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Calgary, its dangerously cold outside

Potentially record-breaking low temperatures are on the way to Calgary this weekend, and the frigid beginnings of the cold snap have already settled in. 

Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold warning for not only the city, but the entire province of Alberta, forecasting temperatures as low as –40 C over the weekend, with wind chills threatening temperatures of –50 C in some places. 

Thursday’s projected daytime high according to the weather agency is –27 C. Friday’s high currently sits at –31 C, which would make it the coldest day in the last 20 years. 

In Edmonton, the forecast is –29 C for Thursday and –31 C on Friday.

Meteorologists have warned that in such temperatures, frostbite can occur in under a minute, and Calgary EMS said weather swings like this one can catch even the most prepared people off guard. 

Here’s how the city is responding to the freezing spell, and the measures you can take to keep safe. 

Dress appropriately

Emma Jones moved to Calgary in July from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. She said the transition has so far been alright, owing to the city’s mild winter up until now. 

“I’ve heard some horror stories from people on the Island who used to live here,” Jones said. “It’s kind of a shock, I’m pretty bundled up.”

A woman wearing a winter coat.
A woman bundled up in winter clothing walks through Calgary’s downtown on Jan. 10. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

In anticipation for this weekend’s temperatures, Jones said she’s done last minute cold-weather gear shopping. 

“I just went out and bought a coat and some gloves and stuff, but I should definitely buy a hat.”

Adam Loria, with Calgary EMS, said one of the most vital things Calgarians can do in cold conditions is cover up exposed skin. Ensure that you’re wearing enough layers, Loria said. And if you have to walk outside for your commute, put on anti-slip sole boots. 

For those working outside, try to take frequent breaks somewhere warm and stay hydrated with water, Loria said.

The most frequent calls EMS receives in cold weather are reports of people falling or slipping on ice, frostbite, and hypothermia, he said.

Early signs of hypothermia include stumbling and acting incoherent, which can be reversed if an individual is brought somewhere warm. Severe cases of hypothermia are life-threatening and could result in hospitalization. 

Stay with your vehicle

Those who drive vehicles are aware of the extra preparations needed to get a car road ready for winter driving, whether it’s putting on winter tires or carrying an extra pair of boots in the trunk in case things go awry. 

On cold mornings, many Calgarians start their vehicles early to let it warm up before departing for a commute or school drop off. But Nick Wilsher with the Calgary Police Service (CPS), said drivers should should note that since October, 127 vehicles that were running have been stolen. The most targeted vehicle is trucks.

Cars parked on the side of a snowy road.
Be aware of leaving your vehicle running unattended during the city’s cold snap. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Wilsher recommends that drivers stay with their vehicles while they are warming up.

“We’re [also] encouraging people to think about what’s in your vehicle when you’re leaving it running. Have you got precious or invaluable items in there? Are there family members, your pet [inside]? Is there your tools for your work?”

Wilsher said he’s aware of cases where a car was stolen with a pet or family member inside. 

Donate where you can

Across the city, the cold weather may be hardest for those new to Calgary and its winters, and for those who are experiencing homelessness. 

Kay Choi, corporate lead for community safety and well-being at the City of Calgary, said the city has partnered with organizations including the Calgary Homeless Foundation and Alpha House, to offer warming spaces for those who may be sleeping rough. 

“We know our community, we have anticipated extreme cold weather,” said Choi, adding there are 400 warming spaces throughout the city that people can use.

As well, the city has implemented an emergency shuttle service between LRT stations and its partner organizations, to help get people shelter when needed, Choi said.

People walk across an intersection.
People trudge across a snowy intersection in the city’s downtown on Jan. 10. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Others in the city are working to help collect and distribute cold-weather apparel for those who need it.

Lauren Trevitt, vice chair for Coats for Calgary, said the organization is accepting donations of new and lightly used winter clothing until Jan. 16, at which point the goods will be distributed to 140 different agencies in Calgary that need them. 

Syed Hassan, founder and president of Love with Humanity Association, said newcomers and refugees who have never experienced a winter in Calgary are also in great need of warm gear. 

“Demand is going up … the extremely cold weather right now … the economic situation, all of these factors [are why] we need to support our struggling families,” said Hassan. 

“We need winter jackets or boots, anything.” 

Mind your pets

Chris Andrews typically takes his dog Ginny for an hour to hour and a half walk each day.

But this weekend they’ll have to change their schedule. 

“It’s gonna be kinda like 20 to 30 minute walks here and there … short amount of times outside because it’s too cold, you gotta watch their paws,” said Andrews. 

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