The teeth-chattering cold snap that has caught many Canadians off-guard, seizing vehicle engines and setting cold-weather records in many parts of the country, is expected to last at least until the weekend.

Frigid wind chill temperatures brought on by an arctic air mass will begin to taper off for the Prairies and central Canada in the coming days as the jet stream moves it east.

Earlier Wednesday morning, the coldest measured temperature in the world was –43.1 C in Little Chicago, N.W.T., with Rouyn Airport in Quebec second at –40.3 C and Jakutsk, Russia, recording –38.8 C.

Hydro-Québec set a record for power consumption, with system demand reaching a historical peak of 38,910 megawatts (MW) this morning, exceeding the 37,717 MW peak recorded on Jan. 24, 2011.

While all of its production facilities remain in operation, Hydro-Québec is asking the public to reduce power consumption during peak periods of 7-9 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, and 4-8 p.m. Wednesday, by:

  • Lowering the thermostat a degree or two Celsius in all rooms, especially those that are unused. 
  • Postpone using major appliances (especially dryers and dishwashers) by a few hours.
  • Limit the use of hot water as much as possible.

Temperatures for Montreal and Québec City for Thursday are forecasted to feel like –40 C with the wind chill.

Ottawa Public Health issued a frostbite warning after the capital was at its coldest in eight years, hovering around –22 C in the afternoon, but feeling more like –40 C with the wind chill. The lows are forecasted to continue into Thursday with northwest winds making temperatures feel like –39 C with the wind chill.

Health officials are advising people to wear layers if going outside, reminding them it only takes five to 10 minutes for exposed skin to freeze once the temperature dips to –25 C and below.

Staff at homeless shelters were also handing out mitts, hats and gloves for anyone insisting on venturing outside, though Ottawa public health officials are advising people to stay indoors if they can.

"Shelters are full, they're at capacity," said the CBC's Ashley Burke, adding that staff at homeless shelters were laying down mats to create makeshift sleeping quarters.

But the cold weather in Ottawa wasn't all bad news, as the Rideau Canal opened another three-kilometre stretch for skaters keen to get outside no matter how cold it gets.

Coldest day of 2013

Toronto broke a record for its coldest day of 2013 on Wednesday as the wind chill made it feel like –24 C.

Shaun Pereira was doing excavation work at an outdoor site in downtown Toronto on Wednesday and called the cold snap jarring.

"This morning was brutal. Everything was frozen, my hands, my face, but luckily it warmed up a bit as the day went on," he said.

si-coldcars-300

The CAA has responded to more than 1,200 calls since a sudden winter blast hit parts of eastearn and Northern Ontario, with many motorists reporting dead car batteries and vehicles in need of a tow. (CBC)

Pereira, who works outside "all day, every day," thinks the cold weather was long overdue.

"I honestly cannot remember it being as cold as it has been this week. But I'm always ready for it, I was born in Canada. A few extra layers and some coffee is all I need."

On Tuesday morning, a homeless person was found outside a Toronto-area restaurant without vital signs. Police said he had suffered from hypothermia, though it hasn't been confirmed that he froze to death.

Anyone who spots homeless people in need of shelter is advised to call the City of Toronto's 311 hotline. 

Toronto is a far cry from other cold regions of the country like Churchill, Man., which on Thursday morning has a projected high of –25 C with an extreme wind chill making it feel like –46 C.

Snow squall warnings forecasted for western and southern Newfoundland remain in place tonight and through to tomorrow, with temperatures for St. John's expected to hit a low of –8 C.

Temperatures across the Maritimes will be into the minus double digits again for daytime highs, and wind chill values are expected to range from the –20s to well into the –30s for New Brunswick, P.E.I. and parts of central Nova Scotia.

Several schools in northwestern New Brunswick were closed Wednesday due to the freezing weather.

With files from The Canadian Press