Arctic blast won't linger long in Alberta — so enjoy the dazzling rime ice while you can

A cold front that plunged temperatures to –40 C or lower in some areas of Alberta may have ended a stretch of unusually mild January weather — but will be gone soon.

Temperatures expected to warm as February arrives, according to Dan Kulak

This view of Baker Park, taken from Bowness Park in northwest Calgary, shows rime ice that has collected on trees. (Submitted by Imran Matin)

A blast of Arctic air that has plunged temperatures to –40 C or lower in some areas of Alberta over the past few days may have ended a stretch of unusually mild January weather in the province — but won't last long, Environment Canada says.

The cold front rolled in last Thursday, bringing temperatures that dipped to lows of –16 C in Calgary, –21 in Edmonton and –40 or lower in some areas of the province like Fort Chipewyan. And that's not counting the wind chill.

But the icy blast also blew in some scenes of unusual beauty, at least in Calgary and area, as snow lightly powdered the streets and spectacular rime ice covered every tree and bush.

Terri Lang, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, told CBC last February that rime ice forms when liquid particles in the air freeze as they touch something solid — like a tree branch, for example.

"It usually forms when there is a lot of low cloud, foggy conditions. You can see the moisture particles in the air," Lang said.

However, the city won't look like a snow globe for long. Environment Canada meteorologist Dan Kulak says this cold snap should ease its icy claws on the province in about a week.

"[This winter] has been very mild compared to what you would expect from the long-term averages, but it's obviously taken a bit of a change toward more wintry-like temperatures in the last couple days here," Kulak told CBC News on Monday.

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"But if you think it's cold now, think about what it was like last year, when we had five consecutive days in Calgary where the temperatures did not get above –20."

A relative term

During a typical January in Calgary, the daytime high hovers a few degrees below freezing — usually around –3 C, Kulak said.

On Monday afternoon, Calgary was sitting at –13 C, but temperatures are expected to rebound as February begins next week.

  • Have a photo of the weekend's rime ice to share? Email, or tag @CBCCalgary on Instagram, and we might feature your work on CBC Television, online, or CBC's social platforms.

"As we move into the early part of February, [we are] actually expecting a return back toward something more typical of this time of the year, which should be daytime highs a few degrees below zero," he said.

Cheryl Yingst Bartel shared this photo of rime ice on trees on her farm northwest of Strathmore. (Cheryl Yingst Bartel)

And though this current gust of chillier weather is colder than January's daytime averages by about 10 degrees, he said that it is still not the kind of punishing cold stretch we often see throughout the season.

"'Cold snap' is a relative term … we've certainly seen a lot worse," Kulak said. 

Rime ice coats every leaf and stem on the plants along the Bow River in Carburn Park in southeast Calgary on Sunday. (Christine Boyd/CBC)

"[And] usually, the only time that you're actually near the average is when you're either getting warming from some cold, or you're cooling from the warm. You're very rarely actually near the average for any length of time."

Arctic air affecting 'just about everybody' in Alberta

The drop in temperature has been reflected across Alberta in the last few days, Kulak said.

It is cooler by a few degrees in the northern parts of the province, sitting around –18 C in Edmonton and Red Deer on Monday afternoon, and a bit milder in the south, around –12 C in Lethbridge.

"It's really a bit of a spread across the southern part of the province, but in general we've had a fairly mild winter across the area, and just about everybody now has gotten into the Arctic air."

Alberta's milder winter took climatologists by surprise; a cold October seemed to promise a foreboding winter that has yet to materialize, Kulak said.

(Tab Gangopadhyay)

Furthermore, La Niña, a complex weather pattern that generally leads to cold and snowy winters, led climatologists to predict the province would be walloped by a "winter from hell."

"It's been clearly much less brutal than we thought. We were thinking it was going to be the layered-up look with balaclavas and booster cables," Environment Canada's Dave Phillips told CBC Edmonton earlier this month.

This photo was snapped west of Valley Ridge in Calgary's northwest on Sunday. ( Submitted by Jan Gayle)

According to Kulak, the season in Alberta is unpredictable by nature — and trying to prepare for just about anything is the safest bet.

"Winter is basically a season of swings … so you really have to be prepared for just about everything wintry all winter, whether it be a nice day today and a cold day coming up," he said.

Barb Ramage captured the rime ice on branches in Calgary. (Barb Ramage)
The chilly weather in Calgary should last throughout the week, but temperatures are expected to rebound in a week or so, says Environment Canada's Dan Kulak. (Submitted by Minal Bhatt)
Thistles are covered with rime ice along the Bow River in Carburn Park in southeast Calgary on Sunday. (Christine Boyd/CBC)
An old bunkhouse sits surrounded by rime ice on trees on Cheryl Yingst Bartel's farm. (Cheryl Yingst Bartel)
Pooja, who didn't give her last name, captured the rime ice on trees lining a street in Calgary's Redstone neighbourhood on Sunday. (Poohja)
Another beautiful shot of rime ice captured by Cheryl Yingst Bartel on her farm northwest of Strathmore. (Cheryl Yingst Bartel)
This photo was taken in the northeast quadrant of the city. (Justin Tri)

With files from Wallis Snowdon and David Bell


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