Epic blizzard slams the southwest

Killarney endures three-day storm of the century


After a seducingly long stretch of mild fall and early winter weather, a whacking great three-day blizzard struck the southwest earlier this week.

The morning of Tuesday, December 5, was a shock to those who hadn’t been out battling the highways the previous night. Several inches of snow, accompanied by horizontal winds, had filled the roads and snugged in the parked cars, making it impossible for many people to drive to work.

And those that did extract themselves later foundered in a quagmire of deeply rutted, soft snow, with a wind that blinded from all directions – for both drivers and walkers.

By afternoon, even 4×4 pickup trucks were getting stuck in Killarney side streets, and cars were a no-brainer. Semis were pulling onto the side of Highway 18, while one driver – now ensconced on a Killarney mall bench – said it had taken him over two hours to crawl south from Brandon, and he was lucky to get out of there at all.

On Broadway, a white pickup slowed to a stop in order to help a woman, who had fallen over into the deep snow, next to the curb, on her way to Home Hardware. The truck passenger got the lady back on her feet; the lady moved forward; and down she went again.

And in the Killarney Place mall parking area, one pickup driver had connected a long yellow tow line to another truck – who was firmly stuck in the deep snow on the curve – and violently popped him out, engine roaring.

Sand trucks, ploughs, and backhoes moved heavily around the streets, attempting to keep at least some of the avenues open, while the occasional snow blower, hitched to a tractor, wended its poorly visible way through town, on the way to open up a filled driveway.

Many businesses simply closed their doors for the day, and owners and employees went home – if they could. Throughout the night, snowmobiles whizzed around sheeted town streets and highways, enjoying the novelty of whiteout conditions and zero traffic.

And Wednesday proved even worse. Overnight, over a foot of snow had piled onto the last dump, and again all roads were closed, as the wind continued to howl. Residents awoke this time to discover seven-foot drifts lodged outside their windows and doors, and struggled to just get outside their homes.

Many say that the likes of this week’s blizzard have not been seen for nearly 40 years, and it will likely go down as the storm of this century. Two other blizzards – one in 1997, and an earlier one in 1979 – also closed down the town.

For the kids, this experience will log on as the biggest snowstorm of their young lifetimes, complete, complete with a three-day school shutdown.

And the Mounties hope it will finally run its course without too much damage – or losses to life.

“No one should be on the roads today, but some people are still going out there,” said a member of the local RCMP detachment late Wednesday morning, who was busy chipping off an accumulation of heavy ice on the 4WD police truck windshield, while the engine warmed up and the defroster fan whirred. “Mostly we have been busy getting people out of trouble who have gotten stuck in the snow. Fortunately there have not yet been any serious accidents or fatalities. All the roads are closed, and if you look at the weather station screen on TV, you can see it’s all red. If we have to go out and rescue someone, and we get stuck, how can we help anyone? People should just stay home until it’s safe.”

In the afternoon, a couple clad in snowshoes stepped their way down Mountain Avenue, and kids came out to enjoy the mountains of snow building up in front yards.

By Wednesday night, all was quiet in the town, save for the sound of back-up beeps on the snow clearing crew’s machinery, and the Formula One shriek of snowmobiles – some careering down Main Street.

Only a couple of strollers ventured out into the cleared streets, with one lady out walking her dog in the peaceful beauty of lamp-lit Clark Avenue.

Through the illuminated window of Broadway’s Rolling Pin Bakery, four industrious bakers were visible in the back, slamming down the dough, weighing it out, and kneading it into loaves. In the wee hours of dawn, the risen bread would be ready for baking in the bakery’s enormous ovens.

And by Thursday, the sun came out, trucks and cars hit the road, and businesses re-opened for a busy day.

This week has been a brutal, fabulous, and intense example of Manitoba’s capability for extreme weather conditions.

The province, sometimes dubbed ‘Weathertoba,’ has one of the most active weather systems in the world, say meteorologists.

This major winter storm was forecasted to last into mid-week, before snow and winds were to finally ease off. Bitterly cold arctic conditions are now expected to sweep in behind this system at the end of the week, with lows dropping below -20 Celsius, accompanied by wind chill values in the minus -30 to -35 range.

Keep safe, keep out of trouble, and keep alert! Winter’s here – with a vengeance.

BROADWAY WHITEOUT – Looking south on Broadway Tuesday morning, a powerful wind was blowing the snow sideways, creating zero visibility.

GETTING BLIZZARDY – By Tuesday morning the Killarney Place parking lot was packing up with snow, and people were digging out their walkways across town.


SNOW-BLOWING AND A CIGGIE – Two well-insulated guys were outside Tuesday afternoon, trying to open up a driveway on Fletcher Street. One was running the snow blower, while the other enjoyed a windy smoke break. By mid afternoon many businesses had shut their doors while people hurried home to dig in for the night.

NO SCHOOL TODAY – The storm kept the kids home from school for three straight days. Here’s a Killarney School bike rack on Tuesday, buried in snow.

PLAN OF ATTACK – Snow clearing drivers meet up on Main during whiteout conditions Tuesday, to plan their maneuvers on the streets of Killarney. 


KEYHOLE SURGERY – Pharmacist Chris Johnson captured this memorable image at 8:45 a.m. on Wednesday morning of a tiny passageway (suitable for mice), which led to the entrance of Killarney Place mall. The tunnel had been excavated by dedicated mall duo Murray Baker and Marie Bruce, who determinedly kept it open all day for customers, as drifts continually sifted in, said Johnson. Below, the snow continues to creep up the mall’s exterior on Wednesday.


GETTING BACK IN BUSINESS – Pugh’s were busy piling the heavy snow up onto Broadway’s burgeoning boulevard Thursday morning – and helping the town to get back down to business after the blizzard. The massive storm rolled in on Monday night, and lasted until Thursday morning.

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET – Bob Moore was making the flakes fly on Broadway during the freezing weather Thursday morning, opening up the sidewalks for people on foot.