Edmonton suffers South Pole cold, blowing snow

Edmonton was colder than the South Pole on Thursday morning but after a week of breathtakingly frigid temperatures, the morning was relatively balmy.

Commuters in the capital city awoke to blowing snow, slick roads and icy temperatures around –30 C.  (The South Pole was –26 C.) 

Edmonton got around four centimetres of snow before noon Thursday, making roads slick with a fresh layer of snow on top of the ice. 

Between 5 a.m. and noon on Thursday, a total of 70 collisions were reported to Edmonton police, including 63 property damage collisions, four injury collisions and three hit and runs.

All of Alberta remains under an extreme cold warning as frigid arctic air sweeps across most of Western Canada.

The cold has put a chill on almost every aspect of life in the province. Pipes are freezing. Furnaces have quit. Cars won't start. Parking meters have frozen solid. The electrical grid has struggled under the pressure of nearly unprecedented demand. 

The cold weather is affecting some generation facilities in the province. That, paired with low wind in Alberta, has prompted the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) to activate Energy Emergency Alert 1. 

The alert system is tiered from zero to 3. Alert 1 means "supply continues to meet demand but we may need to start using our reserves," according to an AESO statement issued Thursday. 

AESO said it is monitoring the system but Albertans are encouraged to reduce their electricity usage if possible.

'Uncharted territory'

Thursday morning's temperatures were a considerable improvement over every other day this week. Early morning temperatures have hovered around –40 C with a biting wind that has made it feel more like –50. 

The cold spell in Alberta this week has caused a range of problems across the province. 

The Calgary Zoo cancelled its much-loved "Penguin Walk" because it was too cold for the  sub-Antarctic creatures. People have turned their frozen shirts into Frisbees. Schools have shuttered and buses called off the roads.

The cold has also cracked a second steel rail line on Edmonton's Capital Line LRT track. 

The first crack was discovered Tuesday  at 111th Street and 51st Avenue.

The first track problem near the Southgate LRT Station early Tuesday caused delays, reducing the number of trains and causing traffic back-ups as crews manually operated the signal arms. 

Crews worked through the night to fix it Tuesday, as temperatures plunged to –45. Their equipment kept breaking down in the cold and repairs took a day longer than expected.

Then another crack was discovered Wednesday night at 34th Avenue forcing repair crews back out into the cold for a second night. The track was fully repaired around 2 a.m. Thursday.

"They put in temporary repairs that are solid and will hold until we're able to go back in the spring," Edmonton Transit spokesperson Rowan Anderson said Thursday.

"This is kind of uncharted territory for some of the infrastructure we have here in the city," Anderson said.

"You're out there constantly troubleshooting in the cold and trying to figure out how we can get this done."

Environment Canada forecasts the arctic air mass will remain over Alberta for several days but Alberta's frozen ordeal is almost over.

The mercury is expected to rise on Monday.  

Until then, think warm thoughts.