Manitoba

Outside Winnipeg, Manitobans begin to dig out after being hit hardest by spring storm

Whether by shovel, snowblower or plow, people in some of the areas hit hardest by southern Manitoba's spring snowstorm have begun digging their way out.

Some parts of province still dealing with strong winds, blowing snow: meteorologist

Lucas Pratt says he had to bundle up in many layers of clothing — including three pairs of sweatpants and two jackets — to stay warm enough to pump gas at the Waywayseecappo Gas Bar near Brandon on Thursday. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Whether by shovel, snowblower or plow, people in some of the areas hit hardest by southern Manitoba's spring snowstorm have begun digging their way out.

On Thursday afternoon, strong winds continued to whip around the fresh snow in Brandon as Dennis Rigaux started up his snowblower to clear his driveway. He and his wife had been holed up inside their house since the low-pressure system responsible for the drastic return of winter moved in early Wednesday morning.

"I've been [through] quite a few winters in my life. And you know what … I wouldn't say it's the worst one, but it stands up pretty high," said Rigaux, who's lived in the southwestern Manitoba city for nearly two decades.

Some in the region weren't lucky enough to be able stay inside until the worst had passed.

For people like Lucas Pratt, who was pumping gasoline at the Waywayseecappo Gas Bar near Brandon, the strong winds meant bundling up to brave the elements.

"Honestly, I was ready for summer like last week. I guess I'll have to put my Christmas tree back up. It's not fun at all, pumping gas out here," said Pratt, who said he was wearing three pairs of sweat pants, three hoodies, two jackets and even a pair of ski pants.

"It's not too cold, but the wind really makes it a lot colder up here, and it's a lot harder to see and get to work."

Rural areas hit harder

Unofficial snowfall amounts shared by Environment Canada on Thursday afternoon suggest that while the storm brought between 20 and 30 centimetres of snow to Winnipeg, areas outside the capital city saw a much wider range. 

Woodlands, just northwest of Winnipeg, saw only 13 centimetres reported — while Killarney, southwest of Winnipeg, saw 60.

Early storm forecasts suggested a range of 30-50 centimetres across the province but closer to 80 along the higher elevations of Riding Mountain and Turtle Mountain, where moist air can enhance snowfall amounts. But that doesn't mean the storm was a letdown, CBC Manitoba meteorologist John Sauder said.

"We had a possibility of 80 centimetres.... That was a very isolated chance," he said. "[But] people were expecting 80 centimetres. And so that's where there's that misconception of, you know, the storm … underperformed. I don't see it that way."

More shovelling will be needed Thursday in southern Manitoba, but not as much as Wednesday, as snowfall amounts were significantly lower. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Sauder says people in larger cities, sheltered by larger buildings, might not have realized how much worse the conditions were beyond urban borders.

"I think people in the city [of Winnipeg] are kind of going, 'Ah, it's not that bad,' you know? But they forget that outside the Perimeter [Highway] yesterday during the supper hour — [in] Brandon, for instance — winds were gusting to 88 kilometres per hour and visibility was 200 metres," he said.

Those differences continued even later into Thursday afternoon, as Winnipeg started to see patches of sun while areas outside the city still felt wind gusting between 50 and 60 km/h, Sauder said.

WATCH | Scenes from the snowstorm:

Inside the southern Manitoba snow globe

3 months ago
Duration 1:01
The winds whipped, the flakes fell and Manitobans carried on in the midst of a days-long snowstorm that gripped the southern part of the province.

Deb Bauche, who lives just north of the International Peace Garden on the Canada-U.S. border southwest of Winnipeg near Turtle Mountain Provincial Park, knows that firsthand.

She said the storm brought so much snow to that area that there's nearly a two-metre snowdrift on the south part of her deck that almost connects with the one coming off her roof.

"This morning when I got up there, it wasn't snowing at all, but it was quite windy. And we just looked out again and now it's snowing really hard and visibility's down … It's coming in bands. That's what it was like yesterday all day and part into the night.

"It's the strangest storm."

In Riding Mountain National Park in southwestern Manitoba, Dameon Wall says he walked through knee- to thigh-deep snow all the way to work after waking up to the half-metre of snow that built up against his door.

"It's going to be quite some time before we're able to reopen the highway and the other roads through the park," Wall said.  "But right now we're focused on making sure that the Mounties and the emergency services can get access."

And nearby in Wasagaming, Molly Kelleher took a video of a man walking through waist-deep snow as a dog happily followed.

WATCH | Dog follows man through deep snow in Manitoba:

Highway closures

Strong winds also led to more than two dozen highways or sections of highways remaining closed due to poor driving conditions Thursday afternoon, as snowplows worked to clear lanes.

For truck driver Sarbjeet Singh, that meant frustration as he waited for Highway 1 to reopen near Brandon.

"It's burning money," the Winnipegger said Thursday, sitting in the semi-trailer where he said he'd been since 8 a.m. Wednesday. "There is no food, no service in here … everything is closed."

Truck driver Sarbjeet Singh was frustrated waiting for Highway 1 near Brandon to reopen after it was closed due to poor driving conditions. (Travis Golby/CBC)

And in southwest Manitoba's Prairie Mountain Health region, six facilities were affected by staff shortages because roads were closed.

CEO Brian Schoonbaert says the workers who did make it in have gone above and beyond to make sure the sites stay open, even as some deal with additional shortages because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

"We can be one sick call away from having to divert from an ER, and it's not a good situation. I just can't wait for the better weather so that we don't have any more poor roads that would cause us not to have staff come in," Schoonbaert said.

"It was reassuring to know that staff were coming with their bags packed. And they've done this before.… They know that and they're willing to go above and beyond."

Information about ever-changing road conditions can be found on the province's website.

A snowplow clears lanes on the Trans-Canada Highway Thursday morning just outside of Brandon. The highway remained closed early Thursday afternoon. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

The few blizzard warnings that had been in place in western Manitoba for much of this week were later dropped by Environment Canada and replaced with winter storm warnings. But by Thursday evening, a few snowfall warnings were all that was left.

That's because by then, the storm system was really weakening, tapering off to just a few flurries into the evening hours, Sauder says.

"Through the day on Friday, we will still see some occasional flurries and any loose snow that's lying around will want to blow and reduce visibility because winds are still going to be strong," he said, adding that most of that stronger winds will be in the Red River Valley.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caitlyn Gowriluk has been writing for CBC Manitoba since 2019. Her work has also appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press, and in 2021 she was part of an award-winning team recognized by the Radio Television Digital News Association for its breaking news coverage of COVID-19 vaccines. Get in touch with her at caitlyn.gowriluk@cbc.ca.

With files from Riley Laychuk

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