Weather warnings or special weather statements are posted in every province and territory except Manitoba as winter storms or extreme cold usher in the official start of winter.
Environment Canada says wind chill values across all of Alberta and more than half of Saskatchewan will make it feel like minus 40 or colder, while some areas of northern Alberta, the Yukon and Northwest Territories will endure wind chill of minus 50.
The cold is expected to continue through this week and the weather office says 20 daily low temperature records were set in Alberta Tuesday, along with three in Yukon, including a record of -49.2 C in Watson Lake, breaking a mark set 67 years ago.
The arctic front that is pushing the frigid air south also extends over British Columbia, where most of the province is shivering under extreme cold or arctic outflow warnings as a high-pressure system shoots icy air from the Interior outward to the coast.
More than a dozen daily minimum temperature records were set Tuesday in B.C., including -47 C west of Williams Lake, while the arctic outflows are numbing usually balmy areas such as Victoria and Metro Vancouver where wind chill values are forecast to reach -20 C.
BC Housing has opened emergency warming centres in communities across the province as concern grows that the extreme conditions could be deadly for the province’s vulnerable residents.
Nicole Mucci with the Union Gospel Mission, which advocates for the homeless in Vancouver, says deaths have occurred in each year that the city has had a major snowfall or deep freeze as homeless residents use candles or space heaters to stay warm.
“That is something that concerns us deeply,” says Mucci.
“Nobody should have to choose between potentially freezing to death or putting their life at risk to stay warm.”
The search for heat has also forced the Alberta Electric System to declare a grid alert, its second in two days, as an unplanned outage coupled with high electricity demand during the cold snap have strained the system.
A grid alert means the operator is preparing to use emergency reserves to meet demand and maintain system reliability.
Residents are asked to reduce demand in hopes of averting more severe conservation measures including rotating power outages.