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Ontario braces for extreme cold as the West warms up Add to ...

As bone-chilling Arctic winds descend on Ontario and plunge Toronto into a deep freeze, warm Arizona breezes are wafting into Alberta, where the mercury is set to crack double-digits by the middle of the week.

The stark contrast between Central Canada and the Prairies is just the latest in a pattern of strange winter weather, in which temperatures have veered up and down, Christmas looked more like Easter and snow has sometimes been replaced by rain.

“It’s almost as if nature can’t decide what to give us,” Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips said. “There’s a yo-yo back and forth.”

Temperatures in Montreal plunged to -14 Monday night and were set to stay at that level Tuesday, when Torontonians woke up to a freezing city, with a wind chill that made it feel as cold as -26.

An extreme cold weather alert is in effect in that city, where outreach workers are patrolling the streets and encouraging homeless people to seek refuge. Shelters have added space for an extra 172 people, and the city is offering free transit tokens to help get people to them.

To the north and west, the cold air caused the Great Lakes to produce snow and whipped up flurries in London and Barrie Monday.

While it was an inconvenience for some, the white powder was a blessing for winter sports enthusiasts. By late afternoon, the ski hill at Blue Mountain, 130 kilometres from Toronto, reported a base snow pack of 50 centimetres, a jump of 10 to 20 from last week.

Residents of the Prairies, however, won’t have much need for snow to enjoy some outdoor recreation this week, as temperatures are set to climb above 5 degrees across the region. If Winnipeg reaches 6 degrees Thursday, as it is currently forecast, the city will be 18 degrees above its usual January temperature. Calgary, meanwhile, may even see a high of 13 on Wednesday.

The West Coast will be similarly mild, with Vancouver set for several days of high single digits during the daytime. The forecast for the East is somewhat less pleasant, with the mercury dancing around the freezing mark and a mix of rain and snow forecast throughout the week in Halifax.

But Ontarians and Quebeckers can take solace in one thing: The fickle weather means their brethren in the rest of the country won’t be razzing them for long. In Montreal, for instance, the temperature is expected to make a 13-point climb to hit 2 degrees on Saturday.

That day, Winnipeg will be down to -17.

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