According to calendars, winter officially begins Dec. 21. But thanks to a Colorado Low, winter in Manitoba unofficially began Thursday.
An early blast of sloppy weather that hit the province early Thursday will continue Friday and sporadically throughout the Thanksgiving Day long weekend with a mix of wet snow, rain and high winds.
An additional 10 centimetres of snow is expected in Winnipeg Friday, with winds gusting up to 70 km/h. The temperature is forecast to remain about 1 C.
The early storm forced city crews to change from summer to winter maintenance. Michael Cantor, the city’s manager of street maintenance, said crews began salting bridges overnight Wednesday and will begin plowing streets Thursday evening.
"We are trying to flip a big switch," he said. "We’re prepared for winter all summer but usually switch in November... but for us it is a relatively normal event."
Cantor said both the city’s main streets and collector streets will be plowed, as well as sidewalks. He said residential streets will not be plowed at this time, but the city will continue to monitor their conditions.
There are no winter parking bans in effect.
Red River drops slightly
The Red River was about 13 feet high at the James Avenue pumping station midday Thursday. That is about one foot less than the level recorded one day earlier — 14.1 feet, the highest fall level on record since 1971.
The Red River Floodway was activated Wednesday, the first time ever in autumn. The return of heavy rain is expected again Sunday.
Environment Canada issued a winter storm watch across southern Manitoba on Thursday.
"When you live in southern Manitoba in October, it’s not unexpected to see snow falling," said Eric Dykes, services meteorologist with Environment Canada.
However, Dykes said this morning the amount of snow expected this early in the autumn season is "a little bit uncommon, especially with some of the higher accumulations we're expecting to see west of the city."
Portage la Prairie and Morden will see deep levels of snow throughout the coming days, he said. In Winnipeg, the snow is expected to mostly melt by mid-weekend as temperatures warm.
Dykes said motorists in Winnipeg should check the status of highways before travelling west for Thanksgiving celebrations.
Prospect of extended power outages
Shortly before noon on Thursday, more than 3,200 Winnipeggers were affected by Manitoba Hydro outages. The public utility's spokesman, Bruce Owen, said the number of outages climbed throughout the morning.
"With the event expected over the weekend, there is the prospect of extended outages. Our customers need to be prepared," Owen said.
He said he encourages all Manitobans to call 911 if a power line falls, report outages online and read up on how to be prepared during the weekend storm.
The city said it has been monitoring conditions and has begun salting operations on bridges and main routes throughout the city.
The Winnipeg Police Service received reports of a handful of motor vehicle collisions through Thursday as drivers slid on slick streets.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority issued an alert advising residents community health services — in particular, home care services — may be affected due to the storm.
"Every effort will be made to maintain existing schedules. However, some weather-related delays and cancellations may be inevitable," states a WRHA press release.
WRHA recommends home-care clients devise back-up plans with help from their family or friends, if possible, amid uncertainty about the services.
The health authority said it will contact people about postponed services or cancellations by phone.
— with files from Kevin Rollason
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