December 12, 2019

Winnipeg
-14° C, Overcast

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Winnipeg life goes on in the polar vortex

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/1/2019 (316 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Schools closed in Chicago, postal deliveries cancelled from Minnesota to Michigan, flights delayed or cancelled due to extreme cold delivered by the recent polar vortex.

Cold-weather closures

School buses in Winnipeg will not be operating Thursday, but the schools will be open.

Ted Fransen, superintendent and CEO of the Pembina Trails School Division, said with a morning prediction of -46 C by Environment Canada, it meets the criteria by all the city's school divisions to cancel bus transportation.

School buses in Winnipeg will not be operating Thursday, but the schools will be open.

Ted Fransen, superintendent and CEO of the Pembina Trails School Division, said with a morning prediction of -46 C by Environment Canada, it meets the criteria by all the city's school divisions to cancel bus transportation.

"That is below the -45 threshold," Fransen said. "All day (Wednesday), we got messages from our transportation people that more and more buses were breaking down and behind on routes. It is not safe for kids to be out there that long.

"So out of an abundance of caution, we decided to act proactively to cancel (Thursday)... Schools will be open."

Fransen said the only role the conditions over the last two days played was the timing of the decision.

"We would have waited until (Thursday) to make the decision."

In North Dakota, Grand Forks and Fargo closed universities, schools, and numerous other services. (According to a list from a North Dakota media outlet, even Duane's Gun Repair was closed for the day in Fargo.)

Yet, north across the border in Winnipeg, schools are open, its universities and colleges filled with students going to classes, and airline passengers departing to other frigid areas of the country or to warm-weather locations.

How do Canadians keep a city running when the temperature is expected to top out at -31 C, almost 20 C lower than normal?

From left, Bailey, Tessa, Josie and Neyla play outdoors Monday morning at the FortWhyte Alive Forest School despite brutally-cold temperatures.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

From left, Bailey, Tessa, Josie and Neyla play outdoors Monday morning at the FortWhyte Alive Forest School despite brutally-cold temperatures.

Lieut. Danny Weigler, of the University of North Dakota's police department in Grand Forks, said the decision to close the campus Tuesday and Wednesday was made after consultation with the national weather service and local authorities. The temperature there was -31 C midday, with the wind chill making it feel like -38 C.

"There isn't a specific temperature we use (to make such a call)," Weigler said. "Obviously, safety is No. 1. We want to make sure everyone is safe."

A statement from UND said the campus will reopen Thursday at 11 a.m.

Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, life went on — albeit with many people unrecognizable in balaclavas and parkas, while wearing long johns underneath.

"It's business as usual for a number of the city's departments," said civic spokesman Kalen Qually.

"However, safety is a top priority for city crews, and decisions are sometimes made on delivery of services based on whether staff are able to safely operate in the current temperatures. Operational capabilities of city equipment can also be limited by extreme cold. In certain cases, projects or services may be delayed."

This map shows tempratures (C) recorded at 7 a.m. local times. It was at that time Winnipeg dipped to -39.8 C.

VENTUSKY MAP, ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE CANADA AND NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FIGURES

This map shows tempratures (C) recorded at 7 a.m. local times. It was at that time Winnipeg dipped to -39.8 C.

Qually said the City of Winnipeg does provide special measures for various departments operating in extreme cold, including outfitting parking enforcement officers with the correct outerwear, and encouraging them to take warm-up breaks.

The cold doesn't stop public works maintenance crews from sanding and snow-removal operations or parks staff or water and waste crews who thaw out frozen pipes and dig to repair water mains, he said.

Long gone are the long, thick buffalo coats Winnipeg police officers wore decades ago. But, even on a day like Wednesday, spokeswoman Const. Tammy Skrabek said, foot patrol officers in the central district were helping people get safely through the frigid temperatures.

"They have been focused on going to where people go to get out of the cold, such as skywalks, indoor shopping areas and places with public access, such as the library," Skrabek said.

"In addition, they have shared this street guide, provided by Winnipeg Outreach Network... It outlines various shelters available, places for food and/or warm clothing and a variety of other resources out there."

The people who fight fires or help those during medical emergencies also do things differently when it is this cold.

Wreathed in exhaust fog, pedestrians and traffic at Portage and Maryland deal with the -30C temperatures on their evening commute home.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Wreathed in exhaust fog, pedestrians and traffic at Portage and Maryland deal with the -30C temperatures on their evening commute home.

Erin Madden, spokeswoman for Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, said firefighters battling blazes will rotate more often with fresh crews, so they can warm up and rest. They'll even set up a heated tent for shelter if an on-scene call lasts longer than usual.

If they can, paramedics will move patients to a warmer area before the end of their assessment, Madden said, and the medical dispatch system can upgrade a non-emergency call to an emergency one, depending on the conditions outside.

While there have been flight delays and cancellations at airports in the United States due to the cold, Tyler MacAfee, spokesman for the Winnipeg Airports Authority, said local temperatures has made little impact on its operations.

"No flights have been cancelled," MacAfee said. "Really, it is that things maybe move a little bit slower because of the cold weather, but things are continuing on at the airport."

All schools in Winnipeg have been open through the cold snap, with buses are running (except in Division scolaire franco-manitobaine, as those buses run some rural routes).

However, on Wednesday afternoon, the metro Winnipeg school divisions issued a statement saying buses would not be running Thursday, but all schools are open.

Chicago Metra trains operate in cold temperatures on Tuesday. The tracks are heated with gas-fired switch heaters that help prevent switching problems in extreme weather.

STACEY WESCOTT/CHICAGO TRIBUNE/TNS

Chicago Metra trains operate in cold temperatures on Tuesday. The tracks are heated with gas-fired switch heaters that help prevent switching problems in extreme weather.

The province did cancel — for a second consecutive day — all transportation for about 500 adults living with special needs across the city, preventing them from getting to day programs.

"Based on the extreme weather, our Community Living Disability Services program and Maple Leaf (Blue Line) decided to cancel transportation services for clients attending day programs (Tuesday and Wednesday)," a provincial spokeswoman said.

"Day programs are asked to stay open or maintain a small number of staff on site, so clients who might come with alternate transportation can receive services and also be supported to return home safely."

Coping with cold

Click to Expand

 

Winnipeg Free Press photographer/videographer Mikaela MacKenzie hit the streets Wednesday to check out how Winnipeggers are coping with the cold.

Read more

In city hospitals, staff were double-checking the planned destination of discharged patients, said Paul Turenne, a spokesman for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

"Hospital staff always plan for a safe discharge from hospital," Turenne said. "But, particularly during extreme cold, staff ensure that clients being discharged have a safe, warm place to go, and, if necessary, assistance with transportation to get there."

While postal delivery in U.S. areas has been delayed or cancelled, Hayley Magermans, a Canada Post spokeswoman, said there have not been any service alerts in Winnipeg.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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