Large blizzard sweeps through British Columbia, Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Travel shut down

Alberta closed many schools and highways as the eye of the storm traversed this western province. Travelling from British Columbia,[1] into northern Alberta and Edmonton, Alberta region, through Saskatchewan and to Manitoba, a severe blizzard started the night of Tuesday January 9, 2007. By Wednesday January 10, 2007, the storm tracked from Alberta and hit Saskatchewan. According to weather announcements on the Weather Network [2] the blizzard is expected to abate in Saskatchewan by 9:00 pm Central Standard Time. At the height of the storm, gusting winds approached upwards of 80 miles per hour. The temperature began in the morning around -10 Celsius, dropping to -21 Celsius by the evening.

Blowing snow conditions reduced visabliity to less than a car length at times. Some drivers who dared venture out on the highway told of needing to leave their car to kick away snow on the ground in order to determine if they were still driving on pavement. Heroic citizens donned ski pants and parkas, and thus bundled against the elements, assisted drivers who were unable to navigate the black ice covered by the fresh snow at the top of the 25th Street Bridge. In this way their efforts relieved an already bad condition of the piled up congestion on this bridge. Early in the afternoon, the new Circle Drive bridge was closed, and traffic was ill advised to use Circle Drive, which was battered by drifting snow drifts and gusting winds coming in from the open countryside. Around noon, it was said that taxi companies ceased to operate. A typical 15 minute venture driving across the City of Saskatoon mounted into line ups of 1 to two hours as traffic slowed to a snail's pace, due to stuck vehicles, accidents, tow trucks, emergency vehicles, and vehicles unable to navigate steep hills and the underlying black ice from previous winter conditions. [3] Highways, public schools and school bus routes were among the first to be closed. Shopping malls, universities, colleges and high schools soon followed. Any children who arrived at school in early morning were kept at the school until parents could pick them up. Pedestrians were virtually impossible for vehicular traffic to see, and drifting snow made sidewalks hard to navigate. According to media sources, some children may be stranded overnight at schools in cases where roads are totally impassable due to white out conditions. By 6:00 pm City transit buses were not running, Saskatchewan transit buses would not take on highway travel and the airport closed down. Any travellers were strongly urged to book into hotel rooms by 3:00 pm as many hotels were near capacity by mid afternoon. Attempts to use cell phones were often greeted with a busy signal, as the network was loaded with calls during the emergency period. At 3:00 pm any calls for ambulances were encouraged to be of necessity only, and even then a 20 minute wait for the arrival of an ambulance was foreseeable according to radio announcements. As of 7:00 pm, police were only responding to crimes in progress and emergency situations. Tow trucks and RCMP were having a difficult time responding to situations. [4] Residents were strongly urged to stay at home.

SGEU Snowplow operators strike overview

To make matters more complicated highway workers supported the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union, (SGEU) which had been on strike since December 20, 2006. Correctional workers, and environmental employees who were on strike were joined by snowplow operators and supervisors Sunday, January 7, 2007. [5] By the end of Sunday approximately 1,200 highway workers were on a rotating strike, and had walked off the job. On Tuesday, January 9, 2007, in the face of weather predictions, SGEU advised highway workers to return to work. [6] By Wednesday, January 10, 2007, the brunt of the storm was faced by a full contingent of snowplow workers.

Environment Canada Blizzard Warning

A Blizzard warning from environment Canada [7] reported zero to almost zero visibility in Saskatchewan. The area around North Battleford announced closures first. Many highways closed between north western Lloydminster centrally located Saskatoon, and as far south and east as Yorkton, and everywhere in between. Highways out of the cities were barricaded. Police and media were advising any and all travel be delayed till the white out conditions abate. Snow is drifting and the strong winds have made total snowfall hard to calculate.

Weather shuts down Saskatchewan

At 7:30 p.m. CST Martensville - Warman - Rosthern - Delisle - Wakaw- City of Saskatoon. Blizzard warning in effect. Wind northeast 60 km/h gusting to 80 diminishing to 40 gusting to 60 then becoming north 20 near midnight. Low minus 27. Wind chill minus 38. Winter storm warning in effect for Southern Saskatchewan.[8]

Photographs of the Storm

Pictures of the January 10 Saskatchewan storm are online which were taken by CP Press photographer Geoff Howe. Sun Young walking to work, College Drive pedestrian, and three young samaritans who helped vehicles navigate the weather. [9]

Aftermath

The full effects of the blizzard have yet to be witnessed in news reports of Thursday January 11, 2007. Wednesday's announcements of leaving the home only if absolutely necessary, and blizzard warnings to eliminate highway travel hopefully have averted many disasters. As of Friday, January 12, three people in Saskatchewan had succumbed to the storm.

In Saskatchewan it has been reported on January 11, 2007 that three persons have lost their lives due to the blizzard. All had left their vehicles and fell short by meters of shelter from the elements.[10]

Due to traffic snarls and tie ups emergency rescue personnel used snowmobiles to search out stranded vehicles and investigate for persons within.[11] Several weary travellers were indeed found in this way. Due to drastic cold weather, vehicles failing to start, and homes being snowed in, school was cancelled the day following the blizzard, as wind chill dropped to -47 Celsius. Tow trucks were busy all day Thursday, and a special phone number was available for city residents who had abandoned their vehicles in the storm. To clear the streets, tow trucks would take vehicles to empty parking lots till claimed.

In Saskatchewan to attain "blizzard" status, a storm must last at least 4 hours. [12] Wednesday's storm delivered approximately 7 hours of zero visibility. [13] This storm severe as it was pales in comparison to the February 1947 blizzard which raged for 10 days burying trains, and the 4 day long blizzard of February 1978 which deposited snow up to the eavestrough of homes.[14] The storm has been dubbed an Alberta Clipper storm as it had its origins in the Rocky Mountains in western Canada racing south and westerly across Alberta and the prairies towards the Appalachains and north eastern USA as well as Eastern Canada. Frigidly cold weather follows the low pressure front of the Alberta Clipper storm.[15] [16]

Footnotes

  1. Winter storm batters West, Prairies CBC.ca Site accessed January 10, 2007
  2. Weather NetworkTelevesion viewed 5:00 pm, web site accessed January 10, 2007
  3. Whiteout conditions, blowing snow in large parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan Site accessed January 10, 2007
  4. Weather Network Television newscast at 7:00 pm
  5. Highway workers walk out Global TVSite accessed January 10, 2007
  6. Workers are Back!Site accessed January 10, 2007
  7. Environment Canada Site accessed January 10, 2007
  8. Weather Environment Canada's Official Text Forecasts Reproduction available for personal and public non-commercial use * Users exercise due diligence in ensuring the accuracy of the materials reproduced; * Environment Canada be identified as the source department; and, * The reproduction is not represented as an official version of the materials reproduced, nor as having been made in affiliation with or with the endorsement of Environment Canada.
  9. Netscape Weather PHOTOGRAPHS of storm Photograph Search terms - weather and Saskatoon and Geoff Howe URL accessed January 11, 2007
  10. Third Saskatchewan person dies in blizzard CBC.ca URL accessed January 11, 2007]
  11. Snowmobiles used for rescues in Saskatoon's 'worst storm'URL accessed January 11, 2007
  12. Canadian Communities AtlasURL accessed January 11, 2007
  13. AccuWeather.com - Weather Blogs - Weather News Two Storms then Cold! Clipper StormURL accessed January 11, 2007
  14. Canadian Communities AtlasURL accessed January 11, 2007
  15. Define Alberta clipperURL accessed January 11, 2007
  16. ;http://www.islandnet.com/~see/weather/storm/neaster.htm For Strong Winds: Nor'easters and Alberta Clippers]URL accessed January 11, 2007


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