Expect extreme cold to end as Pacific warmth breezes into Alberta

·3 min read
The province is expected to thaw out next week with Edmonton and Calgary seeing temperatures above freezing Monday. (Jane Robertson/CBC Edmonton  - image credit)
The province is expected to thaw out next week with Edmonton and Calgary seeing temperatures above freezing Monday. (Jane Robertson/CBC Edmonton - image credit)

A bleak winter cold snap that has brought icy winds and iron cold to Alberta is about to end.

After weeks of cold weather misery, there is finally a spot of warmth in the long-term forecast.

According to Environment Canada, temperatures are expected to rise more than 40 degrees next week, from breathtaking lows of around –35 C to balmy highs above freezing.

"If that isn't a province-wide chinook, I don't know what is," said David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment Canada.

"It's going to go from parkas and balaclavas to hey, muscle shirts and tank tops maybe. I mean, people are going to embrace this. This is going to be an atmospheric gift."

Much of Western Canada, the North and parts of Ontario and Quebec were under extreme cold alerts, winter storm watches or special weather statements and Alberta has been no exception.

WATCH | Warmer temperatures on the way for Alberta:

The province is at the centre of a polar vortex that took hold on Christmas day.

A prolonged cold snap that has seen communities across the province shatter weather records, while stressing the power grid, turning highways into skating rinks, draining car batteries and killing furnaces.

'Almost a month of cold'

Temperatures across the province have hovered around –35 C, around 20 degrees below average, with biting winds that make it feel more like –45 or –50.

As of Wednesday, almost all of Alberta, with the exception of a few communities along the western edge of the province, remained under extreme cold warnings.

The dangerously frigid weather has been particularly stubborn, with extreme cold warnings remaining in place for days at a time, and blips of relatively warm weather so brief you could sleep through them, Phillips said.

"You've had 29 days in a row with below freezing temperatures," Phillips said. "You have had essentially almost a month of cold with just a couple of little interludes.

"It's been a continuous cold that really begins to wear people down. Even veterans of winter conditions can find those conditions a little tough."

The province is expected to thaw out next week. On Monday, Edmonton could reach an afternoon high around 7 C while Calgary could see 14 C, though Phillips cautioned those projections may be overambitious.

A thick layer of ice and up to 35 centimetres of snow have accumulated in some areas, likely preventing temperatures from rising quite that much.

Taking the sting out of winter

That said, Phillips has no doubt the teeth-chattering temperatures will be gone as the Prairies get a blast of fresh weather from the coast.

Alberta will be trading in a vortex of stubborn Arctic air for balmy, winds blowing in from the Pacific, he said.

The warm, southwesterly winds will be powerful enough to push the cold air currently cloaking the province to the east.

Phillips said the warm air will move across B.C. and Alberta, pushing the cold temperatures out of the Prairies into Ontario.

"This cold air is so dense, so heavy, it's so thick, it's hard to kick it out," he said. "You need a mighty flow from the Pacific to have any chance."

"It's going to take the sting out of winter and give you a few days, not just hours, but a few days where temperatures are going to be possibly above freezing, certainly around the freezing mark."

And for Albertans sick of a chill in their bones, there is more good news.

While January and February had initially looked quite brutal, the long-term forecast has softened, Phillips said.

The midwinter ahead should be sunnier, warmer and decidedly less bleak, Phillips said.

"I'm going to bet a couple of loonies on it, you're going to actually get a January thaw," Phillips said. "It won't be melting much, but boy that air will feel good.

"This punishment that you've had for a month, this is coming to an end but it's not the end of winter. I won't write the obituary on winter quite yet."

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