Manitobans hunker down as days-long snowstorm begins

Strong winds and sideways snow are blowing through southern Manitoba as a storm system centred just across the U.S. border makes its presence felt.

The storm started pushing across the border Tuesday night and made its way further north, into Winnipeg, Brandon and other communities along the Trans-Canada Highway, during the early morning hours.

“The heavy band of snow that’s over southern Manitoba right now is giving us a snowfall rate of about five centimetres per hour,” CBC Manitoba meteorologist John Sauder said.

“I’m not saying that’s going to last for two days. That would be nasty. But we are going to see these heavy bands of snow continue to move through, so just hunker down and be safe and stay off the highways if you can.”

The snow has been hitting the higher elevations in western Manitoba much harder. Around Riding Mountain and Turtle Mountain, forecast models have suggested the amounts could reach 80 cm or more by the time the storm is done.

When the weather has a sudden setback, scooters get abandoned. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“There’s zero visibility. The snow is coming down sideways from the wind,” said Deb Bauche, who lives just north of the International Peace Garden on the Canada-U.S. border southwest of Winnipeg, near Turtle Mountain Provincial Park.

“It’s hard to tell how much snow we’ve had. I would say at least a foot, but we’ve got places where there’s two- or three-foot drifts,” she said.

“I let my big dog out this morning, he’s 130 pounds, and he had nowhere to go. He turned around in a panic and came back. It’s wicked.”

Snow, at times heavy, is expected to continue throughout the day, along with northeast winds gusting as high as 70 km/h at times.

Travel will become increasingly difficult as the day progresses, Environment Canada said in an alert for the region.

Road conditions are a little tricky in Winnipeg right now. This truck hit a traffic light trying to stop on the Perimeter Highway at St. Anne’s Road. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

The RCMP are ready to close highways when necessary. So far, the list is:

  • Trans-Canada Highway from Headingley (just west of Winnipeg) to the Saskatchewan border.
  • Highway 75 from Winnipeg to the U.S. border.
  • South Perimeter Highway in Winnipeg.
  • Highway 5 from U.S. border to the Trans-Canada.
  • Highway 10 from the U.S. border to the Trans-Canada.
  • Sections of highways 2, 3, 6, 7, 13, 14, 26, 18 and 23.

In a news release Tuesday night, RCMP said they were preparing to close all major highways in the province around midnight, or whenever it begins to snow. The storm’s slower progress delayed that somewhat so the early widespread closures were not required.

The Trans-Canada Highway is closed from Headingley, just west of Winnipeg, to the Saskatchewan border. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Tara Liske with Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure urges people not to travel if it is not necessary — and to check the province’s highway conditions website if it is.

“We have all of our crews out clearing roads where they are open, so it’s a blanket across the southwestern and southeastern parts of the province,” she said.

Transportation staff are working with RCMP to provide updates and, as conditions change, there is the potential for more road closures, Liske said.

Power outages

As the weight of the snow and strength of the winds increased, Manitoba Hydro was reporting a number of power outages throughout the south.

There were a total of 21 as of 12:30 p.m. with about 1,600 people impacted.

The biggest ones are in the city of Steinbach and just south of it, as well as west of Portage la Prairie.

The storm system will continue to track northward into Manitoba’s Interlake region through the day and more outages are likely.

The Colorado low is expected to stall over Minnesota, keeping Manitoba in its sights through to Friday.

For the Red River Valley, including Winnipeg and southeastern Manitoba, the majority of the snow is now expected to fall today, Environment Canada said.

It will continue through Thursday but with lesser amounts expected, then taper off on Friday.

Total snowfall accumulations by the time the storm subsides are expected to range from 30-40 centimetres in and around Winnipeg, 40-60 cm for the western Red River Valley, including Portage La Prairie and Morden, and 20-40 cm for the eastern Red River Valley and southeastern Manitoba, Environment Canada said.

Areas west of Winnipeg are expected to experience blizzard conditions as the storm intensifies. Near-zero visibility is likely in most of western Manitoba by this afternoon.

Blizzard conditions will persist through the night and ease back somewhat on Thursday, but snow and blowing snow will still be an issue, Environment Canada forecast.

Snowfall totals will range from 25-50 cm but with those higher amounts over Riding Mountain and Turtle Mountain. 

The weather agency previously said amounts in those higher elevations could push closer to 80 cm.

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