March snowstorm blankets southern Manitoba

A late-winter snowstorm that blasted southern Manitoba on Monday prompted the closure of one highway for hours and made driving hazardous on other roads.

Winnipeg snowfall already greater than in 2011 flood year

Heavy snowfall and strong winds hit southern Manitoba just two days before the official start of spring. 2:08

A late-winter snowstorm that blasted southern Manitoba on Monday prompted the closure of one highway for hours and made driving hazardous on other roads.

Highway 75 from Morris, Man., to the Canada-U.S. border had been closed to traffic since about 2:30 p.m. due to poor visibility and road surfaces that were covered with snow and ice. The highway re-opened shortly before 9 p.m.

In Winnipeg, streets have been snow-covered, mushy and extremely slippery.

Fermor Avenue was closed east of Lagimodiere Boulevard on Monday afternoon due to the weather, and westbound traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway east of the city was diverted north and south along the Perimeter Highway.

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Meanwhile, a water main break closed Marion Street between Holden Street and Lagimodiere for part of Monday afternoon. The area re-opened to traffic by about 4:30 p.m.

City street crews are focusing on clearing major streets and bus routes on Monday, while work will begin in back lanes on Tuesday.

There is no word yet on when residential streets will be plowed, and no parking bans are in effect at this time.

The cost of the latest snow-clearing operation will be about $1 million. City officials say it's too early to comment on what impact all this snow will have on its snow-clearing budget.

Pretty much all of southern Manitoba was under blizzard, heavy snowfall or blowing snow warnings on Monday.

"Draw a line from Dauphin, through Arborg, Hecla right to Berens River. Everything south of that under a snowfall warning," CBC weather specialist Marilyn Maki said early in the day.

All of the weather warnings were lifted by around 7 p.m., according to Environment Canada.

'Brutal' road conditions

The RCMP is urging people to be extra careful driving anywhere in the Lac du Bonnet, Pinawa or Whitemouth areas, where conditions are miserable.

MPI claims up

Manitoba Public Insurance says claims have gone up by 33 per cent this winter compared to last year.

But that spike may be in part because of how mild and dry it was last year, says MPI spokesman Brian Smiley.

Smiley said this winter has been a tough one on drivers, thanks to heavy snowfalls, nasty blizzards and ice-covered roads.

"Brutal. The roads are snow-covered, snow-packed, they're slippery, there's swirling snow in traffic [and] there's blowing snow," Tim Blazanovic, a spokesman for Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, said about conditions across the southern part of the province.

It's so bad around Morris that the municipality has pulled its snowplows off the road. Frank Schettler, head of public works for the Rural Municipality, said he pulled them off the secondary highways because of poor visibility.

"There is about a foot of snow on the roads and then when you try and plow that, with the wind, the oncoming traffic would not be able to see the grader and flashing lights," he said.

"It's just an extreme, it's just a dangerous situation."

Schettler can't remember ever pulling his crews before.

Gusting winds

A low pressure system from North Dakota and Minnesota started bearing down on Manitoba on Sunday, bringing 10 to 15 centimetres of snow over many locations, according to Environment Canada.

Snow in Winnipeg

Total Year
211.4 cm1996-97
156.6 cm2012-current
148.4 cm2010-2011
RECORD amount: 253 cm (1955-56)
AVERAGE annual amount: 110 cm
SOURCE: Environment Canada

A further five to 10 cm of snow can be expected today before the snow tapers off from west to east later this afternoon and into this evening.

Strong northwesterly winds gusting to 60 km/h will develop later this morning and combined with the falling snow, will produce poor visibilities.

"The southern Red River Valley will see the strongest winds due to funneling effects down the valley thus blizzard conditions are expected in the Southern Red River Valley from late this morning into this evening," according to Environment Canada.

Weather conditions will improve from the west tonight as this system tracks off to the northeast.

Flood worry

Greg Gust, a flood forecaster in Grand Forks, N.D., said parts of the Red River Valley south of the Manitoba-U.S. border received more than 20 cm of snow overnight.

The moisture in the snow pack this winter is about twice the normal level and that means the coming flood risk for places like the border town of Pembina, N.D., is quite high.

And all that water will head north into Manitoba, he warned.

"At this point for us it's a pretty significant event but I recognize that you've got a whole extra boatload of snow once you get north of the border going into Winnipeg," Gust said.

"All that 60 and 70-degree Fahrenheit air down in the southern central plains of the U.S. is going to start pushing up this way and eventually start eating at this so stay tuned, there's a flood coming in April."

Manitoba's updated flood forecast will be released on March 25.

Provincial officials say cooler than normal temperatures have delayed the spring melt, meaning it's more likely that the snow pack will be melting at around the same time as normal spring rainfall.

That worries Mayor Wayne Arseny of Emerson, Man., located by the Manitoba-U.S. border.

Arseny said with all the fresh snow, a rapid melt is the last thing the town needs, especially given the flood predictions coming out of North Dakota.

"I think it's worsened. There's only one way it's going to go, and that's up," Arseny said of the flood risk.

"We're not going to see a decrease in any flood forecasting. The only way it can go is up. That is a concern, I think, for everybody."

Already, the amount of snow that has fallen in Winnipeg since October 2012 is greater than what the city received prior to the flood of 2011. The latest amount was 156.2 cm. The 2010-2011 total was 148.4 cm.

Officials said they will be assessing the impacts of the current snowfall once it settles down and accurate measurements can be taken.