extreme cold weather alert

Toronto issues extreme cold weather alert as deep freeze threatens the city

The start of February has given Toronto a slight reprieve from a spell of intensely-bitter cold, but it looks like the short stretch of comparatively mild days has drawn to a close, the city issuing yet another extreme cold weather alert (ECWA) on Thursday morning.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is forecasting a steady drop in temperature throughout Thursday and into Friday, expected to reach - 9 C by Thursday night with wind chill making it feel more like -16 C. Temperatures will eventually bottom out at a bone-chilling -18 C by Friday night, with wind chill values making it feel even colder.

Any time the mercury is projected to drop to -15 C or below, or when the wind chill is forecasted to reach -20 C or colder, it automatically triggers an ECWA from the city's Medical Officer of Health.

This typically puts the wheels in motion for the city's emergency warming centres to be activated, opening at 7 p.m. on the day an alert is issued and keeping their doors open until noon on the day the warning is terminated.

But this winter has been different, and the warming centres have actually remained open since the historic Jan. 17 blizzard and the especially brutal Polar Vortex that followed.

Warming centres are available to those especially vulnerable to the cold, including persons experiencing homelessness, and can be found at 129 Peter St. in the Entertainment District, 5800 Yonge St. in North York, 195 Princes' Blvd. at Exhibition Place, and 150 Borough Dr. in Scarborough.

The city claims that "the number of beds currently available for single individuals and couples experiencing homelessness is at a five-year high." Still, their news release issuing yet another in a series of ECWAs makes no mention of a pressing lack of space that some advocates are calling a shelter crisis.

Toronto is also touting the COVID-19 protocols it enforces in warming centres, citing "physical distancing, the mandatory use of masks, hand washing, conducting symptom screening and monitoring, enhanced cleaning procedures, and providing transportation to isolation and recovery sites for individuals that await results or test positive."

But there are still some major concerns about COVID safety, with numerous outbreaks and high case counts being recorded in the shelter system.

Since the blizzard, Streets to Homes outreach teams have been doing street outreach, offering shelter, as well as support for those who prefer not to seek shelter, including gear to help endure the cold like blankets, sleeping bags, and warm clothing.

The city is warning that the ECWA will remain in effect until further notice, so bundle up out there.

Lead photo by

A Great Capture

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