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Prairies: Prolonged, repeated blasts of cold for Prairies

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Move over, Ottawa. The city may have claimed the title for coldest capitalon Earth this morning, but temperatures there were balmy compared to some parts of the Prairies. Extreme cold alerts remained in place Saturday from northern Alberta to southern Manitoba, with nearly all of the latter swathed in warnings. A change is on the way -- finally -- after a week of Arctic air that has gripped the region, courtesy of milder air that is beginning to intrude from British Columbia. While that means some relief in the short term for Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba will have the longest to wait for a warm-up, and even then, it won't be long-lived. More on the deep freeze -- when it lifts, and why the polar vortex means there's more ahead -- below.

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a person wearing a hat in front of a body of water © Provided by Pelmorex Media Inc. WEATHER HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Dangerous cold continues for parts of Prairies, especially Manitoba
  • Some moderation expected into new work-week
  • Active polar vortex north of Hudson Bay means repeated blasts of cold into February

An extreme cold warning remained in effect Saturday for most of Manitoba, central and northern Saskatchewan, and northeastern Alberta, with widespread wind chill values in the -40s. Though winds were light, afternoon temperatures in the -30s in northern Manitoba had it feeling more like a breathtaking -50 for some. Environment Canada cautions residents to dress warmly and cover up exposed skin, as frostbite can develop within minutes with the wind chill. 

(Related: 5 horrible things extreme cold can do to the human body)

A change is in the works, however, as the core of the Arctic high pressure shifts east into Ontario, and milder flow returns over the Rockies from the west. Downsloping winds in southern Alberta helped pushed Saturday afternoon temperatures back into the mid-single digits above zero, though the distinction between the leading edge of the milder air and the dominating cold was a sharp one.

a close up of a map © Provided by Pelmorex Media Inc.

The temperature difference will set up what's known as a baroclinic zone -- a temperature boundary with enhanced convergence -- and that's where the snow will pile up as the moist air from the west collides with the cold in the east, and rises. A swath of snow from Grand Prairie all the way to Estevan will add up to 15 cm for some.

While the snow may put a damper on the warm-up for some, every little bit helps for agriculture concerns amid growing worries for Alberta over the snow pack and spring and summer drought conditions.

Those milder temperatures will continue to make their way east into early next week, but don't get those hopes up too high, especially in Manitoba, because a cold pattern will see out the month of January for most of the region.

a screen shot of a video game © Provided by Pelmorex Media Inc.

The culprit? An active polar vortex, setting up camp to the north of Hudson Bay. This feature will continue to usher down blasts of cold for the Territories and the Prairies -- especially the east -- as we head into February.

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