Blast of extreme cold hits Quebec, prompting closures and postponements

Extreme cold warnings are in effect across Quebec and much of Eastern Canada, projecting that temperatures could feel between –38 C and -50 C with the wind chill, depending on the region, lasting through Saturday morning.

Weather warnings in effect for much of Eastern Canada, with temperatures feeling like –50 C in some areas

View of Quebec City skyline with St. Lawrence River and ice in the foreground.
On Friday afternoon, Quebec City was under an extreme cold weather warning. The actual temperature was a frigid –29 C. With winds gusting up to almost 50 km/h, it felt more like –44. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

Quebecers turned up their thermostats as a mass of frigid Arctic air settled over the province Friday morning. 

Extreme cold warnings are in effect across Quebec and much of Eastern Canada, with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) projecting that temperatures could feel between -38 C and -50 C with the wind chill, depending on the region, lasting through Saturday.

According to Environment Canada, it was 25.9 C in Montreal on Friday morning but the wind chill made it feel like 40 C. Further north, Kuujjuaq's recorded temperature was 35.5 C, but it felt like 42.8 C with the wind chill.

"Cover up," the federal agency warns. "Frostbite can develop within minutes on exposed skin, especially with wind chill."

Hydro-Québec said the province hit a new record demand for electricity with 40,661 megawatts. The previous record had been 40,380 MW. The utility had been preparing to face a "historic peak" in demand, one that was expected to outstrip supply by as much as 4,500 megawatts (MW), according to internal Hydro-Québec communications obtained by Radio-Canada.

Cold field with hydro pylons
Hydro-Québec has asked clients to reduce their use of electricity but is still expecting to have to temporarily reduce exports and even import some power from neighbouring utilities. (Daniel Thomas/Radio-Canada)

As a result, the utility intended to temporarily reduce its electricity exports and even pay a premium to import some power. 

It also asked customers to try to reduce their use of electricity during the cold snap. Lowering the thermostat by one or two degrees, particularly in unoccupied rooms, can lead to significant energy savings, the Crown corporation said.

Montreal's homeless advocates offer help

In a back alley in downtown Montreal on Friday, Victoria Kalisky was helping move a load of winter coats, socks and toques — donating the load of warm clothing to a drop-in shelter. She and her father collect and distribute the clothing for free.

"Experiencing how it feels to be this freezing, and imagining the idea of sleeping outside. It makes me angry," she said.

Shelters across the city are making extra room, even opening their cafeterias to overnight sleepers. Montreal has also opened temporary warming centres.

Woman unloading winter jackets from back of car
Victoria Kalisky, working with her father, donated winter jackets and other warm clothing to shelters on Friday. (CBC)

However, one of the services the city offers is short-staffed. Montreal's Équipe mobile de médiation et d'intervention sociale (EMMIS) is a team of intervention workers who patrol the city's streets, responding to conflicts or other issues people in precarious living situations may experience.

The plan was to have 34 intervention workers, but more than half the team's roster is empty.

"The labour-shortage problem is slowing us down in hiring," said Mayor Valérie Plante on Thursday, defending the city's proactive approach to the emergency measures put in place so that homeless people can shelter from the cold.

She said warming centre capacity has been nearly doubled, from 900 spots to 1,600 this year. If there is a lack of space, the city will make more room available, said Plante.

Ski resorts closed, Quebec Winter Carnival postponed

In response to the cold spell, Ski Saint-Bruno on Montreal's South Shore closed at 2:30 p.m. Friday and plans to reopen noon Saturday. Bromont and Sutton in the Eastern Townships are both closed as well.

Most ski resorts in the greater Quebec City area also announced closures or reduced hours of operation Friday.

The Mont-Saint-Anne, Stoneham and Massif de Charlevoix resorts will be closed all day, while the Massif du Sud will be closed both Friday and Saturday.

The Relais ski centre will close at 4:30 p.m. Friday and reopen noon Saturday, but all group lessons for the day have been cancelled for the safety of young skiers.

The Quebec Winter Carnival is also postponing its opening by one day due to the extreme cold conditions Friday. 

Organizers said Thursday that they decided to postpone the event for "the safety of carnival-goers," but also for field crews "who would be exposed to dangerous cold temperatures."

Ice sculpture
An ice sculpture done as part of the Quebec Winter Carnival. Some events and activities have been postponed due to the extreme cold. (Erik Chouinard/Radio-Canada)

Activities will therefore start Saturday at 10 a.m on the three main sites. The "Electro Frette" evening that was set for Friday has been moved to Sunday at 7 p.m.

The Limoilou night parade will still take place as scheduled on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

"We continue to monitor the weather, but the cold snap seems to be quite short, so we want to maintain the parade for the time being," said Marie-Eve Jacob, the carnival's general manager, in a statement.

Quebec roads affected by weather

On the road, Quebec's Transport Ministry is urging motorists to adapt their driving habits as the cold affects the function of de-icing salts.

"When temperatures are below –12 C, the salt loses its effectiveness," said Roxanne Pellerin, a spokesperson for the Transport Ministry in the Mauricie region.

"And when temperatures are below –15 C, the use of sand is preferred because the de-icing salts will not be able to do their job," she said, adding that tires can also lose their grip in extreme cold. 

On Twitter, Québec 511 reminded people Friday that people should always have a shovel, snow brush, scraper, traction aids, winter windshield washer fluid and warm clothing in their car this time of year. 

with files from Radio-Canada and CBC's Lauren McCallum


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