The treacherous effect of plunging temperatures, freezing rain and snowfall led to dozens of traffic crashes around central Alberta on Wednesday.
While winter hasn’t necessarily come early this year, it came suddenly. Summer-like temperatures were enjoyed by Red Deer-area residents only a couple of week ago.
The abrupt shift in seasons caught a lot of motorists by surprise and left them at the mercy of icy road conditions.
Red Deer RCMP reported there were 10 traffic collisions in the city before noon on Wednesday— with one crash tying up morning traffic and causing delays on 32nd Street.
Staff Sgt. Paul Glanville noted more fender benders are likely happening that don’t require police notification.
“I’ve been out and about and the road conditions are treacherous with a lot of glazed ice and snow and packed-ice conditions,” said Glanville, who hopes motorist will slow down and drive for the conditions, allowing plenty of time to brake.
And people need to get winter tires on their vehicles, he added.
One of the Wednesday’s collisions involved a car sliding into the back of an empty school bus.
Glanville said the local crashes have, so far, not resulted in significant injuries — but they have tied up police officers. He’s glad to have had a higher-than-average number of officers on duty on Wednesday morning.
Highways across central Alberta were also hazardous, said Cpl. Troy Savinkoff spokesperson for RCMP K Division.
Police near Innisfail were at the scene of a jack-knifed semi tractor trailer that blocked north and southbound lanes of Hwy 2 at about 4:50 a.m. Motorists who had to travel were asked to find alternate routes as that tie-up continued throughout the morning.
Savinkoff said 144 collision were reported across the province by 11 a.m., causing 18 injuries. About 50 of these collisions happened in central Alberta.
Poor weather conditions caused The Town of Penhold to shut down its regional multiplex by noon Wednesday.
And three or four vehicles had slid into the ditch north and south of Blackfalds on Hwy 2A. A motorist called the Advocate to complain about that stretch of roadway. Graders seemed to have skimmed off the snow and only left bare ice, said the woman, who wonders why more sand wasn’t applied.
Contractors hired by Alberta Transportation are responsible for maintaining provincial roadways.
When rain freezes and snow falls on top, there’s only so much that can be done to improve traction, said Doug Halldorson, roads superintendent for the City of Red Deer.
He noted city roads workers started spot-sanding Red Deer streets and intersections late on Tuesday night. Graders began clearing snow as soon as it started to accumulate at about 2-3 a.m. on Wednesday morning.
Halldorson said the City of Red Deer’s winter roads maintenance policy requires plowing right down to the pavement on main traffic routes, but to leave some snowpack on residential roads, which are plowed once or twice a year.
Although a snowfall warning for the area was only issued on Tuesday evening, Halldorson said his staff have been prepping for these road conditions since September.
The first snowfall of the fall is supposed to lift by Thursday, although temperatures are still expected to be slightly below seasonal, with a high of -4 C and a low of -17 C— compared to an average high of 3 C and a low of -7 C for early November
But Central Albertans should get set for potentially more snow on the weekend — and really bone-chilling temperatures next week, said Alysa Pederson, meteorologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada.
As the Arctic air mass gets more entrenched over the province, Monday’s forecast is for a bracing high of -14 C and a low of -18 C — setting a pattern for most of next week.
“It will be well below normal… It’s time to find your winter boots and parkas,” added Pedersson.