Winter has officially arrived and it brought along slippery, wet weather that could slow down last-minute shoppers and thousands of people embarking on holiday trips this weekend, one of the busiest travel times of the year.
Environment Canada has issued weather warnings, calling for a mixture of snow, ice pellets and freezing rain in much of Eastern Canada, including Southern Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces on Saturday.
A winter storm that moved north from Texas has already caused Southern Ontario to see a mixture of precipitation, and on Saturday, another system coming up from the U.S. "is bringing with it even more," according to Geoff Coulson, an Environment Canada meteorologist.
In Ontario, up to 30 millimetres of freezing rain could hit areas around the lower Great Lakes and part of the province's east. Areas between northern Lake Huron to the Ottawa Valley could see ice pellets and a possible 15 centimetres of snow.
In Quebec, freezing rain started falling overnight Friday. Police say treacherous road conditions may have played a role in three separate highway accidents that resulted in three deaths in Quebec on Saturday, along with a fourth in Ontario.
Freezing rain is expected to start in the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island Saturday evening and last until Sunday. That freezing rain may turn to snow overnight, with up to 25 centimetres being forecast.
Nova Scotia could get up to 40 millimetres of rain and freezing rain beginning on Saturday night and lasting until the following night.
The messy weather has already caused flight cancellations and delays at airports across the country, including at Toronto's Pearson airport, Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport and Halifax's Stanfield International Airport. Air Canada has warned travellers that they could experience delays as a result of the weather and aircrafts requiring de-icing.
Air Canada said customers may also experience delays if departing from Ottawa, Kingston, Fredericton, Moncton, Charlottetown, Saint John and Toronto's downtown airport. The airline tweeted on Saturday that change fees have been waived.
Environment Canada also warned of potential power outages as freezing rain could coat tree branches and make them heavy, which could lead them to break and fall through power lines, Mr. Coulson said.
"Or in some cases, if the weight of the freezing rain in heavy enough, falling just on the wires themselves, it can cause them to snap and cause those outages," he added.
Roughly 28,000 customers were without power in Southern Ontario as of Saturday night, with the biggest concentrations in the Kingston-area and the Greater Toronto Area, according to Ontario's Hydro One.
Utility spokeswoman Marylena Stea said crews will be on stand-by all weekend.
"We were anticipating some major weather this weekend, and it's starting to hit in a lot of areas in the province," she said.
Toronto Hydro was reporting some sporadic outages affecting several thousand customers.
Environment Canada has also advised the public that untreated roads and sidewalks could become icy and very slick.
But Mr. Coulson said even after the storm has largely passed by Sunday evening, dangerous conditions could still exist. Temperatures across Southern Ontario are expected to drop going into early next week and icy conditions might persist.
"Whatever we get as freezing rain through tonight and on Sunday is likely to stay a problem in terms of icy roads and things of that nature," Mr. Coulson said. "Even though the sun may be coming out on Monday, in many areas there still may be concerns. Especially on secondary roads, with the cold temperatures, there could be fairly wide spread icy conditions on those untreated roads."
The office of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford released a statement late Friday afternoon, stating the city deployed de-icing crews in advance of this storm, but urged residents "to use caution when travelling around the city."
With files from the Canadian Press