Manitoba emerges from storm that spanned 3 days, left massive drifts

Many highways and schools in Manitoba are shut down once again as the province continues to be pummelled by high winds and swirling snow.

Conditions expected to improve through the day, first in southwest and later in central Manitoba

Céleste Grenier took this photo of the snow in St. Leon in southwest Manitoba. (Céleste Grenier)

Manitoba's skies have begun to clear after being choked with wind and snow since Monday, and many people in the province are staring down big drifts — if they can get out of their homes at all.

Social media was full of jaw-dropping images of the snow aftermath around Manitoba, as people began to emerge once the blizzard had subsided.

The storm system's high winds and swirling snow first arrived on Monday afternoon and soon developed into a full-blown blizzard that covered many parts of the province.

A wall of snow greeted Céleste Grenier when she opened her door on Wednesday. (Céleste Grenier)

Many highways and schools were shut down Tuesday and Wednesday as visibility was near zero and winds gusted between 80 km/h and in excess of 100 km/h at times.

Many drivers were left stranded but emergency crews, good Samaritans and entire communities found ways to get to those who were marooned, using four-by-four vehicles, snowmobiles and plows.

Winnipeg was spared the worst of the storm, only enduring a slight dusting of snow under partly cloudy skies for the most part — that is, until Tuesday night when the winds roared in, rattling windows and icing up the roads.

This is how Landon Friesen's yard looked. (Landon Friesen/Twitter)
Visibility was poor Wednesday morning in Headingley, just west of Winnipeg. (Meaghan Ketcheson)

The city was under a blowing wind advisory from Tuesday evening until about noon Wednesday, when the sun returned and things calmed down again.

There's not much coming in the way of snow accumulation, but bitter cold temperatures are expected for the next several days.

"It's nasty out there. I was doing 20 km/h [and] I couldn't see the white lines on the road," said Ron Dudar, who made his way to Winnipeg from St. François Xavier on Wednesday morning.

"I consider myself a good driver and a brave driver but I was getting a little nervous out there."

Perry Asham was heading to Winnipeg on the Trans-Canada Highway on Tuesday when he was told he couldn't go any further.

Just west of Brandon, he met a grader operator who said it was too dangerous to keep going.

"You couldn't see two feet in front of you. We were doing about 20 km/h and it was so icy," said Asham, who was in one car while his two daughters and his five-year-old grandson were in another vehicle.

"We heard there was going to be a bit of rough weather but it turned out to be a lot rougher than we thought."

The storm left behind 41.4 centimetres of snow in the Brandon area with wind gusts that peaked at 95 km/h.

The blizzard conditions lasted 31 hours, which is the longest on record since statistics-keeping began in 1959, according to meteorologist Julien Corriveau.

The old record of 18 hours was set Jan. 11-12, 1975.

Other snowfall amounts, as of Wednesday afternoon, as reported by Environment Canada:

  • Lynn Lake - 67 centimetres.
  • Thompson - 50 cm.
  • Flin Flon - 45 cm.
  • Swan River - 38 cm. 
  • The Pas - 36 cm.
  • Churchill - 30 cm.
  • Oak Lake - 25 cm.
  • Dauphin - 22 cm.
  • Boissevain - 20 cm.
  • Gilliam - 20 cm.
  • Berens River - 16 cm.
  • Norway House - 10 cm. 
Massive snowdrifts are seen at West Lynn Heights School in Lynn Lake, Man., on Wednesday. Frontier School Division has said the school will once again be closed on Thursday. (James Lindsay)

The storm also left many Manitobans without power. Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell said communities west of Brandon, including Sioux Valley, Harding, Lenore and Oak Lake, were among those hardest hit by power outages.

"We've actually seen snow drifts as high as 15 feet in some locations," he said, adding strong winds and monster snow drifts have made it challenging for Hydro workers to access and repair damaged poles in the southwest.

"Over the last day or so there have been many cases where we've had to pull our crews in simply because the roads were either closed or the visibility was so bad that they can't see anything."

A line of semi-trailers several kilometres long remained backed up west of Brandon on Wednesday, as drivers waited for highways to reopen. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

When Asham and his family were stopped on the highway, they were directed to the community of Alexander, where several stranded drivers found themselves staying for the night in the local school gymnasium.

The unexpected detour turned out to be a great experience though, Asham said.

"My grandson had a blast; he's made a lot of new friends. And my daughters are all safe and warm, so we're doing good."

Asham said he has also met several new people and has had some wonderful conversations. And on Wednesday morning, the overnight guests were treated to a pancake breakfast.

"The whole community has just been outstanding with us. They've been great people," he said. "It's humanity at its best."

Local firefighter David Matthews said he was inspired by how people from Alexander banded together to help the stranded travellers.

"I am very, very proud to be a part of this community," he said.

Landon Friesen's house in Crystal City is tucked behind a snowdrift that has become a playground for the kids. (Landon Friesen/Twitter)

Asham and others had to wait until later in the morning before highways began to reopen. That also allowed a lineup of about two dozen semi-trailers, waiting at the closed Trans-Canada Highway gates just west of Winnipeg, to begin moving as well.

By late Wednesday morning, the weather warnings began to lift across the south, followed by the western and central areas.

The Trans-Canada Highway was closed just west of Winnipeg, in Headingley, leaving two dozen semis lined up. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The northern area — Churchill, York, Gillam, Shamattawa — is still being pummelled, however, as is the east-central area along the Manitoba-Ontario border.

Those conditions are not expected to improve until late Thursday and as much as 60-80 cm of snow is expected in those regions before the storm moves out.

Mark Szyszlo, host of CBC Radio's North Country, sent this photo in from Thompson on Wednesday with the caption: "Help... I can't get out! Serious snow drifts this morning." (Mark Szyszlo)