Manitoba schools face closure, flights cancelled, Jets game postponed ahead of monster blizzard

From schools to hockey games to travel plans, Manitobans are sure to be affected in some way by the massive blizzard forecasted this week.

Some health-care staff prepare to stay overnight as weather system gets closer

A bus travels through downtown Winnipeg in a photo taken earlier this winter. The forecast for this week predicts widespread snowfall of 30-50 centimetres and strong north winds giving zero visibility at times. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

From schools to hockey games to travel plans, Manitobans are sure to be affected in some way by the monster blizzard forecasted this week.

It's been 25 years since Winnipeg schools were forced to close due to poor weather, but that streak is ending tomorrow.

All Winnipeg schools and division offices will be closed Wednesday and Thursday in anticipation of poor weather and road conditions, following a meeting of the heads of Winnipeg's six school divisions.

The snowstorm expected to hit southern Manitoba beginning Tuesday night, and last for three days.

Closing schools is not a decision taken lightly, which is why that has not happened in Winnipeg since April 7, 1997, said Ted Fransen, superintendent of Pembina Trails School Division.

Part of a car pokes out from a big snowdrift
In 1997, the Red River Valley was saturated from heavy rains in fall 1996 and couldn't absorb the melt from a long winter. The spring blizzard added to the woes and one of the worst floods in the city's history. (CBC)

That was after a blizzard pummelled the city with 48 centimetres of snow, eventually leading to the Flood of the Century.

"School divisions are an important, integral part of the fabric of society. Our families depend on a reliable, dependable place for students to be during the day," Fransen said.

"Superintendents across the province, across the country, work really hard at balancing the need to be in school with, of course, student and bus driver safety."

Environment Canada on Tuesday upgraded its alerts from a winter storm watch to storm warnings and blizzard warnings.

It is also repeating a warning against travel, saying "this storm has the potential to be the worst blizzard in decades."

People are advised to stock up on needed supplies and medications and be prepared for extended power outages — in rural areas particularly.

Empty shelves

Many Winnipeggers are taking that advice seriously. Lisa Kopochinski stopped by Safeway on Tuesday morning to pick up some essentials before snow starts to fall.

"I thought, well, I better go get some groceries just so I don't have to run out tomorrow when it's apparently blowing all over the place," she said.

After living in California for the last 29 years, Kopochinski says this winter has her starting to regret her return to Winnipeg last year.

Blizzard and winter storm warnings (John Sauder/CBC)

"Like, what am I doing back? I mean, I love Winnipeg. I'm Canadian, I'm [a] dual citizen, and I am Canadian in my heart, but I don't know. This is making me think twice," she said.

In anticipation of the storm, the Winnipeg Jets announced the Wednesday game against the Seattle Kraken has been postponed to Sunday May 1 at 1 p.m.

The team said in a statement the decision was made to minimize disruption the regular season schedule, in the event that the weather prevents "timely and necessary post-game travel, including, specifically, the Jets' ability to travel for their game in Florida on Friday, April 15."

Flights cancelled

Travel disruptions are something many others are also experiencing, said Tyler MacAfee of the Winnipeg Airports Authority.

WestJet says it's cancelled all flights in and out of Brandon for Wednesday, while Air Canada says it's cancelled 21 flights out of Winnipeg. It's not certain if the storm will impact flights on Thursday, they say.

Those cancellations could affect other flights in other cities as well, McAfee says.

"We're going to see a ripple effect of this throughout the system as different flights are cancelled," he said.

Empty shelves where jugs of milk were once kept can be seen in a Winnipeg grocery store. People in the city are preparing for the blizzard of a generation. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)

Winnipeg crews are gearing up for whatever comes this way.

Michael Cantor, the city's manager of street maintenance, said the plan is to have over 200 city plows and other snow clearing equipment out overnight Tuesday and clearing streets and sidewalks through the morning.

"At this point we are planning for a major snowplow event," he said.

Michael Cantor, the city's manager of street maintenance, says crews are ready for a major snow removal operation. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Maintaining access to and from critical service buildings like hospitals, long-term care facilities and fire paramedic stations is a priority for crews, said Cantor.

"The priority is to make sure that all of our critical services don't fail," said Jay Shaw, Winnipeg's assistant chief of emergency management. "If we need to start station snowplows in front of fire paramedic stations so ambulances and fire trucks can get out, then that's what we're going to do."

Cantor also announced a snow route parking ban is in effect beginning Thursday at 12 a.m. Vehicles can't be parked on those routes between midnight and 7 a.m. The city lists streets under the parking ban on its website.

Another priority is to ensure as many Winnipeg Transit routes as possible remain clear, Shaw said.

In an effort to keep Winnipeggers off the roads, the city is preemptively closing a number of facilities.

Pools, libraries, recreation centres, 311 front counter services and all 4R depots will be closed on Wednesday until further notice, and garbage and recycling service suspended that day, Shaw said.

"We wanted to make sure that we erred on the side of caution and prevention. These proactive closures are to make sure we can critically respond to 911 calls and make sure our essential services stay forward," he said.

Shared Health says it's also making arrangements to ensure there are enough health-care workers to care for patients.

Departments are making plans to address expected staffing challenges due to the weather by making sure some staff are able to stay over and ensuring some can work remotely, a spokesperson said.

Some staff with trucks and all-terrain vehicles are volunteering to pick up co-workers if they are unable to drive or local transit services are shut down, the spokesperson added.

The Assiniboine Park Conservancy also announced it will close the Assiniboine Park Zoo, the Park Cafe and Pavilion art galleries on Wednesday and Thursday, along with all scheduled programs and third-party events.


Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Email story ideas to

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson, Alana Cole and Bryce Hoye