Winter is back with a vengeance.
Half the country is under extreme weather warnings going into the weekend, after an unusually warm and dry start to the winter season for most of Canada.
A polar vortex is sweeping in from the Arctic through the West, while a storm swirling up from Texas is wreaking havoc in the East, leaving millions of Canadians facing down snowstorms or severely cold temperatures.
“We’ve got really, really, really cold air coming down from the Arctic in the west. And then in the East, we have this really potent weather system that’s coming up from the south,” said Jesse Wagar, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.
“In the wintertime we do get these really dynamic weather patterns, but I think the the intensity of the systems that are moving through right now in this weather pattern is pretty unusual.”
What’s happening in Western Canada
Environment Canada has issued extreme cold warnings for all of Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as large parts of B.C., Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Manitoba.
B.C.’s capital, Victoria, registered its coldest Jan. 12 on record, hitting -11 C Friday, while Vancouver dipped to a windy -12 C and is expected to feel like somewhere between -10 and -20 C with wind chill through the weekend. Environment Canada said the coldest spot in B.C. on Friday morning was the Puntzi Mountain airport in the Cariboo region, which hit –48.1 C.
Blowing snow contributed to numerous crashes in B.C.’s Lower Mainland Thursday.
Alberta was hit with a brutal cold snap this week after cruising through its hottest December on record.
Environment Canada updated its extreme cold warnings Friday, saying temperatures in Edmonton and Calgary will continue to fall through the weekend, with temperatures ranging from -40 to -48 C Saturday and Sunday mornings and wind chill values near -55 C.
“Some of the temperatures that we are seeing in Western Canada, not only is it incredibly cold compared to what we’ve seen recently, but they’re record-breaking temperatures in general,” Wagar said.
The Alberta Motor Association has been inundated with roadside assistance calls, and at 4:09 p.m. MT was reporting wait times of 144 hours for a tow or 72 hours for a battery boost.
Similar temperatures are expected across Saskatchewan through the weekend, and on Friday all buses serving Saskatoon Public Schools were cancelled due to extreme cold, with temperatures falling below -30 C.
Several Manitoba school divisions closed schools and highways due to a snowstorm earlier this week before temperatures dropped, blanketing much of the north and western regions of the province with extreme cold warnings. Winnipeg has narrowly avoided the warnings, with lows predicted to hit -28 C this weekend.
What’s happening in Eastern Canada
A major snowstorm is set to hit parts of Ontario and Quebec late Friday, days after they were already hit with significant snowfall. For many parts of Canada, this week has been the first snowfall of the season.
A storm from Texas is blowing into Eastern Canada, bringing an expected 10 centimetres of snow to parts of Toronto, with even heavier snowfall forecast for Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City.
Environment Canada is warning motorists to stay off the roads if possible Friday evening through Saturday morning, with heavy winds bringing blizzard-like conditions that will reduce visibility.
Toronto’s snow is expected to change to rain by Saturday morning as temperatures rise, potentially adding to dangers on the road.
“If you don’t absolutely need to be out on the roads, you know, we definitely recommend that you do not head out,” Wagar said.
Quebec City was also put under storm surge warning Friday, with high water levels from the St. Lawrence river raising the risk of flooding in areas.
Nova Scotia saw a winter storm with heavy rain and wind close dozens of schools and cause widespread power outages Wednesday, and much of the Maritime region can expect similar weather this weekend. Environment Canada issued a high wind warning for Digby County Friday afternoon, warning of potential for more outages.
Northern New Brunswick can expect up to 20 centimetres of snow this weekend, while the south can expect ice pellets and rain starting Saturday into Sunday morning, as well as elevated wind and water levels.
“We do normally see these heavy winter storms and some coastal flooding will come with it. But the extent of it, how widespread it is, how intense it is, Is a bit out of the norm,” Wagar said.