Most of Canada was walloped Tuesday by severe winter weather ranging from an extreme freeze in Alberta to an ice storm blasting its way through Southern Ontario.
Strong winds roared at up to 80 km an hour in the Greater Toronto Area during the morning, before the city was hit with up to 20 cm of snow, rain and ice pellets by evening. Traffic throughout the city was stalled, visibility was reduced and airport flights delayed or cancelled.
“There were absolutely no cars on Queen’s Quay,” city resident Scot Milroy said. He was stuck in his downtown condominium babysitting his own children, as well as about 30 others in his building’s party room after schools were closed for the day.
Several winter storms have already swept the city this season. In January, Toronto saw around 63 cm of snow, compared with around 5 cm in December. Gerald Cheng, a meteorologist from Environment Canada, said this winter seems unusually difficult because the extreme weather began late, compared with storms last year that began in December and ended much earlier in the season.
Mr. Cheng said Tuesday’s storms were caused by a “Colorado low," where the weather system formed, and scooped up moisture and warmth from the Gulf of Mexico before sweeping into Canada. This resulted in strong winds, snow, ice pellets and freezing rain.
The Toronto District School Board was among many that cancelled all classes and bus routes for the day, an unusual move for an organization that said it had not implemented across-the-board closings since 2011.
Other boards calling off school for the day included the Thames Valley District School Board, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and boards in Peel Region and the Waterloo area.
In addition to the schools closing, Toronto’s libraries and recreation centres were shuttered, and all classes were cancelled at all of the GTA’s universities and colleges. Mark Mills, a supervisor with the City of Toronto’s Transportation Services, said the city had staff “working around the clock” to make sure roadways were salted and cleared.
Small power outages hit neighbourhoods in Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke, where there are “large, mature trees that have the ability to [fall] down and hit the wires,” said Tori Gass, spokeswoman for Toronto Hydro.
The Ontario Provincial Police reported 60 car accidents in the GTA as of 4 p.m. on Tuesday. OPP Sergeant Kerry Schmidt noted that while the number is slightly higher than usual, it could have been much worse had there been more traffic on the roads.
Services in nearby cities such as Hamilton were also affected. The intense weather forced the city’s administrative offices to close in the afternoon, while schools, recreation centres and health clinics also shut their doors.
In the Western part of the country, Environment Canada issued extreme cold warnings for several regions in Alberta. The weather agency said wind-chill values would drop between minus 40 C and minus 45 C throughout the week during the late-evening hours and into the mornings.
Red Deer, Alta., is one of the affected cities. It does not have a “24/7 shelter with on-site support services that meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness in [the] city,” according to the city’s website.
Safe Harbour Society, an organization on the front lines of homelessness, addiction and mental health in Red Deer, is offering some relief with its daytime winter warming centre. About 125 people visit the centre each day to warm up, Safe Harbour executive director Kath Hoffman said.
But with the cold temperatures, Safe Harbour’s overnight shelters are at capacity.
“I’ve been executive director for 14 years, and for 14 winters, I wondered how we are going to shelter all the people that we need to in Red Deer,” Ms. Hoffman said.
“We are just trying to make sure we are doing what we can, as safely as we can and as respectfully as we can,” she said. “So are a lot of other people in the communities."
While temperatures along the B.C.-Alberta border are slightly warmer, snowfall warnings are in effect. Fernie, B.C., will be hardest hit on Tuesday with between 25 and 35 cm of snowfall expected.
But Jikke Gyorki, executive officer of Tourism Fernie, said business is running as usual.
“Fernie gets over 30 feet of snow per season per year, so we are very accustomed to [it]. We all get giddy … because we are a ski town,” Ms. Gyorki said. Snowplows in Fernie were out at 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
The snowfall’s effects were greater along B.C.’s southern coast and Vancouver Island, where most schools were closed on Tuesday. Public transit was disrupted and drivers were urged to stay off the roads as the snowstorm blanketed the region.
The Throne Speech ceremony at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria was also scaled back because of the weather. The military honour guard, ceremonial cannon salutes and a performance by the Canadian Forces band did not take place as planned.
Environment Canada said between 10 and 20 cm of snow accumulated on Vancouver Island with higher amounts near Victoria, while Metro Vancouver remained under a snowfall warning.
DJ Lawrence is a volunteer with a Vancouver program that matches people with limited mobility in the Hastings area to neighbours willing to help shovel snow. He said “Snow Angels” is helping do its part to clear sidewalks.
“It’s fun, it’s good exercise, and you get to help people. It’s a good example for your kids,” Mr. Lawrence said.
Mr. Lawrence has been called five times this week by the city to help clear sidewalks for his neighbours. In total, the city has received 177 requests from residents in need of Snow Angel services the past three days.
Back in Southern Ontario, Mr. Cheng said the raging weather quickly moved into parts of Northeastern Ontario, the Ottawa Valley and Quebec later in the day – all of which are expected to receive up to 40 cm of snow into Wednesday. Ottawa-Carleton District School board and the Ottawa Catholic School Board pre-emptively announced that school was cancelled for Wednesday.
Overnight, the storm also crept into parts of the Maritimes.
“Certainly we are in the thick of it right now,” Mr. Cheng said. “But … we still have at least a month … to go with this winter season.”
With files from The Canadian Press