Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff Stan Berger bundled up to keep the cold wind out on Friday as he took a walk near Parkvale. The temperature began dropping Friday and will continue to fall through Saturday. By Sunday and Monday, the highs are forecast at only -26 C.

Winter cold blast on its way

Highs of only -26 C forecast for Sunday and Monday

Admit it, winter has been an easy ride so far.

That is about to change.

After Thursday’s affable 2.5 C, Friday brought a more than 20-degree temperature swing as the thermometer dropped throughout the day to an expected low of -18 C by evening. Overnight, the temperature was expected to linger around -20 C.

Saturday’s high is forecast at -18 C with a low of -28 C.

But that is just a taste of what is come. Sunday and Monday’s highs are expected to get no better than -26 C with a low of -32 C Sunday night and -36 C Monday night. Expect highs and lows of -24 C and -34 C Tuesday before the mercury starts climbing again Wednesday.

The cold snap comes after a long stretch of pretty easy winter living by central Alberta standards — if you ignore it basically started with major snowfalls in September.

January — usually the coldest month of the year — was warmer than average, as was December — statistically the third coldest month, with February number two.

“We’re through two of the three worst months, and we were able to do it above average, which is pretty good,” said Kyle Fougere, an Edmonton-based meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“We’ve had a couple of cold snaps, but they have only lasted a couple of days. But it looks like the start of February is going to be a change from that.”

The culprit is a low-pressure system that has formed over Alberta and is pulling cold Arctic air from the northeast down into the province.

“It’s funnelling into the province now,” said Fougere. “It will get a little bit warmer towards the middle of the week, but it will stay well below average.”

Some may be surprised to hear the average high this time of year is a palatable -4 C and the low is -16 C.

It may seem colder to many because so many nine-to-fivers miss out on the peak temperature. They drive to work when it has yet to warm up and drive home when the temperature has already started dropping again.

Throw in it’s an average temperature, prone to fluctuations, and it is easy to see why it may seem a little out of whack to those who pride themselves on their winter hardiness and who treasure distant past-February memories of walking to school in -30 C every day, uphill both ways.

Besides a relatively tame winter, Alberta also drew a winning hand when it comes to the winter’s biggest news story so far, the massive cold front that has gripped much of North America from Canada’s Prairies and Great Lake region to the U.S. Midwest.

“We’re very lucky in Alberta,” said Fougere. “The worst of this air mass has missed us to the East.”

Winnipeg had a daytime high of -40 C earlier this week and that air mass dragged cold air down through the Great Lakes area into the U.S., where at least 18 deaths are blamed on cold and snow and temperatures dropped as low as -48 C.

“The farther east you went, the colder it got. Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary have been pretty lucky, we stayed on the right side of that air mass.

“But most of the Prairies and Ontario have been in the colder air.”

Red Deer’s Mustard Seed is ready for those who want to get out of the cold or to pick up some warm clothing said Byron Bradley, director for Central Alberta.

Mustard Seed offers lunches Tuesday and Thursday and dinners on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The shelter at 6002 54th Ave. is open 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

“We encourage people to come on by the Mustard Seed and we’ll do whatever we can to keep you warm,” he said. “Safety is paramount in this weather.”

There is always someone at Mustard Seed so if the door is locked, ring the bell and someone will let you in to get warm, he said.

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