Toronto declares 'major snowstorm condition' as residents dig out after storm

Torontonians dig out on March 4, 2023 after a night of heavy snowfall. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Torontonians dig out on March 4, 2023 after a night of heavy snowfall. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

The City of Toronto declared a "major snowstorm condition" Saturday to give officials more authority to clear snow off major roads after a winter storm brought heavy snowfall, strong winds and even thunder and lightning into southern Ontario.

Environment Canada said between 22 and 30 centimetres of snow fell on the Greater Toronto Area as of 6 a.m. Saturday morning.

The federal weather agency lifted snowfall and winter storm warnings across the province throughout the day.

Environment Canada climatologist Dave Phillips said the region experienced a rare occurrence of "thundersnow," which takes place when thunder and lighting strike during a snowstorm.

Phillips said the phenomenon usually happens only once a year in southern Ontario, often toward the beginning or end of winter.

"Essentially, the atmosphere is charged with moisture and lots of dynamics. The air is rising and as the air rises it cools and lots of action goes on inside those clouds, including thunder and lightning," Phillips said in an interview with CBC News Network.

"Often you see the lightning within the cloud ... It's quite spectacular and often it accompanies a lot of snow."

WATCH: Environment Canada climatologist Dave Phillips explains what 'thundersnow' is:

Flights cancelled, hundreds without power

Dozens of flights in and out of Toronto's Pearson International Airport were delayed or cancelled late Friday and early Saturday morning due to the weather, with airlines urging customers to check their flight status before leaving for airports in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

A passenger named Sandra, who only gave her first name to CBC, said she was trying to fly to Edmonton but had three separate flights cancelled on Saturday.

"I literally haven't been able to speak to anyone in the airport to get any information because there's no human beings to speak with and the ones that are [here are] overworked because there's no staff," she said.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) said Saturday morning that conditions at Pearson airport were improving, but the airport had received a large amount of snow in a short period of time, so further flight delays and cancellations were possible.

"Today is like the catch up and the recovery stage, so what we have been doing is concentrating on making sure we have the runways open, our facilities are open and running they are humming and then we are trying to support the airlines as they try and get back on their schedules," said Tori Gass, a spokesperson for the GTAA.

Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC
Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC

Both Toronto Hydro and Hydro One reported scattered outages affecting hundreds of customers.

"Our crews have made significant progress in restoring power across the city. However, we're still responding to a large number of safety emergencies, as well as a number of smaller, scattered outages," Toronto Hydro said in an update around 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

"Some repairs are expected to go into the evening and overnight."

Residents dig out

Torontonians, meanwhile, were digging out from fresh layers of snow.

Downsview resident Ron, who only gave his first name, told CBC he woke up early to clear snow from his driveway with a snow blower.

"We were almost packing everything away and getting the lawn chairs open. No, sorry. Wishful thinking, but that's Ontario and that's Canada, right?" he said.

Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press
Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press

Neighbour Nick Papov said the day got off to a rough start when he noticed his snow blower wasn't working and he couldn't get his vehicle out of the driveway.

Still, Papov said the clear, sunny weather provided an opportunity to take his young children tobogganing or skiing at a nearby park.

"I'm sort of voting for global warming to keep taking place and to give us early spring every year, but it didn't happen this year," he joked.

Parking prohibited on snow routes for 72 hours

Barbara Gray, general manager of transportation services with the City of Toronto, said plowing and sidewalk clearing began overnight and would continue throughout the weekend, focused on increasing mobility and accessibility, particularly for emergency services on roadways.

The major snowstorm condition declaration allows the city to temporarily prohibit parking on roads designated as snow routes for 72 hours to help staff remove snow left behind from its plows.

Gray said it's necessary to deal with the large volume of snow that fell in a short period of time.

"It's going to take some time to complete," she said.

Residents should move their vehicles off snow routes by Monday, which is when snow removal operations are expected to start, Gray said, adding the city is focusing mostly on arterial roads with transit.

The condition is meant to last three days, but the city said it will likely be extended.

Any vehicles parked on roads designated as snow routes could be ticketed and towed, the city said. The full list of affected roads, which are mostly in the downtown core, can be found here. Additional info on the condition can be found here.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) said Friday it had cancelled a planned weekend closure of Line 1 between York Mills and Bloor-Yonge and taken 41 bus stops located on hilly areas temporarily out of service due to slippery road conditions.

Line 3 Scarborough was also taken out of service until further notice, with shuttle buses running between Kennedy and McCowan stations.

Toronto Public Health cancelled several vaccine clinics on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the city said it closed all Toronto Public Library branches, all community recreation centres, all 10 Toronto history museums, all four cultural centres and cancelled all permits and programs.

Recreation centres, museums, the Cedar Ridge Cultural Centre and the Clark Centre for the Arts will reopen Sunday, the city said.