One short cold spell in January is the only blemish on what has been a relatively mild winter so far in Saskatchewan.
A blast of Arctic air descending on the province is about to change that.
“We’re really going to feel it this weekend,” said Terri Lang, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Lang said -40 C temperatures could be recorded in the Saskatoon area Monday morning.
“It does look like Monday will probably be the coldest day, probably the coldest day so far this winter.”
The culprit? The polar vortex.
“The polar vortex is something that’s always spinning around the Arctic, but when there’s changes in the jet stream, it causes it to loop around a little bit,” Lang explained.
“When one of those loops comes down, that’s what we see as sort of the polar vortex or a piece of it when it spins over western Canada and over Saskatoon.”
Extreme cold warnings are issued when temperatures or wind chill reaches the -40 mark, and Lang expects those to be issued.
“Any little bit of wind when it’s this cold will cause high wind chills,” she said.
“The wind chill doesn’t change the value of the temperature, it doesn’t make it colder, it just makes it feel like it’s colder because any little bit of wind will quickly carry any heat away from your body.”
Jason Mercredi, the executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction, expects warmup shelters to be busy, but COVID-19 restrictions will play a factor in how many people will be allowed into facilities.
“Normally you’d have anywhere from 30 to 40 people in our building, now we’re reduced to about nine because of social distancing,” Mercredi said.
“So we have to turn people away to other warmup locations and when the temperatures get this cold, it gets pretty dangerous.”
He said it’s difficult on his staff to turn people away who are freezing as they do their part to slow the COVID-19 curve.
“We’ve had people negotiate to get with other clients that are in the building saying, ‘please, can you come outside for five minutes? I’ll trade you so I can warm,’” he said.
Lang said anyone venturing outside in extreme conditions needs to dress properly.
“That means dressing in layers,” she said.
“It’s actually the air between the layers of clothes that insulate you from the cold. So the more layers that you can put on, the better.”
She also said extremities need to be covered up as frostbite can occur in minutes at extreme values.
The Saskatoon SPCA is also urging pet owners to exercise caution before letting them out in the cold.
“Dogs are going to have different cold tolerances,” said Jemma Omidian.
“Let them out for a quick bathroom break, but don’t let them out for extended periods of time. You want to make sure that you’re keeping them comfortable.”
She recommends bundling them up in a parka or other warm clothing and said booties are a great option for protecting paws.
If pets are showing signs of distress — whining, shivering, seeming anxious, lethargic or just not acting normal — Omidian said that is the time to call the veterinarian.
“Get them inside, get them warm, get them dry and call your vet.”
Lang said temperatures should slowly return to seasonable.
“(There will be) a gradual return to more seasonal values towards the end of the week,” she said.
“Seasonal values for this time of year averages around -8 and overnight lows closer to -20, so we’ve been running generally well above average.
“So, this is going to feel a lot colder, but very much in keeping with how winters are in Saskatchewan.”