Extreme cold snap expected to linger: Environment Canada

The weather we're having is unusual, but not because it's cold, according to Environment Canada. What's unusual is how long this wave of frigid air will stay around.

Man, 77, died of hypothermia after leaving vehicle following crash in Hamilton

The extreme cold in Manitoba was expected to ease up a bit by Thursday, but Environment Canada said the cold snap will likely be back in that area on the weekend. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The weather we're having is unusual, but not because it's cold, according to Environment Canada. What's unusual is how long this wave of frigid air will stay around.

Extreme cold weather warnings remained in effect Thursday for Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec, while special weather statements warned of temperatures between –25 and –32 C in New Brunswick as the Arctic air mass moved eastward into the Maritimes.

Nova Scotia was already dealing with a winter weather system that snapped hydro poles and caused widespread outages affecting 158,000 customers at one time.

The province's utility was still working Thursday to complete restoration of power in the province, after the damage from wind gusts of over 100 km/h that began Christmas morning and continued into Boxing Day.

"The size of this cold wave in terms of geographical distribution is quite exceptional for this early in the winter season," said Environment Canada meteorologist Alexandre Parent on Wednesday.

"What's also exceptional is the duration of this episode," he said.

The weather specialist said he had to go back to 1993 to find a similar cold spell between Christmas and Jan 1.

Temperatures were colder then, but the extreme cold didn't stay around for long.

Extreme cold is affecting areas from Hudson Bay toward the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, about 600 kilometres northwest of Montreal. (Radio-Canada)

"The last few years we had one or two days of cold weather, but usually those were compensated by a few days near zero which is not the case this year," Parent said.

"It's the span of days with 10 to 15 degrees below normal which are exceptional."

Senior climatologist Dave Phillips expects the cold will last through the end of 2017 and into 2018.

"This cold air is like molasses: it fills all the nooks and crannies and it sticks there, and it's hard to get it out," he told CBC News Network in an interview Wednesday.

Weather 'life-threatening'

The weather is more than just an annoyance. It can be deadly. 

In Hamilton, a 77-year-old man died from hypothermia Tuesday after leaving his vehicle following a crash in Hamilton, police said.

Homeless shelters were trying to spread the word to the homeless community about the need for people to come in from the extreme cold.

"They find a shed, a garage to sleep in … and they think it's going to be safe enough for them, but in these temperatures, it definitely is not," Susan McGee, CEO of Edmonton's Homeward Trust.

"This kind of temperature is life-threatening to anybody, let alone somebody with no place to live."

Edmonton's Boyle Street Community Services said it has seen 300 people coming through its doors every day since the holiday season began. 

In Toronto, a new 100-space facility that opened last week was already at half capacity on Wednesday and expected to be turning people away in the next couple of days as the rest of the spaces fill.

Police take homeless man to new shelter

CBC's Nicole Ireland spoke with a 28-year-old homeless man who ended up at that shelter, the cavernous Better Living Centre, on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition. CBC News is identifying him only as Calvin to protect his identity because he has experienced violence in the shelter system in the past.

Calvin said he had just a blanket and small sleeping bag when he fell asleep outside in downtown Toronto on Wednesday night, when it felt like -25 C with the wind chill factor.

Gaetan Heroux of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty says people are lining up for hours in the cold to get into some of the shelters in Toronto, only to find there's no room. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"When I went to sleep my feet were warm. When I woke up, my feet were burning," he said.

Police woke Calvin, told him he likely had frostbite, and took him to the respite centre, where he said he "fell asleep nice. It was warm."

The shelter is one of the few in the city that accommodates people with pets.

And for those wondering about the dangers the cold poses to animals, the Ontario SPCA posted a list of warning signs, along with tips for keeping your pets safe.

"If you think it's too cold for you then it's too cold for your dog," the organization said.

In Ottawa, extreme cold forced organizers of the Bell Capital Cup international youth hockey tournament to cancel its outdoor games. Matches scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Canada 150 rink on Parliament Hill were to be played indoors instead, tournament staff said via Twitter.

Canada's capital also became the world's coldest capital city, thanks to its overnight temperature of –29 C.

A Zamboni attempts to groom the ice surface on the Canada 150 ice rink on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. A cold snap has caused cracks on the ice surface, forcing the cancellation of hockey games and public skating for now. (Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand)

Via Rail said the frigid weather had disrupted train service in some areas.

"All trains in the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor may be impacted by a speed restriction caused by extreme cold temperatures and winter conditions," it said in a travel advisory Thursday.

The Winnipeg Free Press also reported that Via cancelled four scheduled trains this week involving stops within Manitoba due to "equipment issues related to the extreme cold weather."

Canada Post has issued alerts in several provinces warning of potential delays on deliveries due to "inclement weather." Alerts were issued in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

With files from CBC News