Planes, trains and automobiles: Deep freeze puts a chill on getting around in Edmonton

The wheels haven't fallen off. But when it comes to getting around in Edmonton during the current deep freeze, they've certainly been slowed to a crawl.

As of Wednesday morning, the Alberta Motor Association had received 30,700 calls for assistance since Sunday, when temperatures first plunged below -25 C. The volume of calls is about six times higher than usual.

Some drivers are being told they may have to wait up to two days for help.

"We're prioritizing calls to ensure people in emergency situations receive help as quickly as possible and thank Albertans for their understanding as we work around the clock to reach those in need," AMA manager Brandon Klassen said in a news release.

"It's absolutely all hands on deck over here."

With 65 per cent of the calls related to battery issues, the AMA is urging drivers to take preventive measures, including plugging in your vehicle's block heater for at least four hours prior to driving and, if you have doubts about your battery's health, use another form of transportation. "This could save you from being stranded at roadside in extreme temperatures," states the release.

Christine Sawyer

The Edmonton International Airport is urging travellers to check on the status of their flight before heading to the airport. Numerous cancellations and delays are showing up on the departure list for Wednesday. 

On Twitter, the airport reminded travellers who are returning to the city that its Park Assist service can give you a boost if you've come home to a dead battery.

LRT commuters in Edmonton experienced delays for the second day in a row as a result of a rail line that cracked as a result of the extreme cold.

Transit officials had hoped it would take about a day to repair the crack, which first showed up early Tuesday after temperatures plunged to –34 C. But the extreme cold put a chill on those efforts, city spokesperson Kimberly Brunelle said Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, the extreme cold was extremely challenging," Brunelle said about repair efforts Tuesday night when temperatures hovered around –40 C. "Even the equipment was breaking as they were trying to fix the crack." 

The damaged rail has caused delays for south-side commuters, triggering traffic back-ups at 51st Avenue and 111th Street eastbound and forcing crews to manually operate the LRT crossing gates. 

"It will take us a while to get up to full speed but by the ride home, it should be back to normal." 

Snow plows and sanders have been out in force, the city said, working to ensure that motorists (whose batteries aren't felled by the cold) are able to get to their destinations safely. Since Jan. 8, the date of the last significant snowfall, the city has applied more than 8,500 tonnes of sand and chip for traction.

"We take safety very seriously and are making every effort to improve traction; however, in extreme cold temperatures the tools we use may be limited in their effectiveness," city spokesperson Zak Fairbrother said in an email.

Salt isn't effective for melting ice when it's this cold, so crews will continue to focus on combating icy conditions with sand and chip until the temperatures break, he said.

The cold also caused a water main to freeze and burst overnight at Churchill LRT Station. Repairs and cleanup were complete before the Wednesday morning commute, the city said. 

"We're just going to be on standby with this extreme weather throughout the week," Brunelle said.

Frigid arctic air has swept across most of Western Canada, delivering bone-chilling cold to Alberta. The entire province is under an extreme cold warning.

The cold, which has kept the province in a deep freeze since Sunday, has put dangerous pressure on the power grid, nearly causing power outages. Car batteries have frozen. Roads have become dangerously slick. Morning commutes have been clouded with ice fog.

Schools across the province have closed their doors or cancelled bus service. Municipalities have opened emergency shelters for people living on the streets. 

Edmonton is in the grips of another record-breaker Wednesday with temperatures hovering around –39 C and a biting wind that makes it feel more like –45. The previous daily record for the capital city was set in 2011 when the mercury fell to a mere –26 C. 

As of 11 a.m. the Grande Cache area was the coldest place in the province with a brutally cold temperature of -45.9C. 

Environment Canada is reminding Albertans to bundle up and be mindful that frostbite can develop within minutes on exposed skin, especially when there is a wind chill.

Alberta isn't expected to thaw out until Sunday when the temperature is forecast to rise to –4 C.

Sam Martin/CBC