January 23, 2015 6:06 pm
Updated: January 23, 2015 10:17 pm

Albertans feeling hot, hot, hot thanks to January heat wave

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WATCH ABOVE: It’s the middle of winter, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it right now around the province. While the warm temperatures are welcome news for some, others are not pleased. Eric Szeto explains.

EDMONTON — Who needs a trip to the tropics when the weather in the prairies is so balmy? “Alberta heat wave” is not a term you hear very often in the summer — let alone in the winter. But it’s what experts say has hit the province.

Average temperatures for this time of year are around -6°C in Calgary and -11°C in Edmonton, according to Calgary meteorologist Jordan Witzel. Recently, though, the temperatures have been five to seven degrees above seasonal across Alberta.

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“We’re setting into heat wave territory as this trend continues. It’s exceedingly unusual,” said Witzel.

“Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge will all enter heat wave territory Saturday afternoon with the expected warmth continuing.

By Monday, we’d meet even the most stringent criteria for a heat wave in all three cities.”

In Lethbridge, Environment Canada has predicted the temperature will climb as high as 21°C on Monday. Witzel has a more conservative estimate of 15°, which is still not a number you expect to see during an Alberta winter (at least not without the minus sign in front of it).

As for what’s causing this warm weather phenomenon?

“Chalk it up to many different weather patterns,” Witzel explained, “all causing each other to be a little different this year in the northern hemisphere.”

READ MORE: Cold weather comes to an end as Arctic releases its icy grip

What constitutes a heat wave?

Well, according to Witzel, opinions on this matter seem to differ. He explained that while there isn’t necessarily an exact definition for what constitutes a heat wave, the most widely-accepted theme is that daytime highs must exceed the 30-year average high by 5°C or greater.

Some, he said, propose just two days in a row of this scenario, while others suggest three or even five days are needed for a heat wave to be present. There are those who take it even further and feel that both daytime highs and lows need to be 5°C or greater above the 30-year average for several days in a row to meet the criteria.

“I generally go with the ‘three or more days with daytime highs at least five degrees above average’ definition,” said Global Calgary weather anchor Paul Dunphy. “And by that criteria, we have been in a heat wave since the 13th in Calgary.”

The downsides of the higher temperatures

The abnormally warm weather means winter festivals in Calgary are offering wagon instead of sleigh rides, and making igloos with styro-blocks instead of snow.

In Edmonton, it has Ice on Whyte organizers a little concerned.

WATCH: Global Edmonton weather specialist Mike Sobel gets a bit of a bumpy finish when testing out the Ice on Whyte slide live.

The conditions have also created some super slippery sidewalks, which can be quite a hazard. Because of the number of complaints the City of Edmonton has recently received, it plans to ramp up its by-law enforcement on the issue this weekend.

The icy walks have also kept hospitals busy.

“[On Wednesday] around three o’clock, we had an actual doubling of calls than we normally would have in an hour,” said EMS Executive Director Dale Weiss.

Within 16 hours that day, the University of Alberta Hospital treated 19 orthopedic patients. Off-duty physicians and specialists had to be called in to to help with the demand.

How long will the warm weather last?

The warm Pacific flow that’s behind this stretch, according to Global Edmonton weather specialist Mike Sobel, will continue until early next week.

So you might want to hold off on unpacking the summer wardrobe, and just enjoy this heat wave while it lasts.

“Arctic air will start to make its presence felt by the middle of next week, when daytime highs will be closer to where they should be.”

© 2015 Shaw Media

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