Calgary·Video

How cold is Alberta these days? Let's just say even the penguins can't deal

Just how cold is it in Alberta these days? Colder than the South Pole — at least in Calgary, where the zoo locked even the penguins indoors to keep their tootsies toasty.

Alberta may be colder than the South Pole — but that hasn't stopped some from having fun with icy experiments

The Calgary Zoo was to resume its annual Penguin Walks on Monday but it has been too cold for the sub-Antarctic king penguins. Here, they take a trial waddle last Thursday (and you can see video of that waddle at the bottom of this story). (Mike Symington/CBC)

Just how cold is it in Alberta these days?

Colder than the South Pole — at least in Calgary, where the zoo locked even the penguins indoors to keep their tootsies toasty.

The Calgary Zoo cancelled its much-loved "Penguin Walk" — a special event that can attract large crowds — for a third straight day Wednesday.

"The Penguin Walk has been cancelled for today, January 15, due to extreme cold weather conditions. As this weather puts physiological stress on the birds, we cancel the walk for their welfare," the Calgary Zoo tweeted.

  • Not everyone's bummed by the cold. Check out the CBC Calgary Eyeopener's take on the #FrozenJeansFrisbeeChallenge below, and more icy experiments at the bottom of this story.
Not everyone's bummed by the cold. Check out the CBC Calgary Eyeopener's take on the #FrozenJeansFrisbeeChallenge below, and more icy experiments at the bottom of this story. 1:03

In the Penguin Walks, the birds waddle their way along a 15-minute walk, starting at Penguin Plunge, looping to the Discovery Trail Bridge, and then back to the penguin habitat.

Hard on older birds

But the zoo says that for the welfare of the colony of king penguins, it has to be above –25 C and no warmer than 5 C. 

By about noon Wednesday, Calgary's temperature was –29 C — with a wind chill of –35.

And Edmonton was even colder at –31°C.

That was colder than at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, where it hit –24 C — with a wind chill that made it feel like –34 C.

"These are sub-Antarctic penguins. So above 5 C, things are not so good for them. We are concerned with health issues, with things they could breathe if they are outside at this temperature, so we bring them in," Dr. Malu Celli, curator of animal care at the Calgary Zoo, told CBC Calgary earlier in the cold snap.

"And at –25 C, it can be hard for some of our elder birds, and also hard for people who want to come here and stand for a long time waiting to see them.… It's also important for us, if it's really windy, we would not run the walk, because the wind moves a lot of particles the penguins can breathe, and it can make them sick."

Don't give away your tuque just yet

An arctic system first rolled into northern Alberta and then enveloped the rest of the province starting late last week.

Extreme cold warnings had been issued for most of the province by the weekend, persisting in most places day after day.

Extreme cold warnings mean the temperature or wind chill is expected to reach levels ranging from –30 to –55, depending on location. The coldest wind chill values will be between –45 and –50.

By about noon Wednesday, Calgary's temperature was –29 C — with a wind chill of –35. (Submitted by Leigh-Anne Webster @CAN80N)

Environment Canada said Wednesday it expects the extreme cold  to last through this week and even into Sunday for some regions.

So cold it caused a rail line to crack

The extreme cold has forced school closures, venue closures, burst pipes, flight delays and more throughout the province.

On Monday evening, the Alberta Electric System Operator took the rare step of issuing emergency alerts, at one point saying the system was at a "Level 2" alert with all available resources in the energy market were used to meet the demand in the province. If the alert level hit "Level 3," power outages would have occurred.

Canada Post also issued a yellow alert Monday, stating that severe weather conditions were impeding delivery and some customers would not be receiving mail.

In Edmonton, it was so cold that a light-rail transit line cracked Tuesday, causing two days of delays for commuters.

By Wednesday morning, Alberta Motor Association said it had received six times its usual winter call volume since Sunday, with more than 30,700 calls for roadside assistance — most because of dead batteries.

No freeze on the fun

Many Albertans are taking the cold snap in stride and trying some winter tricks to prove just how cold it is.

One experiment that's driving people outside is tossing a bowl of boiling water and watching it evaporate in the air.

Others are posting their takes on the #FrozenJeansFrisbeeChallenge, like this viral post from Kyle Brittain from the Weather Network.

He's also one of the folks who played with their food — in his case, an outdoor picnic with frozen pasta.

Others created frozen bubbles.

And finally, to warm the cold cockles of your heart until the Penguin Walks resume — here's a video of them waddling through their walk in a trial run last week.


Got great shots of icy experiments or the winter wonderland? Share them with CBC Calgary by tagging us in your photo on Instagram or emailing calgaryphotos@cbc.ca and they could end up online and TV.

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