Extreme cold temperatures can be hazardous to people and animals but can also help to limit the spread of pests and disease. When wind is also experienced with cold temperatures the impact is even more pronounced. Under climate change, winter temperatures are expected to generally increase. Extreme cold temperatures may still be experienced, but less frequently.
Some winters, Saskatchewan may experience days of extreme cold temperatures of between -40°C and -50°C anywhere across the province. The number of days in which temperatures of below -30°C are experienced increases from southwest to northeast (Figure 1). On average, Swift Current (the most south-westerly site) has experienced fewer than 8 days with -30°C while Key Lake (the north-central site) has experienced more than 40 days. Major cold spells occurred in the province in 1979, 1980, 1989, 1990 and 1992.
Temperatures can feel colder primarily due to the wind. Environment Canada has developed a wind chill index that reflects this (Figure 2). The number of days with wind chills below -40°C is provided for select stations across the province (Figure 3). All Saskatchewan sites, on average, experience fewer than 14 days below -40°C wind chill.
Extreme cold has serious impacts for individuals caught outdoors without proper clothing or a source of heat. This includes the homeless, or travellers and outdoor enthusiasts who find themselves involved in accidents or inclement weather. Another significant impact of cold is the demand it can place on energy distribution systems, both electrical and natural gas.
A shorter cold season also threatens the viability of northern ice roads critical to travel and transportation of supplies.
Adaptation to cold is a preoccupation of all Saskatchewan residents. Emergency preparedness needs to remain a priority for individuals, communities and organizations to ensure that cold weather does not result in injury or even loss of life.
Improvements to community design and transportation systems can be better adapted to cold climates. At the landscape level, continue with design efforts to minimize wind speeds and provide wind-breaks. In urban cores indoor walkways and pedway systems could be expanded.
With shorter, warmer winters there are opportunities for increased outdoor recreation and tourism.
- Environment Canada (n.d.): Extreme Cold - Atmospheric Hazards – Prairie and Northern Region http://pnr.hazards.ca/extreme_cold.html[accessed February 6, 2011]
- Environment Canada (n.d.): Hazardous Weather http://www.ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=15E59C08-1 [accessed December 4, 2010]
- Public Safety Canada (2010): Canadian Disaster Database http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/prg/em/cdd/srch-eng.aspx [accessed February 8, 2011]
- Environment Canada (n.d.): Canada’s Wind Chill Index http://www.ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=5FBF816A-1#table1 [accessed February 8, 2011]