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'Wacky' warm Prairie weather

Instead of snow, temperature records are the only thing falling across much of the Prairies so far this winter.

The mercury was expected to be above zero Wednesday in Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Calgary, where people are normally bundled up against the cold or out shovelling snow. Calgary was expected to hit 13 C and Maple Creek, Sask., reached 16 balmy degrees by early afternoon.

Environment Canada meteorologist David Phillips said the warm trend has been going on since December and doesn't show any sign of letting up.

"Clearly it's been sort of un-Prairie like," Phillips said in a phone interview from Toronto.

"I mean you'd expect the first Siberian Arctic air to come pouring down across the Prairies, fill every nook and cranny, and then head east. It's just not been that. Snowfall totals are down.

"We thought the fascination was a green Christmas, but my gosh a green New Year's and a protracted January thaw...it's like weird, wild and wacky."

The sky was sunny in Regina as walkers and joggers went around Wascana Lake on Wednesday. Among them was Ken Hodson who called the weather fantastic.

"I just really enjoy it. It allows me to get out on a day that I probably wouldn't bother," said Hodson, who didn't feel the need for a toque.

But in Manitoba the warm weather is hitting some aboriginal communities hard. Grand Chief David Harper, who represents the province's northern First Nations, has said unseasonably warm weather means ice roads aren't even close to being constructed. The winter transportation system is vital in Manitoba. The province estimates some 2,500 shipments of staple items are transported each year by trucks over 2,200 kilometres of icy road instead of being flown in at great expense.

Manitoba RCMP have also warned people to be aware of lake safety. All frozen water bodies are considered to be unsafe because of the mild weather.

Environment Canada predicts the abnormally warm weather will continue for the next few weeks, with temperatures possibly hitting record levels in parts of southern Alberta.

The County of Lethbridge is banning open fires and cancelling all active fire permits because of high winds and warm temperatures.

On Wednesday afternoon, RCMP reported a large grass fire near Walsh in southeastern Alberta. Mounties said high winds helped the fire spread quickly and it crossed into southwestern Saskatchewan. South of Calgary, RCMP had to close Highway 2 near Fort MacLeod due to multiple vehicle rollovers and a fire which crossed the highway.

Phillips said it's not just daytime highs that are setting new records. The daily low in many places has also been higher than normal.

"It doesn't look like winter. It doesn't feel like winter. There's no snow cover," said Phillips.

"It really is rather a bizarre situation."

That's disappointing news for people like Chris Brewer, president of the Saskatchewan Snowmobile Association.

Brewer said the club normally has about 10,000 kilometres of trails groomed by this time of year, but now it only has a few hundred ready to go.

"In a lot of areas, we just haven't had snow or the early snow that we did get, we had extreme warm temperatures and lost a lot of it to the melt," Brewer said from Regina Beach, Sask.

It's a big change from a year ago when southern Saskatchewan was inundated with snow. Now, his snowmobile sits idle.

"Personally, myself, I'm in withdrawal," laughed Brewer.

"You know I love to snowmobile. I like to get out into the back country and out into the forest and ride along the trails and visit places that you normally can never get to unless you're travelling by snowmobile.

"And I'm not alone. There's tens of thousands of snowmobilers here in Saskatchewan and you know there's a lot of folks that are the same. We're kind of all locked up and waiting in anticipation of that snow to fall."

The Canadian Press
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