wednesday and Thursday.
Brian O’Leary, superintendent for Seven Oaks, said he will meet with fellow superintendents as late as Wednesday morning to discuss other precautions city divisions may take — namely, whether local schools will stay open.
The City of Winnipeg has moved to “proactively close” all civic-run pools, libraries and recreation centres, beginning Wednesday.
“This will be, in part, to keep people off the streets for the benefit of essential and emergency services,” Mayor Brian Bowman said during a news conference.
Winnipeg Transit riders can anticipate impact to services. An extended snow route parking ban will come into effect 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Garbage collection service is suspended Wednesday.
The spring storm being tracked is of similar size and importance to the blizzard of 1997 — a Colorado low system that immobilized southern Manitoba and precipitated the “Flood of the Century,” experts warned.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, Environment Canada meteorologist Natalie Hasell encouraged Manitobans to stock up on essentials and avoid travel.
It was expected the snow will advance into the Parkland region and the Interlake overnight into Wednesday. Winnipeg was slated to see 15 to 20 centimetres by the afternoon, with an additional 15-20 cm descending overnight and into Thursday.
Environment Canada predicted widespread snowfall accumulations of 30-50 cm. Areas in southwest Manitoba, such as the Red River Valley and the Manitoba Escarpment, may experience 80 cm.
“Some model depictions have actually suggested higher numbers than that,” Hasell said.
Environment Canada was also calling for “strong winds” and “strong gusts” of up to 70-90 km/h. The conditions were expected to cause blowing snow and little to no visibility.
The storm is expected to break briefly Wednesday.
“Don’t be fooled — this is merely a pause,” Hasell warned, adding the exact time of the break is difficult to pinpoint, as weather models are showing conflicting data.
Precipitation throughout Manitoba is expected to become lighter in Winnipeg by Friday morning, as it turns into scattered snow and flurries. Environment Canada said the snow will cease by Friday night. However, areas northwest of Lake Winnipeg into Gillam could receive snow into Saturday.
The RCMP and CAA urged drivers to keep off the roads during the storm.
“Change your travel plans. Don’t drive anywhere if you can avoid it. Stock up on needed medication, food, water and make sure your emergency kit is ready to go,” Tim Scott, president of CAA Manitoba, said in a statement.
If a driver finds themselves off the road or in a ditch, CAA recommends remaining buckled up in the vehicle, if it is safe to do so.
“Put your hazards on — just make yourself as visible as possible,” said Heather Mack, manager of government and community relations for CAA.
The automotive group was readying itself for a spike in roadside assistance calls. It has scheduled additional tow truck drivers, boosted staff numbers in its call centre, and has upped its resources in areas of southern Manitoba at a greater risk of being impacted by the storm, CAA said.
Customers can expect longer than usual wait times despite added efforts, CAA warned. Mack implored drivers to be aware of road closures: if a driver becomes stuck on one of those roads, CAA cannot help until the route officially reopens.
The looming storm was also presenting early challenges to air travel.
Tyler MacAfee, vice-president of communications and government relations for the Winnipeg Airports Authority, said some airlines were pre-emptively canceling flights ahead of the storm.
MacAfee said the cancellations had been significant and the situation was changing by the hour.
“We are expecting to see a pretty minimal schedule over the next couple of days,” he said.
Amid all the warnings, lineups of shoppers stretched around the Superstore location on McPhillips Street on Tuesday morning, with one ending near a barren dairy section.
Police were out directing traffic near the Costco on St. James Street, as they might during a holiday rush.
“Today’s crazy,” said Anna George, waiting to check out at Superstore. “It looks like it’s the end of the world.”
In a statement Tuesday, Manitoba’s Hydrologic Forecast Centre said initial indications show the snowstorm will not significantly impact the spring flood outlook.
The province will update its flood forecast later this week.
— with files from Gabrielle Piché
Updated on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 6:46 PM CDT: Full write-thru with updates about forecast, cancellations, adds photos, formatting
Updated on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 8:47 PM CDT: Adds RCMP quote
Updated on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 10:14 PM CDT: Updates with school closures.