'Alberta clipper' slams Humboldt area, province

An 'Alberta clipper' storm system hit Humboldt and the rest of central and southern Saskatchewan.

At the Pilger Environment Canada weather station, the closest one to Humboldt, wind gusts during the Jan. 13 and 14 storm reached 66 kilometres an hour.

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Terri Lang, Saskatchewan meteorologist with Environment Canada, said the clipper was fairly typical of how they act, with the exception that there’s usually a big gush of cold air that comes behind, that didn’t happen this time around.

“It had sort of a warm air ahead of it, freezing rain – it rained even, and then we got the snow in behind and then really, really strong winds.”

She pointed out even lightning was detected in the southwest.

“They’re called clippers because they move very quickly,” Lang said. “They form in Alberta. And off they go quickly, though this one actually did damage on the B.C. coast first, then it hit Alberta, did damage there and then came through Saskatchewan so now it's just so on its way out of Manitoba.”

It was large enough to affect an area from La Ronge down to the U.S. border, she said. “It was huge. It covered most of Saskatchewan.

The strongest wind gusts were felt at Bratt’s Lake, a weather station north of Regina, where wind gusts reached 143 kilometres per hour.

“That puts it on the EF1 scale of tornadic winds,” Lang said.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, rain and freezing rain ahead of the system quickly changed to snow and blowing snow as a cold front behind the system advanced eastward.

With the passage of the cold front, widespread winds in excess of 100 kilometres per hour were reported, leading to power outages and reports of structural and tree damage across the province. When combined with falling snow, the winds produced whiteout conditions resulting in a number of highway closures.

“There were a number of people trapped in their cars through western Saskatchewan yesterday evening, because the winds hit, and it was snowing so hard, that people couldn’t see to drive,” Lang said. “Some of them were in their cars for four to six hours, which is a very scary situation.”

A large swath of highways were closed as the storm progressed across Saskatchewan as a result.

By noon on Thursday, Jan. 14, all highways had re-opened except for Highway 1, from Mortlach to Chaplin, according to Highways Hotline. The Ministry of Highways posted several photos of semis in the ditch, noting, “A portion of Highway 1 is still closed. There are many semis in the ditch and have snow accumulated around them. Once the semis are removed we will be able to work on clearing the snow and opening up the road. We do not have an ETA (estimated time of arrival) at this time, but be sure to check hotline.gov.sk.ca/mobile/ as any new information will be posted. Although portions of Highway 1 are reopening, they are still travel not recommended due to icy conditions.”

By Thursday morning, SaskTel was reporting service outages for wireless sites around Saskatoon, including Meacham, were without service.

SaskPower said its crews are working hard to restore power after extreme winds and snow caused outages across much of Saskatchewan Wednesday and overnight.

“Crews were able to restore power to some customers yesterday evening, however in many cases roads were impassable and weather conditions were too severe for crews to work safely, meaning repairs had to begin this morning,” SaskPower said in a release.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and our employees,” said SaskPower president and CEO Mike Marsh. “We are doing everything we can to get the lights back on as quickly as possible without jeopardizing the safety of our crews.”

At the time of their release on Thursday morning, SaskPower was aware of approximately 80,000 customers currently without power in more than 100 communities throughout the province.

When conducting repairs SaskPower prioritizes restoring power to essential services such as medical facilities, care homes, and police and fire stations, and then focuses on restoring power to as many customers as possible as quickly as possible. SaskPower said it is working closely with provincial and municipal agencies during the storm response.

“We understand outages are frustrating, and we appreciate your patience as we continue to identify issues and conduct repairs,” Marsh said.

SaskPower also reminded customers never to operate a generator in a house, garage or enclosed building. Doing so will create the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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