A polar vortex that has plunged Alberta into a deep freeze with record-breaking cold is tightening its grip on the province.
Dangerously cold Arctic air began spreading across the province this week. As of Friday, temperatures across much of the province were hovering around the –40s with biting winds that made it feel more like –50.
Edmonton’s skyline is draped with ice fog. Roads and highways across the province remain slick and many flights scheduled to depart Edmonton International Airport are being delayed.
On Friday, the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton was diverting patients to other facilities after its emergency department and waiting room lost heat due to a problem caused by the freezing temperatures.
Just before sunrise in Edmonton, temperatures hit lows of –37 C, breaking a daily record of –32 set in 1998.
Calgary saw a Friday morning low of –38, shattering a record of –29 set in 2005.
“We are talking about a cold we have not seen in certain parts of the province in decades,” Environment Canada meteorologist Justin Shelley said in an interview.
“We’ve already seen temperatures in Alberta well into the –40s and there’s an outside chance of seeing an air temperature of –50 in the province at some point during the weekend.”
The polar vortex, a large area of low pressure at the poles with very cold air swirling from west to east, is causing the extended dip in temperatures, Shelley said.
“We have a very cold Arctic air mass that has descended south and is sitting over Alberta today and will continue to do so through the weekend.”
An extreme cold warning remains in place for the entire province.
Temperatures are expected to continue falling over the weekend.
Environment Canada says Saturday morning and Sunday morning will be the coldest, with temperatures ranging from –40 to –48 C, and wind chill values near –55. Wind chills could even be colder in open and exposed areas.
Overnight temperatures in Edmonton Friday into Saturday morning are expected to reach a low of –40 , or –45 in communities on the outskirts of the city.
Watch: What is wind chill?
The daytime high in Edmonton Saturday will climb to a high of –33. But the wind chill will make it feel as cold as –47 in the morning and –39 in the afternoon.
For Calgary, the forecast calls for an overnight of low of –37 on Friday and a high of –30 for Saturday.
52 years since Edmonton saw –40
Edmonton hasn’t reached an overnight low of –40 since 1972. For daytime highs, the last time Edmonton saw a maximum temperature of –32 or below was in 1966.
Calgary, meanwhile, is expected shatter an overnight cold record set in 1997 and record for the coldest daytime temperature set in 1968.
The weather has put major strains on Alberta’s infrastructure.
On Thursday, demand for electricity in Alberta hit a new hourly peak of 12,384 megawatts as extreme cold weather blanketed the province, the Alberta Electric System Operator said.
Between Tuesday and Thursday evening, the Alberta Motor Association received more than 10,000 requests for roadside assistance across the province.
In some communities, the call volume has been up to nine times higher than normal, with dead batteries the most common trouble.
Environment Canada is encouraging people to take caution with the extreme temperatures. Frostbite can develop within minutes on exposed skin.
Young children, older adults, people with chronic illnesses, those working or exercising outdoors and people without proper shelter are at the greatest risk. People are also encouraged to keep their pets inside.
If Albertans must travel this weekend, they should ensure their vehicles are equipped with emergency supplies and warm clothing, Shelley said.
The long-term forecast does offer a modicum of hope.
The weather is expected to warm up, somewhat. Temperatures are expected to rise around the –20 mark for the remainder of next week, Shelley said.
“We could be stuck in the cold in a little while yet,” he said.
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