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Why Environment Canada has dropped its cold warning, but local health unit alert stays in place

Two public agencies with two different takes on the exceptionally cold weather. Environment Canada has dropped its extreme cold warning for the London area, but the Middlesex-London Health Unit continues to run with its cold alert.

Environment Canada says the two agencies have adopted a somewhat different approach

Everyone agrees it's cold, but Environment Canada and the local health unit have different criteria for issuing cold weather alerts. Their are discussions underway to harmonize the standards. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

Two public agencies have two different takes on the exceptionally cold weather.

Environment Canada has dropped its extreme cold warning for the London area, but the Middlesex-London Health Unit continues to run with its cold alert. The health unit says its alert will remain in effect until Saturday.

The weather agency says there's a reason for this apparent contradiction.

Environment Canada issues an extreme cold alert only when the temperature or the wind chill is expected to be –30 C or colder.

The local health unit, on the other hand, issues a cold alert when the low temperature is forecast to be –15 C without the wind chill.

Differing Perspectives

Environment Canada meteorologist Geoff Coulson says the two agencies are aiming at somewhat different audiences.

"Environment Canada is looking at a criteria where a healthy adult is going to be affected by the condition, whereas local municipalities may be looking at some of the more disadvantaged in their society. So there are different criteria used by local agencies, public health units, across Ontario, based on someone being out in those conditions that perhaps are not dressed for it. They could be in those conditions for an extended period of time."

Harmonizing cold criteria

Coulson says discussions are underway between Environment Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Health and regional health units to create standardized criteria for cold weather alerts in the same way that heat warning criteria have been harmonized among the various agencies.

But he says for now, there will be times when a local health unit will issue a cold alert, and the national weather agency will not.

Coulson says although Environment Canada has lifted its extreme cold warning, "we're looking at temperatures well below normal. Anyone that's been outside since Boxing Day realizes that."

And, he says, the below-normal temperatures will continue until at least Saturday. Environment Canada is forecasting a break in the extreme cold on Sunday and Monday. But Coulson says temperatures are expected to plunge again by the middle of next week.