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Bitter wind chill in forecast sparks extreme cold warning for most of Alberta

Environment Canada issued another extreme cold warning for much of Alberta, with harsh winds expected to blow through overnight.

The entire province was recently under an extreme cold warning for about a week, as a polar vortex slowly passed eastward, resulting in record-low temperatures in many areas.

The national weather agency issued new warnings Thursday, but the forecast suggests the incoming system will not linger nearly as long.

Frigid wind chills around –40 are expected throughout most of Alberta Thursday night, with temperatures expected to improve Friday afternoon, the warnings say. Environment Canada excluded regions near the southwest interprovincial border from its warnings.

The overnight low for Edmonton was expected to reach –29 C Thursday night, before rising to a high of  –16 C Friday. 

Extreme cold warnings are issued when frigid temperatures or wind chill creates an elevated risk to health such as frostbite and hypothermia, the agency said in its warning. 

The recent cold snap resulted in record demand for electricity, culminating in the Alberta Emergency Management Agency issuing an alert Saturday evening that warned Albertans the grid was at risk of a brownout — rolling power outages. The alert was lifted in less than three hours.

The Alberta Motor Association, which is dedicated in part to traffic safety, received 49,000 calls for service from Jan. 9 through Jan. 17, marking “one of the worst prolonged periods” in the association’s history, according to a news release issued Thursday.

The calls — 9,000 of which came on Jan. 12 — ranged from dead batteries to vehicles that needed to be hauled out of the snow, the release said.

Some emergency services in Alberta also saw increased demand during the cold snap.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo recorded 143 emergency medical services (EMS) events from Jan. 5 to 11, most of which were traffic collisions, a spokesperson said. That marked an increase from the 127 EMS events reported in the previous week.

The region’s fire department also received 41 calls for fire events, primarily alarms and traffic accidents, the spokesperson said.

The deputy chief of operations told the spokesperson that the call volume was higher than average, but “not out [of] the range of normal,” they said.

Alberta Health Services saw an increase of “cold-related” emergency calls in Edmonton throughout the cold snap, an agency spokesperson said.

Paramedics responded to about 16 calls per day throughout the city last weekend, including patients suffering frostbite or experiencing hypothermia, the spokesperson said.

Environment Canada encourages people to dress warm and cover up, as frostbite can form within minutes, its warnings say.

The agency advises people to watch for colour changes in their fingers and toes, as well as pain, numbness, tingling or swelling. If individuals notice such symptoms, they ought to get inside to warm up.

The AMA listed multiple safety suggestions for motorists in its news release, including storing an emergency kit in their vehicles, that features items such as a blanket, flashlight and foldable shovel, in case they break down.

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