How cold is Alberta these days? Let's just say even the penguins can't deal with it

Just how cold is it in Alberta these days?

Colder than the South Pole — at least in Calgary, where the zoo locked even the penguins indoors to keep their tootsies toasty.

The Calgary Zoo cancelled its much-loved "Penguin Walk" — a special event that can attract large crowds — again on Wednesday.

"The Penguin Walk has been cancelled for today, January 15, due to extreme cold weather conditions. As this weather puts physiological stress on the birds, we cancel the walk for their welfare," the Calgary Zoo tweeted.

In the Penguin Walks, the birds waddle their way along a 15-minute walk, starting at Penguin Plunge, looping to the Discovery Trail Bridge, and then back to the penguin habitat.

But the zoo says that for the welfare of the colony of king penguins, it has to be above –25 C and no warmer than 5 C. 

Hard on older birds

"These are sub-Antarctic penguins. So above 5 C, things are not so good for them. We are concerned with health issues, with things they could breathe if they are outside at this temperature, so we bring them in," Dr. Malu Celli, curator of animal care at the Calgary Zoo, told CBC Calgary earlier in the cold snap.

"And at –25 C, it can he hard for some of our elder birds, and also hard for people who want to come here and stand for a long time waiting to see them.… It's also important for us, if it's really windy, we would not run the walk, because the wind moves a lot of particles the penguins can breathe, and it can make them sick."

By about noon Wednesday, Calgary's temperature was –29 C — with a wind chill of –35.

And Edmonton was even colder at –31°C.

That was colder than at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, where it hit –24 C — with a wind chill that made it feel like –34 C.

So cold it caused a rail line to crack

An Arctic system first rolled into northern Alberta and then enveloped the rest of the province starting late last week.

Extreme cold warnings had been issued for most of the province by the weekend, persisting in most places day after day.

Extreme cold warnings mean the temperature or wind chill is expected to reach levels ranging from –30 C to –55 C for at least two hours depending on location. The coldest wind chill values will be between –45 C and –50 C.

Environment Canada said Wednesday it expects the extreme cold  to last through this week and even into Sunday for some regions.

The extreme cold has forced school closures, venue closures, burst pipes, flight delays and more throughout the province.

Canada Post alert

On Monday evening, the Alberta Electric System Operator took the rare step of issuing emergency alerts, at one point saying the system was at a "Level 2" alert with all available resources in the energy market were used to meet the demand in the province. If the alert level hit "Level 3," power outages would have occurred.

Canada Post also issued a yellow alert Monday, stating that severe weather conditions were impeding delivery and some customers would not be receiving mail.

In Edmonton, it was so cold that a light-rail transit line cracked Tuesday, causing two days of delays for commuters.

Alberta Motor Association said it had received six times its usual winter call volume since Sunday, with more than 30,700 calls for roadside assistance Wednesday morning — most because of dead batteries.

Watch for these cold-related symptoms

Environment Canada warned people to watch out for these cold-related symptoms: 

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Muscle pain and weakness.
  • Numbness.
  • Colour change in fingers and toes.

The agency also reminded people that if it's too cold for them to stay outside, it's also too cold for pets.