Winter storm pummeling prairies grounds flights, prompts warnings to stay off roads

SASKATOON — Heavy snows and wintry winds grounded flights and closed highways across the prairies over the weekend, prompting the mayor of one major city to ask anyone without a vehicle equipped with four-wheel drive to stay home.

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark, whose city had received close to 30 centimetres of snow by Sunday afternoon, told an online news conference that anyone with a light vehicle was more likely to get stranded and need help the city is hard-pressed to provide.

"If you get stuck it does put more strain on our emergency crews who are out there working as hard as they can to respond to everything that's underway," Clark said.

The city's airport said poor visibility and wind resulted in the cancellation of approximately 30 flights as of Sunday morning, noting WestJet flights were canceled until at least 6:20 p.m. Sunday evening, and Rise Air also canceled all Sunday flights from the facility.

Environment Canada meteorologist Terri Lang said the hardest hit areas of the province were in the west central region, including Saskatoon and through to North Battleford. And even though snowfall appeared to be tapering off on Sunday afternoon, she said winds were expected to pick up overnight.

"So we're probably going to still have a lot of blowing and drifting snow through the day tomorrow," Lang told the Saskatoon news conference.

Lang said less snow was reported in Regina, but the province's online highways map reported that sections of the Trans-Canada Highway east of the capital were closed due to poor driving conditions.

Calgary and Edmonton also saw significant snow on Saturday.

In Manitoba, thousands were left without power on Sunday in Winnipeg and other communities. Manitoba Hydro did not give a reason for the mass outages, but Winnipeg was under a freezing rain warning on Sunday.

Grammy-award-winning Montreal folk singer Allison Russell posted on Instagram that she had to postpone a Sunday evening show at Winnipeg's Park Theatre after her tour bus slid off the road an into a ditch during heavy snow.

Russell had earlier posted she was "heartbroken" after being unable to get to a show in Saskatoon on Saturday due to the near-whiteout conditions on the roads.

"Everyone is OK thanks to the stars & spheres but there is no way for us to safely make it to you in time to play our show @parktheatre tonight," the singer posted on Sunday.

Oji-Cree singer Aysanabee, who is touring alongside Russell, also posted social media videos of a highway covered in blowing snow along with an apology to fans.

"It got to the point where I couldn’t see 10ft in front of me and I couldn’t tell if I was on the road anymore so we decided it wasn’t safe for us to drive or for you to drive," he posted Saturday.

"Stay safe and stay warm."

In addition to the heavy snow in Saskatchewan and Alberta, temperatures have also been falling, prompting concern for the homeless. Saskatoon reported it had activated its extreme cold-weather emergency plan, which involves partner agencies that assist vulnerable residents.

While inconvenient, Saskatoon's emergency management organization director pointed out the snow is appreciated.

"We need this moisture and this is appreciated moisture for us going forward in the spring," Pamela Goulden-McLeod said.

Elementary schools in Saskatoon were already scheduled to be closed Monday for a professional development day. Because of the snow, the city's public and Catholic school boards also cancelled classes for older students.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2024.

--By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

The Canadian Press