Cold snap brutal for most vulnerable
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Vulnerable people are the ones who bear the brunt of the extreme cold weather, insist Brandon agencies who are patrolling the streets handing out warm blankets, and shelters who are providing beds for the homeless.
Social agencies like the Bear Clan Patrol and Samaritan House Ministries say there’s an increased sense of urgency connecting with their clients during the brutal cold because many on the street don’t have cellphones or laptops that would alert them to extreme changes in the weather.
“Some of them aren’t prepared, they’re not aware of the extreme weather warnings and they don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” said Jade Gamblin with the Bear Clan Patrol.
“They could go to bed warmer than the night before and wake up completely frozen because they’re not aware of what’s going to happen.”
Blankets, mitts, jackets, ski pants, socks and underwear are among the items offered daily by Bear Clan volunteers to those on the street. Warm meals are provided Thursday and Friday.
“There have been times when we have seen people under-dressed, and we do our best to make sure they are covered,” said Gamblin.
Up to 60 people will come and go to the Samaritan House in Brandon each day, getting warm, having a coffee and a sandwich, said executive director Barbara McNish.
There are 41 beds at Samaritan House plus an overflow area with 15 chairs, said McNish. They haven’t had to turn people away, but McNish said they have seen more clients this year compared to the past.
“People might stop in from 7 p.m. to midnight, and we will have 58 or 60 but never at the same time, so we’ve never been over the 41-bed capacity,” said Barbara McNish.
An extreme cold weather warning now in effect for southern Manitoba is expected to remain in place until at least the weekend, according to Environment Canada meteorologist Janelle Gergely.
To blame is a Siberian High, an intensely cold air mass that is blasting cold into the Prairies from northern Asia. Think of it as a dome of cold air that won’t budge, Gergely said.
“When cold air moves in, it’s hard to push out, especially when it settles all the way down to the surface,” Gergely said. “What needs to happen is a system to come through and push out that cold air. That’s why the cold is sticking around all week.”
An extreme cold weather warning is enacted when forecasters see that the temperatures are going to plummet to -40 C, with or without a wind chill, and lasting at least two hours.
Over the next few days, Gergely said, Manitobans should expect to see the warning come and go, depending on the wind. Flurries are expected mid-week in Brandon, and then the cold’s grip will ease a bit.
“We’re looking at some signs of warming towards the end of the weekend. It’s looking like we are approaching that -10 mark for a daytime temperature.”
The coldest it has ever been in Brandon on Jan. 30 was -42.2 C in 1893. Just recently, in 2019, the temperature bottomed out at -40.8 C.
The average temperature for the month of January is -16.6 C, and looking ahead to February, the average is -13.6 C.
Just getting through the winter keeping everyone safe is the priority for Gamblin, who said growing up in poverty and being a relative of a residential school survivor, has given her familiarity with addiction and trauma, and empathy for those who need help.
“A lot of people don’t experience the warmth and goodness of others, so it hurts my heart when I see people who are struggling, and in many ways, winter is the worst.”