The big chill freezes normal activities and sends some people south

TOM FENNELL January 31 1994


The big chill freezes normal activities and sends some people south

TOM FENNELL January 31 1994



The big chill freezes normal activities and sends some people south


Just how cold was it? “I’ve never seen it like this,” said Robert MacLeod, a nurse in the Northern Ontario community of Kapuskasing, where the mercury dove to -40° C. “It’s so cold the tires actually fell off the rims of two of my friends’ cars.”

In fact, it was so cold in many parts of Canada last week that schools closed, workers were sent home, diesel fuel turned to gel and propane fuel liquified. In Montreal alone, the Canadian Automobile Association received a record 45,000 emergency calls so far in January.

And in the United States, where the deep freeze caused more than 130 deaths, Washington was all but shut down for a day and a half when 360,000 government workers were ordered to stay home to relieve the city’s overtaxed utilities. But Canadians, in keeping with their status as inhabitants of the coldest country on earth, often greeted the big chill with humor.

“We call it the Flintstone effect,” said MacLeod. “When you get in the car, the seats are as hard as rock.”

And like they have in the past, most Canadians are adapting. Travel agents reported a flood of calls from people wanting to book southern vacations, while others basked in artificial sunshine at their local tanning salon. “We are absolutely packed,” said Suzanne Creighton, co-owner of the Beaches Tanning Studio in Toronto, which features decorated salons depicting Acapulco, Hawaii and Aruba. “You just leave your boots at the door and hit the beach.” For others, it’s simply a time to buy extra clothes. “We haven’t sold five balaclavas in three years,” said Angelo Morgante, owner of the Adventure Attic, an outdoors store in Hamilton. “Today, there’s a balaclava epidemic.” Not all Canadians had to leave the country to stay warm. While much of the rest of the country froze, Vancouverites were basking in warm air under a high-pressure ridge that has caused garden plants to bloom, trees to blossom and grass to begin growing. And with 10° C temperatures in the area, Vancouver TV stations gleefully mocked the rest of Canada by running pictures contrasting their balmy town with images of snowbanks and

Much of the northern half of North America was in the grip of a complicated series of weather systems producing temperatures that last week dipped to near -30° C and colder. David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada in Toronto, said the jet stream, a system of high-altitude winds that normally cross North America from west to east, shifted in late December and began funnelling frigid northern air to the south. As a result, temperatures in the Yukon and parts of southern Ontario last week were almost the same at about -30° C. Extensive snow cover in the northern hemisphere may also be forcing down temperatures by trapping ground heat as the air above grows colder. Both those climatic events have oc-

curred before, although not for about a dozen years. The cold weather will likely continue well into February. “We’re having an old-fashioned winter,” said Phillips. “Just like we had in the past.”

stalled cars from points east. The warm temperatures also brought that other creature of spring, the golfer, out of hibernation. At one point, 130 people were whacking balls around Vancouver’s Point Grey Golf and Country Club. § But for the frozen Prairies and east, golf clubs and warm z breezes were just a distant I memory. The cold reality was I snowbanks, dead batteries I and long underwear.


Last week, while Vancouver hit a high of 9.5° C, temperatures in most Canadian cities plunged well below zero. A sampling:



St.John’s -14.5

Halifax -21.0

Montreal -31.3*

Ottawa -32.2*

Toronto -25.9*

Winnipeg -35.3

Regina -38.3

Edmonton -27.2


-18.9 (1957)

-25.6 (1957) (previous -28.3) (previous -30.0) (previous -23.3) -37.8 (1950)

-40.6 (1886)

-37.8 (1970)

*New record