Calgary

5 reasons why extreme cold isn't all bad

While many Albertans will be hunkering down indoors trying to stay warm and wishing the extreme cold away, it’s actually welcomed by some.

This is Canada, after all

Extreme cold means better conditions for ice fishing, says Adventure Ice Fishing owner Jarod Littlejohn. (Adventure Ice Fishing)

It's going to get cold in Alberta this weekend.

Really cold.

Temperatures are forecast to drop near –30s C in some parts of the province starting this weekend and lingering into next week.

And while many Albertans will be hunkering down indoors trying to stay warm and wishing the extreme cold away, it's actually being welcomed by some.

This is Canada, after all, often referred to as the Great White North.

So here's five reasons why the cold isn't such a bad thing

1. Cold snaps kill bugs

The cold spell could be bad for mountain pine beetles in Alberta. (Ward Strong/B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations)

The sudden and severe change in temperature could wipe out a portion of the bug population, meaning fewer insects to bother us during the warmer months, says Mary Reid, a professor of environmental science at the University of Calgary.

"Their ability to tolerate cold varies according to the temperature, so all these warm temperatures that have been happening lately will probably put them into a position where they're not that well protected from cold temperatures," she said.

"And when there's an extreme drop like we anticipate happening, that will leave them unprepared … and result in a lot of mortality."

The cold snap will kill lots of terrestrial insects —  like ticks and pine beetles, which live in tree bark and the ground — but not as many aquatic insects like mosquitoes.

"The bark is not very thick, so they're just under the surface of the tree, and so they are going to be very vulnerable to these cold temperatures. So we might expect that their mortality will be very high in the next few days," Reid said, referring to pine beetles.

"Mosquitoes are under the ice and their temperature variation is probably not going to be that great. They won't be experiencing the same frequency or magnitude in differences in temperature. If they're in the water, they're pretty protected from what's happening in the air."

2. Cold snaps mean less crime

The number of social disorder calls goes down when the temperature drops, says Const. Chris Martin. (CBC)

Looking at Calgary Police Service statistics, the number of social disorder-type calls can be correlated somewhat to the temperature.

"As far as I know, we haven't done any super-detailed peer reviewed research. But I do know anecdotally, and from looking at our statistics for things like disorder calls, when it's warm out, we see more of it because people are out and about," said Const. Chris Martin.

"When it's cold, it's a lot slower for us. Working patrol, some nights when it's –20 C or –30 C, we can go a couple hours without getting a call."

But that doesn't mean officers don't have work to do.

"There's always something else going on," said Martin. "If we're not getting crime calls when it's cold, there's more things like accidents. There's always something for us to be doing."

Social disorder calls range from noise complaints and loud parties to uttering threats and drug-related crimes.

3. Cold snaps mean more work for some

Many people aren't willing to wait for a bus, or walk, during extreme cold, which means busier days for taxi drivers, says Checker Cabs president Kurt Enders. (CBC)

The colder it gets, the busier things can be for tow truck, taxi and Uber drivers.

According to the Alberta Motor Association, the number of calls for tow truck service can double during extreme weather, while taxi drivers see a jump in short trips, said Kurt Enders, president of Checker Cabs.

"Quite often in the cold temperatures we're going to see this weekend, people won't stand at a bus shelter, they won't walk what they normally might, so that's when they will call a taxi to get them to that destination," he said.

"I would say we would probably see a 15 to 20 per cent increase when a big snap hits or a snowstorm comes in."

4. And more play for others

There's nothing better than being in a warm ice-fishing hut during an extreme cold snap, says Ice Fishing Adventures owner Jarod Littlejohn. (Ice Fishing Adventure)

While some may want to stay curled up inside with a good book, others see the cold as a chance to really enjoy the outdoors.

Jarod Littlejohn, owner of Adventure Ice Fishing at Gull Lake — about 180 kilometres north of Calgary — says area lakes are already well frozen and a cold snap will only add to the ice thickness. 

"Nothing better on a cold day than sit in a nice warm ice hut," he said.

"It's windy, it's cold outside, but it's always nice and warm inside the ice hut … it's something where you can kind of be out in nature but you're not freezing to death."

But, like people, fish aren't always at their most active when it's bitterly cold out.

"Sometimes it can affect the fishing. You get really cold temperatures, the fish can be a little lazier," he said. "We can be the same way when it's cold like that."

5. Cold snaps mean better stargazing

Cold weather means better viewing for stargazers, says Phil Langill, director of the University of Calgary's Rothney Astrophysical Observatory. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

When the air above is cold, it holds less moisture, meaning a much better view for stargazers, says Phil Langill, director of the University of Calgary's Rothney Astrophysical Observatory.

"Lots of times, when it's cold outside, you can be pretty sure it will be a clear, sunny blue sky during the day and a nice, starry sky at night," he said.

And having fewer hours of sunlight during the winter months means more time for viewing the night sky.

"There's something about the winter sky at night, the nights are very long, which is great, and the winter sky is filled with some very bright stars, some nice constellations. So there's something nice about the visual aspect."

The Rothney Observatory, which is south of Calgary near Highway 22 and Highway 22X, is hosting an open house on Feb. 9 as part of celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. 

About the Author

Dave Dormer

Web writer

Dave Dormer joined CBC Calgary in May 2016. A graduate of the SAIT photojournalism program, Dave has worked in print and television newsrooms across western Canada. Story ideas can be sent to dave.dormer@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.