While spring is slowly coming in large parts of Europe, people in northern Manitoba are preparing for a few more winter months and are on their way to removing the traces of the last big snowstorm. The emigrant Claudia Grill has witnessed this Blizzard on site.
When Environment Canada issued a Blizzard warning in early March, most people in Churchill, Manitoba, didn’t think much of it. It is already the fifth such official announcement since December, completely normal in the city of polar bears. Hardly anyone expects that the predicted storm will grow into an event of the century. Just a few weeks ago, after a similar warning, people were joking about where wind and snow would stay. Now the city is buried under masses of snow as it has not been seen for over fifty years.
In Churchill – best known as “Polar Bear Capital of the World” – one is used to long, hard winters. Every year, the temperatures here are below minus 45 degrees, freezing water pipes, cars that don’t want to start and weather capers. A warning of a blizzard – i.e. wind speeds of more than 40km/h and less than 400 meters visibility for more than six hours – does not get anyone excited in Churchill. This time, however, it gradually becomes clear that this storm is no ordinary one. Within a day it can expand up to 130km/h and bring the city to a standstill. In addition to the school and all other public facilities, the supermarket also closes. The train, which arrives from Winnipeg in the morning and will return in the evening, stays at the station (and is still there today); air traffic is suspended anyway. The city administration advises all residents not to leave their houses and apartments. Only the emergency department of the local hospital is in operation.
After a few hours, snow drifts have formed, making it impossible to pass most roads and paths. In order to make it through the snow masses, people generally use snow blowers like on this website to create paths. The snowstorm lasts over 56 hours; after that some people are trapped in their houses and the snow mountains higher than many buildings. In some households, food is becoming scarce and some heating systems are giving up. Some courageous women and men set off to provide their neighbors with food. In a blizzard you quickly lose your orientation, so ropes are stretched between houses, so you can find your way around a bit better.
Despite everything, the inhabitants of Churchill were lucky in misfortune: the power supply remained intact and no one was seriously injured. Many can still remember the last big blizzard in 1999. At that time the power grid collapsed and the inhabitants had to go to the Town Complex, which can be operated with generators.
After more than three days, life returns to Churchill. A total of around eighty centimeters of snow fell – not much, one might say. But the strong wind has piled up the snow and pressed it together, the meter-high snow drifts are as hard as concrete. These days there is a great sense of community and whoever can help: House entrances are shoveled open, vehicles dug out, roads cleared, damage inspected. The city’s employees are on duty around the clock with excavators and trucks. A local state of emergency was declared, all available resources were mobilized The supermarket is open again, but due to the lack of supplies, there is no milk, no bread and no fresh vegetables left in the whole city. Even about a week after the spectacle, not all roads are still passable, not all pipes have been repaired, not all buildings have been completely cleared of snow.
Nevertheless, there is a good mood in the city for the most part: Those who can live in the “World Capital of Polar Bears” will not have a problem with a blizzard of the century.