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All of Alberta under extreme cold warning as polar vortex sweeps in

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Click to play video: 'Polar vortex disrupts Alberta, plunges province into bone-chilling weather'
Polar vortex disrupts Alberta, plunges province into bone-chilling weather
Polar vortex disrupts Alberta, plunges province into bone-chilling weather – Jan 11, 2024

As frigid winds sweep in from the Arctic, an extreme cold warning has been issued for all of Alberta.

An update from Environment Canada said a long period of extremely cold temperatures and wind chills is beginning as a polar vortex sweeps south.

A polar vortex is a mass of freezing air that exists all year long and typically spins clockwise over the North Pole.

When it weakens, the circulation can be disrupted and split — sending a section south to spread frigid temperatures over parts of North America.

Click to play video: 'Incoming polar vortex to drive temperatures down in Calgary region'
Incoming polar vortex to drive temperatures down in Calgary region

Air temperatures will continue to fall through the end of the week, with the coldest values expected by Saturday morning.

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Temperatures will drop to near -30 C Wednesday night with wind chills of -40. Over the weekend, morning temperatures will reach -40 C and the wind will make it feel like -50 C.

Slight improvement in the temperature is forecast for early next week, but Environment Canada said certainty is low and below-normal temperatures are likely to continue.

Frostbite can develop within minutes on exposed skin, especially with wind chill.

Wind chill and frostbite concerns

Environment Canada issues extreme cold warnings when very cold temperatures or wind chill create an elevated risk to health such as frostbite, hypothermia, heart attacks and cardiac arrest.

There are different criteria for what constitutes an emergency cold in each part of the country.

“We issue the extreme cold warnings in Alberta for temperatures or wind chills at -40 and it’s -40 for the entire province — which is different than a number of other places, not only in the country, but in the Prairies,” Natalie Hasell, a warning preparedness meteorologist with the national weather agency, previously told Global News.

When the wind chill approaches -40 or lower, Hasell said frostbite can set in on exposed skin in as little as five to 10 minutes.

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“Yeah, -40 to -47 is considered a very high risk — exposed skin can freeze in five to 10 minutes.”

Click to play video: 'Recognizing the signs of frostbite and hypothermia'
Recognizing the signs of frostbite and hypothermia

Risks are greater for young children, older adults, people with chronic illnesses, people working or exercising outdoors and those without proper shelter.

Adam Loria, an EMS public education officer with AHS, said people who work outside or find themselves ourdoors during their commute or while exercising need to be aware of just how fast frostbite can happen.

“Specifically with the wind chill, the wind factor, any exposed skin can undergo some type of frostbite quite quickly, usually within minutes.”

Medical conditions like diabetes, nerve damage or issues with circulation can make people less likely to notice of they are suffering from the cold.

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Click to play video: '‘It’s a dry cold’: Reactions to extreme cold in Calgary'
‘It’s a dry cold’: Reactions to extreme cold in Calgary

If it’s too cold for you to stay outside, it’s too cold for your pet to stay outside, Environment Canada said.

When going outside, people are advised to wear layers and protect exposed skin with gloves, a toque and a scarf. Boots should be waterproof, and it’s recommended people wear two or three layers of pants and shirts.

Also, keep moving when you’re outside in -30 C.

“If you are waiting for that bus, don’t just stand there. At least pace around a little bit. Keep or help your body to generate some heat,” Hasell said.

The City of Edmonton has activated its extreme weather response to help keep vulnerable Edmontonians safe.

During the upcoming deep freeze, open city facilities such as recreation centres and libraries will be available during regular hours of operation for anyone to get out of the extreme cold and warm up.

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Click to play video: 'Calgary airport braces for winter woes, urges patience and preparedness'
Calgary airport braces for winter woes, urges patience and preparedness

I can feel it in my bones: How the cold can impact your health

For some Albertans, yo-yoing weather means being prepared by plugging in their vehicles and planning their transit trips a little more carefully to avoid long waits in the cold.

But for others, the weather can bring with it a range of aches, pains and in some cases, debilitating headaches.

Emergency and preventive medicine physician Dr. Louis Francescutti told Global News in a previous interview that there’s enough scientific evidence accumulated over the years to back up the connection.

“You’ve probably heard your grandparents say, ‘I can tell when a storm is coming because my joints are going to hurt,’ and there’s some truth to that,” he said last year.

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Conditions such as migraines, headaches, joint pains and even blood pressure can be affected by high and low pressure systems, Francescutti said.

Francescutti said the medical theory is that changes in barometric pressure cause joints to expand within their closed compartments, putting pressure on the nerve endings and in turn, causing pain.

“It’s going to change the composition of the tension and the fluidity within the joints.”

Click to play video: 'Blast of winter weather hits Edmonton as snow arrives'
Blast of winter weather hits Edmonton as snow arrives

The veteran Alberta physician said some ways to mitigate the impact include being well-hydrated, rested, exercising regularly and eating properly.

“If it’s a case of a patient with migraine, make sure you have your medication. And if you need to take the medication prophylactically, then you can do that,” he said.

Want your weather on the go? Download Global News’ Skytracker weather app for iPhone, iPad and Android.

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton weather forecast: Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024'
Edmonton weather forecast: Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024

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