42 hours to get a battery boost, burst pipes, increased EMS calls: Cold snap pounds Calgary

·3 min read
According to Environment Canada, overnight wind chill values were to dip between -40 C and -50 C in Calgary.  (Ose Irete/CBC - image credit)
According to Environment Canada, overnight wind chill values were to dip between -40 C and -50 C in Calgary. (Ose Irete/CBC - image credit)

A bone-chilling, record-breaking cold snap has caused problems for many Calgarians, like bursting pipes, long wait times for battery boosts and increased risk of frostbite.

As of 5 p.m. on Monday, wind chill values were around –43 in the city.

The cold temperatures prompted the Alberta Energy System Operator to issue a level 2 emergency alert Monday night, due to the weather affecting some energy generation.

The extreme cold has also frozen pipes inside some homes and buildings, said the city's manager of drinking water distribution Chris Huston on Monday.

He says since Christmas, the city has received roughly 50 calls for it.

"Most of the calls we're getting, it's because cold air … is getting inside a building and freezing pipes," Huston said.

During this time, Huston says residents should avoid leaving windows open, especially in the basement.

"That's not recommended. Or if you're going to do that, make sure that you have … either a space heater or something like that around."

It's also important to know where your home's internal water valve is, in case of a ruptured pipe, said the city manager.

"If you do get a ruptured pipe or something split and it's leaking, that's the valve that's going to turn the water off for you."

AMA wait times

The cold weather has also caused headaches for motorists. The Alberta Motor Association currently has wait times of up to 42 hours for a battery boost, lockouts, flat tires and fuel delivery.

"The average wait time will increase as we prioritize members in unsafe conditions," read the AMA website.

To get towed by the AMA, the wait is up to 50 hours.

AMA says to protect your vehicle in cold weather, drivers should plug in their car, keep gas topped up, use winter tires and synthetic oils.

EMS calls

Between Calgary and Edmonton this past weekend, emergency medical services responded to 45 calls related to the cold weather.

EMS public education officer Adam Loria said if you need to be outside, he recommends staying outside for only short bursts before heading indoors to warm up.

And if possible, keep skin covered to avoid frostbite.

"If [frostbite is] not recognized pretty quickly it could lead to more serious tissue damage or more severe frostbite or limb damage. But those are obviously extreme circumstances."

Loria says there is also high risk of hypothermia, especially among those who work outdoors or those experiencing homelessness.

"People who are walking or acting disoriented, or have slurred speech may be experiencing hypothermia and should seek immediate medical attention."

Axel Tardieu/CBC
Axel Tardieu/CBC

Andrew Gusztak, the street level manager at the Mustard Seed's 300-bed shelter, says its shelters have been reaching capacity lately.

"We're fairly full most days, but we're working diligently to ensure that we're networking with the other shelters," he said.

"I know based on what the industry and the industry leaders are talking about, there's still lots of room across the entire landscape of Calgary shelters for people to come in house."

And for those that see someone on the street during the cold weather, the manager says it doesn't hurt to touch base with them to see if they're OK.

"Just inquiring, asking questions, 'Where are you staying tonight? Do you need assistance?' [and] encouraging them to get into a warming room or a shelter."

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