Thunder Bay

Northwestern Ontario's cold snap expected to last until weekend

Cold warnings remain in effect across northwestern Ontario, but Environment Canada says some relief could be coming this weekend.

Environment Canada forecasts warmer temperatures next week

People in northwestern Ontario are being reminded to bundle up when going outside, as a cold snap that hit the region this week lingers. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Cold warnings remain in effect across northwestern Ontario, but Environment Canada says some relief could be coming this weekend.

The warnings were initially issued on Monday, warning of wind chill values near -40 throughout the region.

Peter Kimbell, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, said he expects the warnings will remain in place for the next few days.

"I would expect the cold to persist this week, and then a bit of an improvement into the weekend," Kimbell said. "So we'll be getting closer to normal by the weekend, but that means still continuing cold, because normal is cold. It is the end of January beginning February, so we expect it to be cold, just not bone-chilling cold."

The cold warnings are in effect for: 

  • Thunder Bay
  • Atikokan
  • Dryden
  • Ignace
  • Fort Frances
  • Webequie
  • Geraldton
  • Manitouwadge
  • Hornepayne
  • Kenora
  • Nipigon
  • Marathon
  • Red Lake
  • Sioux Lookout
  • and surrounding areas.

The extreme cold weather warnings are concerning for Georgina McKinnon, who is the executive director at PACE (People Advocating for Change through Empowerment), which runs a warming centre in Thunder Bay. The shelter saw over 200 people stay there over the weekend, she said. 

"Even when the [warnings] aren't there, to be outside for extended periods of time, we get cold quickly. So it doesn't have to be up at the -24 C, -25 C level. Minus 10 is cold when you're out there in wet, damp clothes. So of course my heart and my team's heart goes out for the people that cannot get into shelters," said McKinnon.

The future of warming programs in Thunder Bay were uncertain at the beginning of the winter, as multiple organizations — including PACE — struggled to secure funding for their respective programs. 

McKinnon said despite a challenging start, it seems programs in the city are now keeping up with the demand. 

"There was a little bit of worry in the beginning, but it's all come together and where we haven't been able to receive official funding other agencies and the community have made donations that have made it very possible to do this. This year again," she said.

A woman wearing a flannel red shirt smiles at the camera.
Georgina McKinnon is the executive director of PACE, also known as People Advocating for Change through Empowerment. (Logan Turner/CBC)

Environment Canada is recommending people watch for cold-related symptoms, such as shortness of breath, chest and muscle pain, weakness, numbness, and colour change in fingers and toes.

People are advised to cover up, as frostbite can develop within minutes on exposed skin.

Environment Canada forecasts show daytime highs of about -8 C on Saturday and Sunday, with overnight lows hitting about -14 C. As for next week, people can expect daytime highs of -1 C on Monday, and -2 C on Tuesday.

In the meantime, days and nights will remain very cold, which is not just a problem for people — the freezing cold is a concern for pets, too, said Bonnie Bishop, associate director with the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society.

"It's important that people pay attention to the specific needs of their animals," she said. "So, for example, cats, puppies, short-coated dogs are particularly vulnerable to cold temperatures."

She recommended getting elderly and short-coated dogs, and puppies a sweater or coat if they're going to be outside.

Dog walks should be shortened, and Bishop also recommended dogs wear boots to protect their paws from the cold, as well, because salt and other chemicals may get picked up.

A woman walking her dog in David Pecaut Square during the snowfall on January 13, 2023.
It's recommended people keep an eye on their pets, and put a jacket and boots on dogs during walks, while the extreme cold warnings are in effect. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

"If you're walking, change your route around so that you loop around your house several times," she said. "If you happen to see that your dog is cold, you can head home much sooner."

Bishop said people should pay attention to their dogs, as there are signs to watch for that indicate they're cold, such as holding up their paws, shaking and shivering, or displaying a hunched-over posture, whining, or barking.

Keep an eye out for strays

Bishop also recommended people don't bring their pets along if they're driving around running errands, as vehicles can cool down quickly and lead to cold stress, hypothermia and frostbite for animals left inside.

Cats, too, have been known to crawl under the hoods of vehicles to escape the cold, and may be injured when the vehicle is started.

"We encourage people to just tap on the hood of your car and give it a second," Bishop said. "If there is a cat in there seeking warmth ... they have the opportunity to to escape."

Leaking antifreeze should be cleaned up quickly, as while it has a sweet taste, it could be fatal to pets if consumed.

"It's really important that people keep an eye out on animals in their community, or animals that are stray, or just even feral cats," Bishop said. "We encourage anyone with a concern about an animal to call the provincial animal welfare services at ... 1-833-926-4625."

"If you see an animal in distress, or if you're concerned about the life of an animal, please call ... 911 immediately if the situation is is an emergency."