Manitobans settle in as blizzard batters province
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/04/2022 (294 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A major spring blizzard has brought parts of Manitoba to a halt, as people hunkered down after highways and schools closed, drivers became stranded and thousands of homes lost power.
Disruption to travel and public services, including health care, is expected to continue Thursday while forecasters predict the three-day storm could dump 20 to 60 centimetres of snow in an area from the Canada-U.S. border to as far north as Oxford House.
As wind gusts of almost 70 km/h made for near-zero visibility in rural areas, breaks in snowfall in Winnipeg and other places gave the impression the storm wasn’t as bad as predicted.
However, Natalie Hasell, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, said any breaks would be followed by “heavier, steady snow,” and total snowfall amounts could still be consistent with what was predicted.
There were signs many Manitobans heeded calls to stay home. Hasell said people should continue to follow that advice Thursday.
“The snow isn’t falling vertically, it’s flying horizontally,” she said.
Total snowfall amounts could range between 40 and 60 cm over the western Red River Valley, including Portage la Prairie and Morden, and higher elevations in western Manitoba, by the end of Friday, said Environment Canada, which issued a mix of blizzard, winter storm and snowfall warnings for half of the province.
Up to 40 cm was expected in Winnipeg and southeastern Manitoba, where freezing drizzle was also possible.
Environment Canada said snow and poor visibility will continue to cause problems Thursday, although with lesser amounts expected, before tapering off to flurries Friday as conditions begin to improve.
Most places were to get the bulk of their snow Wednesday, except the Interlake and areas east of Lake Winnipeg and in the north.
In the capital, city-run facilities such as swimming pools, gyms, libraries and the Brady Road landfill were closed. Mayor Brian Bowman said a “handful” of Winnipeg Transit buses had to be pulled out of the snow.
“The snow isn’t falling vertically, it’s flying horizontally.”
– Natalie Hasell, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada
Bowman credited early warnings and the decision to close facilities in advance for lessening disruption.
Winnipeggers largely obeyed warnings to stay off the roads, he said.
Some, like esthetician Rachel Duke, 25, had to contend with snow and sleet as they made their way to work.
Duke was huddled inside a bus shelter near Goulet and Kenny streets as she waited for a ride to her job at Blacksmith Parlour in downtown Winnipeg.
“It just feels like we are back in January,” she said, as passing cars splashed water against the shelter’s glass walls.
More than 17 cm had blanketed Charleswood in southwest Winnipeg as of 5 p.m., tweeted retired Environment Canada meteorologist Rob Paola.
About 200 pieces of snow-clearing equipment, including plows, were trying to keep Winnipeg streets, sidewalks and bike lanes clear based on priority.
An extended snow route parking ban will be in effect from 12:01 a.m. Thursday until further notice.
A spokesperson for the province said Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure (MTI)’s fleet of about 340 vehicles for snow clearing, de-icing and grading were responding to the storm.
Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Doyle Piwniuk urged Manitobans to avoid non-essential travel and not to misinterpret lulls in the blizzard, after members of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly agreed to adjourn for the week due to the storm.
The minister asked Manitobans to check in on their neighbours, friends and family to offer a helping hand if needed.
Snow started falling in the Emerson area around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday before reaching Winnipeg and other areas around 4 a.m. The timing was “close” to what was expected, said Hasell.
The RCMP closed highways due to whiteouts and drifts, while CAA Manitoba’s Heather Mack said its drivers had rescued about 30 motorists by early afternoon as conditions became unsafe.
Snow-clearing crews are prepared to tackle priority highways, including the Perimeter and the Trans-Canada, as soon as the RCMP give the green light, said Piwniuk.
Road conditions will still be “extremely challenging” Thursday, warned RCMP spokesman Sgt. Paul Manaigre.
“If you’re stranded, it could take some time to get to you,” he said.
The storm delayed response times for emergency vehicles, said Shared Health, and forced Winnipeg hospitals to postpone most elective and non-urgent surgeries.
Convoys of plows, fire trucks and pickups helped hospital employees get to work safely, including Boundary Trails Health Centre between Winkler and Morden. Southern Health said snowmobilers were prepared to shuttle staff to hospitals.
Employees at health-care sites across southern Manitoba were preparing to stay the night at work.
Severe weather forced COVID vaccine clinics to close, along with testing sites in Selkirk, Steinbach, Winkler and the Garrick Centre in Winnipeg.
Live coverage: Snow rolls in, cancellations pile up
Check here for the latest on this developing story, which will be updated throughout the day.
6:40 p.m.Home care services provided by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority have been significantly disrupted by the storm.
Most clients won’t be seen Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, unless they’re considered high risk.
Before it hit, the Colorado low was compared to the three-day Blizzard of the Century, which left up to 80 cm of snow in its wake in April 1997 and led to the Flood of the Century in the Red River Valley.
The province said this week’s snow will not have an “immediate and significant impact” on runoff thanks to ensuing subzero temperatures.
All Winnipeg-area schools were closed for the first time since the major storm 25 years ago, with cancellations poised to continue Thursday.
Some students and staff didn’t get a snow day, however. Pembina Trails School Division moved its classes to online learning.
As temperatures hovered around -1 C, more than 2,500 Manitoba Hydro customers had been affected by temporary outages in places such as Steinbach, MacGregor and the Interlake by late afternoon.
“As the weather has continued, the number of outages has slowly increased,” said Manitoba Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen.
Crews working to restore outages could be slowed by impassable roads or poor visibility, said Owen, who asked customers to be patient.
Earlier in the week, Manitobans were urged to prepare home and car emergency kits. They stocked up on everything from food and bottled water to portable generators and candles, leaving some shelves bare.
At a quiet Dakota Family Foods on St. Mary’s Road in Winnipeg, shelves had been restocked after shoppers were lined up after 9 p.m. one night earlier.
Assistant store manager Spencer Harrison hailed staff and delivery drivers for working through the storm to fill shelves.
“We’re resilient people, and we’re used to it,” Harrison said of Manitobans’ ability to get through the conditions.
The storm disrupted Easter and Passover travel plans for some, with all but a handful of incoming and departing flights cancelled at Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.
As conditions deteriorated, at least four drivers sought refuge at the Robins Nest Motel & Cafe, at the corner of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 5 north of Carberry, about 40 kilometres east of Brandon.
“They told me, ‘Your motel is like a lifesaver for us,’” said owner Mike Patel of the guests who decided to ride out the storm at the 12-room motel.
In Souris, about 40 kilometres southwest of Brandon, Margo Henuset opened her restaurant, Antlers & Oak Diner, at 8 a.m., but decided to close two hours later as snow piled up.
“It’s blowing so bad right now and there’s no one around. I’ve shovelled four times already and it fills in right away,” she said at 10 a.m. “It’s April. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Cattle producer Cameron Nykoliation, whose farm is just south of Douglas, about 25 kilometres east of Brandon, spent about 12 hours Tuesday moving his herd into shelters.
He was doing everything he could to keep days- or weeks-old calves alive.
“We had to get them some place safe to try to survive this,” said Nykoliation, who owns NYK Cattle Company. “No farm is closed (in a snowstorm). All the businesses are closed, but we’ve still got to go chore, and these cows have to live in this.”
The Winnipeg Jets were due to host the Seattle Kraken Wednesday night. The game was postponed to May 1 before the storm arrived.
— with files from Danielle Da Silva and Tyler Searle
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, April 13, 2022 10:33 PM CDT: Fixes typo.
Updated on Thursday, April 14, 2022 10:01 AM CDT: Adds reference to Passover