An extreme cold snap is hitting most of Alberta, as wind chills near -40 degrees and snow continues to fall across the province.
Roads in the city of Edmonton and highways are affected at this time. Snow plows are out on major highways and within city limits, however police are advising drivers to be extra cautious on their daily commutes.
Between Friday at 4p.m. and Sunday evening, there were 91 collisions reported to Edmonton Police Service, including 32 hit-and-runs, 13 injury collisions and 46 property damage collisions.
In Calgary, there were 108 collisions reported on Friday between noon and 7 p.m., and 119 reported on Saturday and Sunday. There were 106 as of 1 p.m. on Monday, according to Calgary Police Service. In total, there were 64 hit-and-run crashes, 12 injury-related and 257 non-injury collisions.
511 Alberta tweeted Monday morning that highways in central and northern Alberta are covered in snow, creating poor visibility in some areas. Regular updates on road conditions from 511 Alberta can be found here.
Temperatures are expected to remain around the -40 mark until Thursday, with warmer temperatures arriving by the weekend, according to Environment Canada.
The sudden drop in temperature has also caused problems for some homeowners in northwest Calgary after a water main broke Monday morning, impacting 25 other houses in the area.
Extreme cold causes greater risk for children, seniors, pets and vulnerable populations. Cold-related symptoms include shortness of breath, numbing and change in colour of fingers and toes, chest and muscle pain and muscle weakness, Environment Canada said.
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Vulnerable populations, include the province’s homeless, are also at great risk. While there are shelter beds available in major cities, not all houseless persons choose to use this accommodation – many stay out on the street, which puts them at high risk for frostbite and illness.
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Alberta shelters expect this weather to roll in every year, so there are winter strategy plans in place, said Nathan Ross, communications and marketing manager at the Calgary Drop-In Centre.
On Sunday night, 721 people used the centre, with the month’s average hovering around 680 people a night. The shelter is able to accommodate 1,028 if needed in the main shelter space and in an overflow centre.
“Calgary is a very charitable city and we have seen just an outpouring of donations from the community. Every year, Calgary makes sure it is a priority to make sure each of their most vulnerable is looked after,” Ross said.
In Edmonton, shelters, including the Hope Mission – the organization that hosts the city’s largest shelter space – has called on the community for any donations of mitts, toques and warm clothing to help the most vulnerable stay safe in the cold.
The Bissell Centre only has room for 100 people at a time, and people are lining up outside for a shelter space, said the centre’s Scarlet Bjornson.
“You’re handing out coffee and mittens to people on the outside so they can have a tiny reprieve until they can come in.
She said they’ve already seen people die from the cold this year – either from the extreme temperatures themselves or other factors, including encampment tents catching on fire from people using any means necessary to try and stay warm.
“…Loss of life – it’s a real, real thing. We talk often about frostbite, losing a finger or a toe – but people are losing legs, they’re losing their lives. It’s a really horrible thing.”
— With files from Elissa Carpenter, Sarah Ryan and Adam Toy, Global News
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