Heavy snow hits Toronto as winter storm disrupts travel, leading to cancelled flights, car crashes

People walk down Front Street in downtown Toronto during the snowstorm on Wednesday. (Michael Wilson/CBC - image credit)
People walk down Front Street in downtown Toronto during the snowstorm on Wednesday. (Michael Wilson/CBC - image credit)

A winter storm brought heavy snow and freezing rain to Toronto on Wednesday and into Thursday, leaving cancelled flights, slippery roads and vehicle crashes in its wake.

Environment Canada said 10 centimetres of snow fell at Toronto's Pearson International Airport between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday. The federal weather agency said 15 centimetres was reported in Brampton, 16 centimetres in Oakville and 15 centimetres in Whitby over that same time period.

The forecast had called for between 15 to 20 centimetres to fall in the Greater Toronto Area.

An additional two to four centimetres could fall in the GTA between 8 p.m. and early Thursday, according to the federal weather agency.

"It was a significant event," Yoseph Mengesha, severe weather meteorologist for Environment Canada, told CBC Toronto on Wednesday night.

"It covered quite a wide area, all the way from Windsor into Ottawa."

The federal weather agency said the snow is expected to taper off to flurries by this morning.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Hundreds of flights cancelled at Pearson

Pearson Airport reported on its website that more than 26 per cent of its departures and more than 27 per cent of its arrivals were cancelled by airlines on Wednesday.

"Delays and cancellations are expected so please check your flight status with your airline," the airport said.

According to the Ontario Provincial Police, plows and salting trucks were out in force but the difficult conditions led to crashes.

"We have problems really all across the GTA," OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said on Twitter.

Schmidt reported a transport truck jackknifed on Highway 400 southbound, near King Road, blocking three left lanes on Wednesday evening.

Toronto police reported scores of minor crashes and urged drivers to slow down, use extra caution and leave extra time to get to their destinations.

"There are plows and salters out on the roadways, but we are receiving a significant amount of reports of minor collisions, people sliding through intersections or sliding down or being stuck on hills within the city," Const. Laura Brabant said.

Brabant said police had been asking everyone to stay home if they can unless it is an emergency. If residents do have to go out, they are urged to make sure their vehicles are fit for the road.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also urged people to stay at home on Wednesday, saying on Twitter: "Please avoid driving unless absolutely necessary."

Submitted by Al Stewart
Submitted by Al Stewart

Line 3 and 41 bus stops out of service, TTC says

Meanwhile, GO Transit says it was operating on "a reduced and adjusted schedule to ensure reliability and safety for passengers."

The TTC said that the storm was "likely to make surface travel challenging."

Line 3, also known as the Scarborough SRT, was closed. Shuttle buses were operating between Kennedy and McCowan stations.

The TTC also said that 41 bus stops located in hilly areas that are "difficult for buses to navigate in snow" had been taken out of service as of 1:15 p.m. on Wednesday.

School buses cancelled in York, Halton regions on Thursday

The public school boards in York and Halton regions, as well as the Catholic board in York, said school buses are cancelled for Thursday but schools will remain open.

At YRDSB, in-person exams will not occur on Jan 26, but virtual school exams continue as scheduled.

Michael Wilson/CBC
Michael Wilson/CBC

City closes libraries, zoo, recreational programs

The City of Toronto closed community recreation centres and indoor arenas at 6 p.m. All instructional, drop-in programming and permits were cancelled as of 4:30 p.m., the city said in a news release.

After-school programs and facilities with child care will remain open until all participants are picked up. Artificial outdoor ice sink leisure programs will continue but instructional programming and skate lending are cancelled.

Toronto Public Library branches and buildings closed at 4:30 p.m., while the Toronto Zoo closed at 2 p.m.

More snow expected Sunday

On Wednesday afternoon, the city said salting operations had begun across the city, while sidewalk, separated bike lane and bus stop clearing had started in Scarborough.

"The city is monitoring the weather forecast and road conditions and is deploying crews and equipment as required," the city said in the release.

The city said plowing will start once the snow reaches 2.5 centimetres on expressways, five centimetres on major roads, transit routes and streets with hills, and eight centimetres on residential streets.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Vincent Sferrazza, maintenance and operations director with transportation services, said he expects the storm could necessitate six to eight rounds of plowing on major arterial roads and up to three rounds on local streets.

"This is going to take a few days, going into the weekend," he says. "It's all hands on deck, we are ready to go."

Sferrazza added that some snow removal will likely be required as well. That work would begin over the weekend and continue into next week.

Warming centres to open in evening

The city was to open three warming centres  as of 7 p.m. at the Scarborough Civic Centre at 150 Borough Dr., Metro Hall at 55 John St. and Mitchell Field Community Centre at 89 Church Ave.

The centres offer a warm place for unhoused people to rest indoors with snacks, washroom facilities and referrals to emergency shelters.

City officials say they are expecting another five to 10 centimetres of snow on Sunday.