Power out, highways closed: Blast of early winter cripples southern Manitoba

WINNIPEG — An early blast of winter-like weather knocked out power and made travel nearly impossible in many parts of southern Manitoba on Friday.

Heavy, wet snow started falling Thursday to make driving a sloppy, slippery mess. The snow was expected to last into the Thanksgiving weekend.

RCMP closed the Trans-Canada Highway between Portage la Prairie and Brandon because of poor conditions. Several other highways southwest of Winnipeg were also shut down.

Winnipeg police reported downed power lines and numerous traffic light outages.

“At this moment, we have the most Winnipeggers without power in a single day than we’ve ever had,” Bruce Owen, public affairs officer for Manitoba Hydro, said Friday morning.

“The numbers keep changing every 15 minutes. Now in Winnipeg we’ve got more than 26,000 people (with no electricity). The record over a two-day period is 57,000.”

Owen said more than 40,000 in the region were without power. He warned that despite work by Hydro staff and private contractors, it could be a bleak and dark Thanksgiving weekend for many.

“We’re telling our customers in Winnipeg and in rural Manitoba if you’re without power you now have to be prepared for an extended outage, which is going into tomorrow and perhaps Sunday,” he said.

Environment Canada issued winter storm warnings across the entire southern part of the province and advised that as much as 50 centimetres of snow could fall in some areas.

Winds were also an issue with gusts expected to reach 80 km/h and as high as 100 km/h off area lakes.

“Travelling will become difficult if not impossible as the day wears on, with heavy, accumulating snow, strong winds and temperatures near zero resulting in treacherous conditions,” the weather warning read.

“The combination of heavy, wet snow and strong winds will likely result in downed trees and power lines.”

Owen said it was a beautiful fall day and just minutes later a full blizzard hit.

“We’ve still got a lot of foliage on our trees and … the wet snow clings to the foliage. Branches start to bend down over our power lines and in some cases they snap and they take the lines down.”

Owen had a warning for individuals eager to record the storm and post it on social media.

“They’re taking pictures of downed lines and taking pictures of sparking transformers. To take these pictures they’re getting too close,” he said. “They’re also getting too close to trees that are next to a live power line.

“It’s extremely dangerous.”

An official with Manitoba Agriculture said the storm wasn’t expected to have a major impact on farmers.

Anastasia Kubinec, the manager of Crop Industry Development, said about 70 per cent of crops has already been harvested, the quality is very good and yields have been average to above average.

There may be some pockets where farmers are struggling to get crops off, Kubinec said, but there’s still the possibility what’s left can be salvaged if the weather clears up.

“We’ll have to see how things go. This is something that we’ll be able to have a better idea of in a couple of weeks.”

Kubinec noted the storm hadn’t hit the entire province and there were areas where snow didn’t fall.

“They are still able to do field work and some producers are still combining today.”

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