‘Just turned into pure ice’: Fierce winter storm sweeps towards Saskatoon, wind gusts up to 110 km/h expected

City crews are on standby as a storm system barrels towards Saskatoon that is expected to bring powerful winds, freezing rain and snow.

Early Wednesday morning, Environment and Climate Change Canada issued a wind warning for Saskatoon with strong west to northwest winds forecasted for later in the day.

By Wednesday afternoon, a snow squall watch was also issued for the city, meaning there could be periods of near-zero visibility due to blowing snow.

The anticipated storm is the result of a low pressure “clipper” system making its way into Saskatchewan from Alberta.

The unwieldy mix of wind and precipitation will likely make for treacherous driving conditions.

“If you combine that with blowing snow, and the freezing rain, and the road starting to freeze up once the temperatures drop below zero, you’ve got yourself a real mess,” Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Terri Lang said.

Lang said up to 20 cm of snow could fall in parts of the province, with 5-8 cm possible in Saskatoon, though it will be hard to measure with high winds on Wednesday evening and overnight.

“The winds are still going to stay quite high, and with all that fresh snow that will have fallen, I think we’re going to have a lot of issues with blowing snow reducing visibility and some really messy highways.”

During a virtual news conference, the City of Saskatoon’s emergency planning manager said the amount of damage the potentially fierce wind gusts may cause will depend on how long they last.

“It depends on how many gusts we get, and how sustained they are. So if it gets up to 110 km/h but it’s a very short duration that’s a different impact than if it gusts up to 110 and it lasts for a longer duration,” Pamela Goulden-McLeod said.

During the media availability, Goulden-McLeod encouraged city residents to anchor loose objects such as patio furniture to keep them from getting picked up by the wind and possibly causing injury.

The city got its first taste of the weather system on Wednesday morning after a dump of freezing rain left streets icy.

Saskatoon Police Service said it responded to “multiple collisions” after the rain started to fall due to “deteriorating road conditions.”

The crashes were at College Drive and McOrmond Drive, Central Avenue and Fedoruk Drive, and Circle Drive and Clarence Avenue, according to police. No serious injuries had been reported.

After the freezing rain started to fall, the province began discouraging travel in and out of the city on Highways 16, 11 and 7.

freezing rain

The time for Astro Towing’s workers to reach customers in the morning rose to about an hour – even with 30 trucks on the road, said Trent Kavanagh.

He said the phone began rining “just constantly” shortly after 10:30. 

“We had vehicles hitting the ditch and on the highways just about every highway in Saskatoon, all the city side streets lots of collisions and accidents on the side roads, anything that had a little skip of snow on it and that rain landed on it, it just turned into pure ice,” Kavanagh said.

As the storm passes through, road crews will initially focus on high-traffic streets and ensuring access to emergency services, according to the city.

During the city’s update on its preparations, Goran Saric, the head of Saskatoon’s roadways division said crews had been out in force throughout the afternoon, applying a salt and sand mixture to help prevent ice from refreezing after a midday melt.

Staff at Saskatoon Light & Power, the city-owned utility, are also preparing for potential service disruptions caused by freezing rain and snow.

And the city’s Urban Forestry workers could also have a busy few days ahead if the strong winds lead to fallen branches, which the city says should be reported promptly so they can be dealt with.

By late Wednesday morning, over two dozen warnings related to the system had been issued by Environment Canada for communities throughout Saskatchewan.

The weather agency said the strong winds will “subside below warning criteria” by Thursday morning but will still remain main “blustery.”