Road conditions are expected to remain hazardous on Tuesday morning after a blizzard swept through southern Alberta.
Much of central and southern Alberta was under a blizzard warning Monday as an Arctic air mass settled over the province brought strong winds and heavy snow.
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The Calgary area could see 15 to 30 centimetres of snow by Tuesday morning, according to CBC weather specialist Craig Larkins.
He said while the blizzard warning could end overnight the temperature is expected to drop.
"We will see strong winds for the start of Tuesday combined with fresh snowfall that will continue to reduce visibility," he said, adding the wind chill could bring temperatures down to -30C.
He said the winds should diminish in the evening, but in the wake of the snow — which should end sometime Tuesday afternoon — slippery roads will still be a factor.
Larkins said there will be a return of sunshine for Wednesday, but the bitterly cold temperatures will stick around for the remainder of the week.
RCMP say 23 vehicles — including four semis — were involved in a multi-vehicle crash north of Calgary. Highway 2 southbound was closed between Didsbury and Carstairs near the overpass as emergency crews responded.
Highway 1 has also been closed from Calgary to Brooks, Alta., as Strathmore RCMP deal with another multi-vehicle collision.
RCMP said the highway may not open until Tuesday morning. Officials are advising against highway travel until the storm passes.
"At this time motorists are asked to find shelter in a safe location or in their vehicle," said RCMP in a release. "Be prepared to spend the night."
Emergency crews may not be able to reach all stranded motorists on the highway because of the severe weather, police said.
Linda Nelson, the deputy director of emergency management in Strathmore, said rural firefighters are out on highways rescuing dozens of stranded travellers.
They plan to convoy back to the town located west of Calgary and set up rescued travellers at the local civic centre.
Volker Stevin Contracting, which operates snowplows and sanders, said Monday afternoon it had pulled half of its crews off highways near the Alberta communities of Gleichen, Hussar and Bassano because of the winter conditions.
“It's a total whiteout out there. They can't see the roads so they become a hazard to the public and a hazard to themselves," said Volker Stevin's Jack Brown.
"For their safety, we're pulling them out of there."
The parking lot at the Road King truck stop in Calgary's southeast filled up Monday as truckers took the day off.
Gary Renwick says the combination of bad weather just wasn't worth the risk.
"Icy, high winds and blowing snow like this — plus I'm empty, I don't have any weight at all in my trailer," he said.
"So chances are if I get going down a hill and I have to stop and I apply my brakes, the trailer is just going to slide."
100 flights cancelled
As of 8 p.m. MT, more than 100 flights in and out of the city have been cancelled at Calgary International Airport.
Some of the cancellations were announced Sunday in anticipation of the blizzard.
Airlines are working to accommodate passengers because of the disruptions. WestJet has eased its restrictions today for people changing flights in and out of Calgary, Edmonton and Grand Prairie, Alta.
Theresa Senekal, who is trying to fly home to Grande Prairie, is among those held up by the storm.
"We have a full work schedule booked for tomorrow so we have to be back in Grande Prairie, but I guess that's one of the pleasures of living in northern Alberta," she said.
Dawn Flanagan had just arrived from Cuba when she encountered the whiteout conditions.
She was waiting to take the bus to Red Deer after her ride home fell through.
"They texted me at 4:30 in the morning and I got it when I arrived saying, 'There's no way I'm coming,'" said Flanagan.
Avoid driving, if possible
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi tweeted Monday that if Calgarians had to be on the roads, they should allow extra time.
"I have to go into work today — darn #yyccc meeting — but if you are able to work from home, please do," he tweeted, referring to a city council meeting.
He later told CBC News that city buses are having some trouble and that C-Trains are full.
But the mayor said it's too early to say when a snow route parking ban will be declared.
"Right now the crews are working hard on the Priority 1 roads that are unaffected by a snow ban because there's no parking on them anyway," Nenshi said.
"Once we have a chance to clear [those], and the snow has stopped, we'll make a decision on whether or not we need to call a parking route ban for the Priority 2 roads. Given the amount of snow that I saw out there when I came in this morning, I think that it's probably a good bet that we'll need to do that, but not right away."
Meanwhile, Calgary police said they responded to more than 100 collisions between midnight and 3 p.m. Eight of them involved injuries while 102 caused property damage.
All of central, southern Alberta affected
The blizzard warning covered all of central and southern Alberta’s major communities, including Red Deer, Brooks, Airdrie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Drumheller.
“The worst conditions are expected near and along a line from Red Deer through Strathmore and south towards Lethbridge, with northerly winds becoming as strong as 50 km/h gusting to 80 km/h and visibilities near zero at times,” Environment Canada said.
Highway 3 at Crowsnest Pass at the B.C.-Alberta boundary was closed at 9 a.m. MT Monday because of poor driving conditions.
The community's volunteer fire department said Monday afternoon it was reopened, but officials are still advising against travel.
The City of Red Deer activated its Emergency Operations Centre Monday afternoon because of the snowfall.
Many schools in Calgary and around the province have cancelled classes for the day.
The Calgary Board of Education said public schools will remain open Tuesday but morning buses have been cancelled as a result of the blizzard conditions.
Calgary's ski hill Canada Olympic Park, which is located in the city limits, is also closed because of high winds and wind chills. The hill will remain closed through Tuesday.
The intense winter storm has been moving down from northwestern Alberta since Saturday.
Blizzard vs. winter storm warning
The upgrade of a winter storm warning to a blizzard warning sparked questions on social media sites about the difference between the two alerts. To help clarify, here are the thresholds for each as defined by Environment Canada:
- A blizzard warning is declared when winds of 40 km/h or greater are expected to cause widespread reductions in visibility to 400 metres or less due to blowing snow, or blowing snow in combination with falling snow, for at least four hours.
- A snowfall warning in Alberta is declared when 10 centimetres or more of snow falls within 12 hours or less.
- A winter storm warning is declared when severe and potentially dangerous winter weather conditions are expected including:
- A major snowfall (25 cm or more within a 24-hour period).
- A significant snowfall (amounts meeting the criteria for a snowfall warning) combined with other cold weather precipitation, such as freezing rain, strong winds, blowing snow and/or extreme wind chill.
Blizzard conditions may be part of an intense winter storm, in which case a blizzard warning is issued instead of a winter storm warning.
Source: Environment Canada