With the official start of winter still two weeks away, drivers in and around Winnipeg Saturday got a taste of the hazardous driving conditions that come with it.
The weather closed a section of the Trans-Canada Highway west of the city Saturday afternoon when inside Winnipeg, multi-vehicle collisions in the Polo Park area further snarled congested holiday shopping traffic.
Before noon, the province announced the closure of Highway 1 west from Headingley to Portage la Prairie "due to poor winter driving conditions." A short time later, it announced Highway 26, the road from Headingley to Portage that runs north of the Trans-Canada, was also closed.
"(The) RCMP has received some reports of collisions," RCMP spokeswoman Cindy Luu said Saturday afternoon. She said the Stonewall-area RCMP were advising that freezing rain and "quickly deteriorating conditions resulting in no traction are the cause of the highway closure."
Environment Canada issued a freezing rain warning for Winnipeg and area late Saturday morning. A short time later, the Winnipeg Police Service reported a multi-vehicle crash at Empress Street and Portage Avenue and another collision at St. James Street and Ellice Avenue. The accidents resulted in traffic being backed up in all directions, WPS Const. Rob Carver said by email.
On Saturday afternoon, Environment Canada lifted its freezing rain warning for Winnipeg but warned of another possible hazard on Sunday: frostbite.
The government weather service said temperatures will plummet well below seasonal normals for this time of year in Winnipeg. Winds gusting from the south will shift to winds from the north overnight. Sunday's expected high of -17 C will feel more like -29 C with the windchill in the afternoon, resulting in a risk of frostbite, the Environment Canada forecast said.
The daytime highs will hover between -18 C and -22 C until Friday when the temperature is expected to warm up to -14 C. The average high for this time of year is -7.8 C.
The return of winter is good news for downhill skiers and snowboarders in the area.
Springhill Winter Park is set to open Wednesday night, said owner Vivianne Julien. The ski area is preparing for the start of the season and will be ready, she said.
"We're just making snow right now through till Wednesday," Julian said.
Stony Mountain Ski Area is already open, and making more snow, its online snow report said Saturday.
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Updated on Saturday, December 7, 2019 at 2:58 PM CST: Adds photo