Brace yourself, Alberta: we’re in for some frigid temperatures, including wind chill values of -40, as an arctic airmass has settled over much of the province and will remain through the end of the work week.
“The arctic high will bring mostly clear conditions and light wind, allowing temperatures to slip below -30 C in much of Alberta overnight,” Global Edmonton chief meteorologist Jesse Beyer said Thursday afternoon.
“With wind speeds expected to be in the 10-20 km/h range, -30 C can feel like -40 quickly.”
On Thursday, Environment Canada issued extreme cold warnings for basically all of Alberta east of the mountains. The warnings across the western half of the province were dropped Friday afternoon, but remained for the eastern Prairies area.
The weather agency said wind chill values will moderate (to a balmy -20 or so) during the daylight hours on Friday, but the extremely cold conditions may return that night in a few regions.
“Parts of the city of Edmonton will dip below -30 C overnight, and with wind speeds near 10 km/h, it will near -40 Friday morning,” Beyer said.
“Friday afternoon will top out near -20 C, feeling well into the -30s through the day.”
Making sure your vehicle starts in the cold
These kinds of temperatures can be hard on engines.
To make sure your oil and coolants stay warm so your vehicle will start easily, the Alberta Motor Association recommends a block heater be plugged in for at least four hours when the outdoor temperature is -15 C or below.
If your vehicle doesn’t have a block heater, AMA says switching to synthetic oil will help the engine turn over in cold weather.
Drivers are advised to make sure their gas tank is at least half full and consider using gas-line antifreeze. Making sure that your radiator antifreeze is also topped up is important.
Cold weather causes batteries to weaken and can lead to sluggish starts and difficulty turning over an engine in the winter.
Signs of a weak battery include dim headlights while idling, frequent boosts/not holding a charge, vehicle slow to turn over and engine cranks but doesn’t start.
Drivers looking for assistance from AMA will have to pack some patience, as the motor association reported 28-hour wait times in Calgary and Edmonton as of Thursday afternoon.
“We’re currently receiving two- to three-times more call volume than we normally do, and a lot of it has to do with towing and as well as boosting,” AMA roadside assistance supervisor Brandon Klassen said, noting the company has called in all hands for the cold weather.
“As the cold weather starts to get in here in the next 24 hours, we’re going to see that boosting ratio go way up.”
On Friday, the AMA wait time to be towed or winched was 34 to 36 hours in the province’s two biggest cities.
Drivers needing a boost were also facing waits of 14 hours. Dead battery? AMA said drivers would be waiting a day for help with that.
Cold temperatures can also affect tire pressure. AMA recommends checking your tire pressure during a cold snap, saying most lose one pound per square inch for every 5 C drop in temperature.
Having even pressure between all tires is especially important in the winter, when it can affect traction.
Drivers are advised to always carry an emergency kit to help ensure your safety in the event of an unexpected breakdown. This should include things like a blanket, warm clothing, caution triangles, a flashlight, gloves and a folding shovel.
Read more: Myth-busting winter driving wives’ tales
Klassen said calls for AMA services are triaged and advised if you need to pull over, find a safe space to do so.
“If you’re stuck in a situation where you’re not safe or your vehicle’s in a dangerous location, we’re going to get to you much quicker.”
He also advised people to slow down and drive to the road conditions. And when passing a tow truck or other emergency responder with flashing lights on, drivers have to slow down to 60 km/h and move over.
Environment Canada issues extreme cold warnings when very cold temperatures or wind chill create an elevated risk to health such as frostbite and hypothermia.
When the wind chill approaches -40 or lower, frostbite can set in on exposed skin in as little as five to 10 minutes. If it’s too cold for you to stay outside, it’s too cold for your pet to stay outside, Environment Canada said.
Risks are greater for young children, older adults, people with chronic illnesses, people working or exercising outdoors and those without proper shelter.
When going outside, wear layers and protect exposed skin with gloves, a toque and a scarf.
Boots should be waterproof, and it’s recommended that people wear two or three layers of pants and shirts.
The City of Edmonton already activated its extreme weather response to to keep vulnerable Edmontonians safe during this cold snap. It’s expected to remain in place until Thursday, Dec. 8, at 8 a.m.
The response is triggered when the wind chill makes temperatures feel like -20 for at least three consecutive nights and shelter utilization rates are over 90 per cent.
There is relief in sight: Beyer said it looks like our highs will be back near -5 C to -10 C by Saturday.
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