An intense low pressure system from the Dakotas and Minnesota is responsible for the sudden change in weather.
Precipitation colliding with colder air from the north is turning to wet snow.
RCMP issued a travel advisory Thursday afternoon for roads east of Winnipeg, saying vehicles were in the ditch along the Trans-Canada Highway due to icy conditions.
Manitoba Hydro crews were working to restore power to at least 800 customers in the Sprague area late Thursday and there were reports of power failures in Vita, Piney, Falcon Lake, LaBroquerie and Marchand areas. Officials say power lines are ice-covered and others have been downed by falling trees.
The strongest part of the system hit southeast Manitoba, where snowfalls were in the 10 to 20 centimetre range.
Winds and snow were predicted to taper off in the evening with a few lingering flurries persisting into Friday.
The cool air knocked temperatures way below normal but the wet weather came as a big relief to firefighters in southern Manitoba, who have been battling grass fires since Sunday.
Snow also hit the Vita area, which was hardest hit by fires that destroyed four families' homes.
The fires also destroyed a nearby bridge on Highway 201 that led to two vehicles crashing through the burnt-out span on Tuesday.
The land in the area looked post-apocalyptic where the fires had raced through. It was black, smoking and covered in ashes.
Premier Greg Selinger toured the area and saw the fire-damaged properties on Wednesday afternoon, just as the temperatures started to cool down, the winds subsided, and the rains began.
Jim Swidersky, the reeve of the Rural Municipality of Stuartburn, where Vita is located, said five centimeters of snow has already fallen.
"The ground is white. It's a huge relief for me looking at the danger of the wildfires, the rest for the firefighters, the anxiety for the residents,” he said.
"Snow's something we don't [usually] want this time of the year but we'll take any kind of precipitation right now. The rain yesterday started, it was a good rain yesterday, and it rained through the night, now changed over to snow."
As a result, firefighting efforts in the area have been suspended and the fires appear to be out, Swidersky said.
Now he says people are working on fundraising efforts for those who have lost their homes.
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