Flights, classes cancelled and power outages reported as winter storm grips parts of Canada
Harsh winter conditions swept across parts of Canada on Wednesday, causing travel disruptions, school cancellations and power outages.
Amid warnings that the winter storm coming in from the west could affect air travel to and from central Canada, Air Canada had delayed or cancelled more than 160 flights for the day — about 26 per cent — by late Wednesday afternoon, according to the tracking service FlightAware.
WestJet said it had cancelled 37 flights — for Wednesday and Thursday — at airports in Toronto, London, Ont., and Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.
Both airlines said delays in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal could stretch into Thursday.
"We are monitoring the weather and we have made some schedule adjustments in anticipation of the storm, and this is ongoing as the situation evolves," said Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick in an email, adding that customers will be rebooked or can opt for a refund.
WestJet said in an email that all guests would be rebooked on the first available flight within 48 hours.
Jazz Aviation, which operates regional flights for Air Canada Express, has cancelled 75 of its Wednesday flights, or 16 per cent, according to FlightAware.
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Other carriers had already cancelled nearly 2,500 flights in the United States by early Wednesday afternoon, according to FlightAware, threatening to snarl trips and connecting flights for many others.
Environment and Climate Change Canada says the heavy snow that started to hit a swath of southern Ontario this afternoon will be followed by ice pellets and freezing rain overnight.
It forecasts snowfall of 10 to 15 centimetres with winds gusting at 50 to 70 kilometres per hour as the low-pressure system advances from the American southwest.
As the storm snarls air traffic, here's what's happening in different parts of the country.
Snowfall in southern Ontario increased in volume on Wednesday during rush hour.
In a warning issued by Environment Canada late Tuesday, the agency said that "surfaces such as highways, roads, walkways and parking lots will become icy, slippery and hazardous."
"If visibility is reduced while driving, slow down, watch for tail lights ahead and be prepared to stop."
Between 10 and 15 centimetres of icy snow is forecast to accumulate in the Toronto area before the storm largely tapers off Thursday morning. The city's transit commission said 41 of its bus stops were out of service as of 5 p.m. ET because they were located in hilly areas that become difficult to navigate in wintry conditions.
But freezing drizzle may continue throughout Thursday, Environment Canada senior meteorologist Katrina Eyk said, with periods of light snowfall possible into the afternoon and evening.
While the forecast is looking ugly for the Toronto area, the weather could get even worse in other parts of the province.
Blackouts were reported in Windsor-Essex. As of 7 p.m. ET, Enwin Utilities said there were multiple outages in the region, the most affected area being south Windsor, where there are 2,260 homes and businesses without power.
ELK Energy — which serves Essex, Lakeshore and Kingsville — says there are multiple outages in its area as well.
"All crews have been dispatched to restore hydro as quickly and safely as possible," the company said on Twitter.
Essex Powerlines said there is an outage in Leamington that, as of around 7 p.m ET, was affecting 4,159 customers.
Additionally, St. Clair College cancelled all classes at its Windsor and Chatham campuses scheduled from 1 p.m. into the evening, and school bus service for students across Windsor-Essex, Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton was also cancelled.
Brock University in St. Catharines similarly cancelled classes as of 6 p.m. Environment Canada says extensive power outages are likely around Niagara, London and other areas of southwestern Ontario where it's forecasting freezing rain, moderate winds and up to 20 millimetres of ice buildup.
Most parts of eastern Ontario, including Ottawa, Brockville and Cornwall, have snowfall warnings in effect. There's also one for Gatineau, Que.
The Lake Ontario area, including Kingston and Belleville, has a winter storm warning in effect. The difference there is that about 15 centimetres of snow should be mixed with ice pellets, and freezing rain is possible.
In northern Ontario, Environment Canada issued extreme cold warnings for several areas and said some — Sachigo Lake, Webequie, Fort Severn, Pickle Lake and Pikangikum — can expect wind chills of about –50 C Wednesday night and into Thursday morning.
A quickly descending Pacific frontal system brought frigid temperatures and snow to British Columbia on Tuesday evening.
In the Lower Mainland, Coquitlam, Burnaby Mountain and parts of the Fraser Valley have already seen some snow overnight on Tuesday.
"For Vancouver, that will mean afternoon highs that stay around the freezing mark and overnight lows that could get down below –6 C," said CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe.
Temperatures across B.C. are expected to remain five to 15 degrees below seasonal through the end of the week, she said.
Mail delivery and school bus services were cancelled in Prince George Tuesday after the region received more than 30 centimetres of snow in 24 hours.
Strong winds in southern parts of Howe Sound will continue Wednesday morning through Thursday morning. Environment Canada warns gusts of up to 90 kilometres per hour may result in power outages and fallen tree branches.
Many areas of the province are seeing daytime highs 20 degrees colder than normal for this time of year.
According to Environment Canada, Saskatoon and Regina normally see daytime highs around –5 C this time of year. The highs on Wednesday were expected to be closer to –26 C.
At times, the wind has been making it feel like temperatures in the –40s.
By noon Wednesday, almost the entire province was blanketed by extreme cold warnings.
Temperatures approaching seasonal norms are forecast to arrive in southern and central Saskatchewan by Sunday, but Natalie Hasell, an Environment Canada warning preparedness meteorologist, said the next four weeks are still going to be cooler than normal.
Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold warning for the entire province.
The agency said temperatures are expected to feel like –40 C with the wind chill in Calgary and southern Alberta over the next three days.
Additionally, some communities in south Calgary are expected to see 30 centimetres of snow in the coming week.
WATCH | Heavy snowfall blankets Calgary:
Further north, temperatures were expected to dip to similar lows in Edmonton.
Edmonton Transit is providing dedicated overnight transportation on three bus routes. Buses are stopping at all bus stops to pick up passengers who need to get out of the cold. Boyle Street is operating a winter warming bus.
Meanwhile, showers and other supports are available at the Bissell Centre and Boyle Street Community Services; the city's encampment response team is conducting wellness checks; and all public library locations and recreation facilities are open for warming purposes.