Saskatchewan digs out from paralyzing blizzard as Manitoba digs in for the storm

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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Saskatchewan started digging out Monday while Manitoba dug in as a massive blizzard moved slowly through the region making driving treacherous, knocking out power and even paralyzing snow plows.
The storm cut a wide swath across Saskatchewan over the weekend, dumping nearly 30 centimetres of snow in many areas from Saskatoon south to Regina. As many as 45 centimetres fell in Cypress Hills near the Saskatchewan-Alberta boundary.
Winter storm warnings were posted as early as last Friday for regions stretching from southeastern Alberta to southwestern Manitoba and blizzard warnings followed as the storm tracked east.
Manitobans started their week facing up to 30 centimetres of snow, with accompanying winds causing real problems.
"We've got wind gusts of up to 80 km/h so there is near zero visibility over parts of Manitoba," said Sandy Massey, with Environment Canada.
The storm left thousands of people in Saskatchewan shivering in cold homes when power was knocked out. SaskPower, the provincial utility, said some outages started Saturday morning and about 3,000 customers were still without power Monday.
"Weather continues to be a factor for us, roads are clogged, there's a lot of snow, so it could be 24 to 48 hours before some customers get their power restored," said SaskPower spokesman James Parker.
"I can't stress enough the difficulty that our crews are having with the roads. There are some areas where there are no roads. There are poles down in the middle of a field. Late (Sunday) night, there were some guys, they were on a hill and they could actually see the problem, but they couldn't get to the problem to fix it."
Power crews weren't the only ones in a bind.
Health officials in Saskatchewan said a handful of communities were forced to use generators to power health-care centres. Officials couldn't say exactly how many were without electricity because the phones in many places were down too.
In the town of Rockglen, near the Saskatchewan-Montana border, the health centre became a warming place of refuge.
"They're trying to accommodate as many people from the community at the health centre as they can, to let them go in and warm and make sure they're all right," said Garnet Matchett, with the emergency management branch of the Ministry of Health.
"Their concern now is if this goes much longer, they don't have another facility within the community that has power."
Even the heartiest winter machinery had trouble.
All of Saskatchewan's 300 snow plows were deployed to battle the falling flakes, but many had to quit because of the bad weather.
"The biggest challenge is (that) both the volume of snow combined with the wind really reduces visibility," said Highways spokesman Doug Wakabayashi. "That's a situation where it's dangerous to have a plow truck on the road. The operators can't see, any vehicles that are out there can't see the plow. It can be a pretty hazardous situation."
Travel was not recommended Monday on many Saskatchewan highways and Wakabayashi predicted that blowing, drifting snow will be a problem for several days.
The story was the same in Manitoba.
Neil Gobelle, Manitoba Highways information manager, said the weather was also too much for the plows.
"It's pretty bad here," said Gobelle. "Once we get under 200-metre visibility, it's just too dangerous for our plow operators and for the public. In most areas, crews are just sitting and waiting for the winds to slowly reduce a bit so they can get out and start plowing the drifted areas and plowing the areas that are required."
Police shut down main provincial arteries and recommended against travel on almost every highway in southern Manitoba. The Trans-Canada Highway west of Winnipeg was closed Monday, as was Highway 75 between Winnipeg and the U.S. border.
In open areas, Gobelle said, wind was blowing snow off roads, creating icy conditions, while the white stuff was piling up in more sheltered sections.
"There is very poor visibility, zero at times, with obviously slippery conditions and snow-covered roads."
The RCMP in Manitoba were also warning people to stay off roads because it was questionable whether emergency vehicles could help anyone stuck. Sgt. Line Karpish said there were numerous reports of minor collisions and cars in ditches and police efforts were being hampered by the weather.
"Some of our detachments have trucks but, still, when you can't see, you can't see," she said. "If people need emergency assistance from us, our members can't see any more than anybody else. Our cars have winter tires but they still have limits."
Karpish, too, advised people to stay home if they could.
"It's not safe out there right now."
A Colorado low pressure system was responsible for the blast of winter, Massey said.
The wind and snow were expected to ease off Monday evening as the storm moved into Ontario and Quebec. The weather system was expected to hit the Maritimes by Wednesday before heading offshore.
It's not all good news ahead for the Prairies. According to Environment Canada, the wallop of snow was to be followed by a blast of cold.
"We have an arctic ridge of high pressure that's building down from the North and that'll be moving over the Prairies as we speak," said meteorologist Bill McMurtry. "It's going to clear out the skies ... unfortunately though, when we get clearing skies and an arctic ridge of high pressure, that means cooler temperatures are on the way."

Organizations: Environment Canada, Ministry of Health, Trans-Canada Highway RCMP

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Saskatoon Regina Cypress Hills Southeastern Alberta Rockglen Saskatchewan-Montana Winnipeg Southern Manitoba U.S. Colorado Ontario Quebec

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