Calgary shivers under Arctic air mass, but Christmas will bring a warmup

A mass of frigid Arctic air has descended over Alberta, prompting Environment Canada to issue an extreme cold warning for most of the province. 

Forecasters say temperatures in Calgary on Monday could dip to –32 C, with wind chill values making it feel more like –40 C during the overnight hours. 

In such conditions, frostbite can set in on exposed skin in just minutes. Residents are urged to watch for cold-weather related symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, muscle pain, weakness, numbness and colour changes in fingers and toes. 

Clouds of steam rise from a white airplane positioned on a runway marked with snow.
The deep freeze is expected to last through the workweek before a warmup comes during the Christmas holiday weekend. (The Canadian Press)

The deep freeze is expected to last through most of the workweek. Meteorologist Terri Lang, with Environment Canada, says a surge of warm air will arrive with the Christmas holiday weekend. 

“Looks like Santa is coming and bringing a present of warmer temperatures,” she said, adding the mild weather looks to last at least until the new year. 

‘All hands on deck’ 

Monday began with car troubles for many Calgarians, and it made for a busy morning for Brandon Klassen, supervisor of automotive services with the Alberta Motor Association.

“We’ve seen an enormous spike in call volume due to the extreme cold conditions,” he said. “We’re receiving more than three times our normal service requests since this morning.”

Most of the callers have requested boosts for their car batteries, while many others also called for tows. There have been many crashes and spin-outs on ice-slick roads. 

Callers are waiting more than 30 hours for boosts and around 24 hours for tows, Klassen said. However, he noted response times are much quicker for emergency situations. 

“It’s all hands on deck for us right now,” he said. 

Meanwhile, area EMS services say they’ve also been busy. As of Monday morning, crews had responded to 36 crashes and 14 cold-related calls. 

Spokesperson Naomi Nania said the risk of frostbite or hypothermia increases during these blasts of bitter cold.

“The biggest takeaway from this is just trying to get out of the cold and exposure,” she said. 

In the elements 

For Faizi Qudrad, braving the elements is part of the job. Sporting ski goggles and several layers, he was out clearing walks at 4 a.m.

“We have a heater in a car. We just warm in a car, and everything is good,” he said. 

The cold also didn’t stop Brett Shaw from taking his dog for a noontime run along the Bow River in northwest Calgary.

A man wearing a black jacket and dark-coloured running gear kneels next to a sitting dog with fluffy cheecks.
Brett Shaw and his dog braved the frigid cold Monday for a run along the Bow River. (CBC)

“It never seems to bother him,” he said, referring to his dog.

Originally from British Columbia, Shaw said that the Alberta cold represents, for him, a “kind of interesting challenge.” 

Closures and cancellations 

The frigid cold prompted the Calgary Zoo to cancel its outdoor Zoolights holiday display for Monday and Tuesday night, according to a media statement. The zoo is hoping conditions improve for Wednesday night. 

Likewise, WinSport at Canada Olympic Park closed its ski hill through Wednesday. 

Further west in the Rocky Mountains, Sunshine Village ski resort was operating Monday under a temporary hold, with spokesperson Kendra Scurfield explaining that high altitude temperatures below –30 C aren’t safe for workers or guests. 

“If the temperature gets above –30, if it gets to –29, we’ll be able to open the lifts,” she said. 

At Norquay, the Mystic lift was closed due to the cold, as was the mountain’s tube park. Around half of the mountain’s runs were open, so the resort was operating at reduced prices. 

Jasper Johnson, marketing and communications manager at Norquay, said he’s just happy that the deep freeze is set to break before the Christmas holiday. 

“Better we’re seeing the cold weather now than through the holiday period,” he said. 

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