Brutal, bone-chilling cold gripping the Prairie Provinces

Scott Sutherland
GeekquinoxFebruary 6, 2014

Another blast of frigid Arctic air has descended on the prairies again this week, denying residents there any relief from the brutal winter they've been enduring this year.

It's been cold right across Canada this week, with even BC's South Coast (famous for its mild winters) dipping into the negative temperatures, but it seems like noone — not even some parts of the country much farther north — has been suffering through this winter like the residents of the southern Prairies. Ontario and Quebec have had a few brief encounters with morning wind chills down into the -30s, which is very cold for those regions, even in the dead of winter. Just taking the last day or so as an example, though — Regina and Winnipeg had -30 wind chills when they reached their high temperatures for the past 24 hours (-19°C, just after midnight in Regina and around 9 am in Winnipeg), and their low from yesterday morning got down to -29°C and -40 wind chill! Red Deer, Alberta was even colder when they reached their high yesterday afternoon, getting up to only -24°C and -31 wind chill and suffering through lows of -33°C and -42 wind chill the past two days!

This morning, it's more of the same through the prairies and it seems that southeastern Alberta is taking the brunt. The flow of frigid air through areas east and southeast of Calgary dropped wind chills down to around -45 overnight. At that extreme level of cold, exposed skin can freeze solid in as little as five minutes!

Compare this to early February in 2013 and 2012, when temperatures were a positively spring-like -5°C and wind chills were only around -15, and it's quite the difference!

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Unfortunately, anyone in the prairies hoping for some relief soon from this punishing winter is going to be disappointed. This particular cold snap is going to be sticking around for at least the next week, and probably for longer. It might be a good time to ask Winnipeg Willow exactly when 'early' was supposed to mean!

All this cold is due to ... well, you may have guessed it ... the polar vortex. The jet stream, which is the lower 'edge' of the vortex, has dipped down far to the south, reaching almost all the way to Mexico. It's done that a few times already this winter, but unlike before — when this dip had a corresponding 'spike' that brought some nice, warm weather to BC, Alberta and even up into the Yukon — this time it's pulling cold air down over the entire western half of the continent. With such a wide-spanning mass of cold air blanketing the country, and the polar vortex's rather lazy behaviour this season, it's going to take awhile for it to move on and let some warmer weather back in.

(Photo courtesy: The Canadian Press)

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