Weather woes in Canada: Blizzards, blackouts, deep freezes

People in Eastern Canada are bearing the brunt of an angry winter storm that unleashed its wrath yesterday and is still causing grief today, as tens of thousands in blizzard-hitNewfoundland are without power, the Maritimes cleans up, and the Prairies, Ontario and Quebec are warned about below-freezing temperatures.

CBC meteorologist Janine Baijnath said Saturday that Newfoundland and Labrador, in particular, has been seriously hit with a blizzard that left about 38 centimetres of snow. Many Newfoundlanders awoke to no power, after 48 hours of rolling outages that ended Friday night.

At about 1 p.m. AT, about 125,000 customers were without power, from a high of 190,000 at about 9 a.m. local time when the outage started, Gary Smith of Newfoundland Power said.

It may be about 24 hours before power is fully restored, Smith said.

Among St. John's residents who awoke to no power was Mayor Dennis O'Keefe, who told CBC News early Saturday that he had been told "most, if not all, of the city has lost its power."

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro said severe weather caused a fire in Sunnyside, NL that led to a shutdown at the Holyrood Generating Station, causing a massive outage across the island.

There were no injuries and the fire was under control by Saturday afternoon, officials said. The provincial agency said it is working to restore operations at Holyrood, but has not given a time frame.  

Given high winds of over 100 km/h, O'Keefe said, it will be a struggle to keep local streets open, so he's urging people to use "discretion" and "common sense" when going out.

"If you don't have to be on the road, don't be on the road, and give the crews that are out working against the snow and against the wind a chance to make some headway," he said.

The storm is continuing on the Avalon Peninsula and parts of the east coast of the province.

Travel is also affected, with people heading to St. John's International Airport urged to reschedule arrangements as most flights are either cancelled or delayed, bus service essentially cancelled, and police urging drivers to stay off roads and highways if possible.

​People booked to fly to Atlantic Canada from other parts of the country are also urged to check with their airlines on whether their flights are proceeding. Air Canada, for instance, said flights from Toronto's Pearson International Airport to Eastern Canada may be affected by the conditions in that part of the country.

Meanwhile, in the Maritimes, cleanup has begun after a horrendous storm that slammed much of the region.

Weather warnings across P.E.I. and Nova Scotia were lifted Saturday. For New Brunswick, Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement, as the low-pressure system bringing warmer temperatures to the rest of the Maritimes is expected to deliver a mixed bag of snow, ice pellets, freezing rain and rain on Monday. 

People in Moncton, N.B., are being warned by the fire department to ensure snow is cleaned off their roofs, and from around basement windows, and dryer and natural gas vents. At least 80 centimetres of snow has accumulated on the ground in the last two weeks alone.

Temperatures are expected to fall back below freezing on Tuesday, which could mark trouble for road crews and drivers.

The Nova Scotia communities of Shelburne and Yarmouth received more than 19 centimetres of snow Friday, with much of the rest of the province receiving about 20 centimetres. The North Shore and northern Cape Breton received the least amount of snow — between five and 10 centimetres.

Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick also received between five and 10 centimetres. 

Baijnath said wind-chill warnings remain in effect in various parts of the country, including in Quebec, where it feels more like –30 C.

"As you head more toward the north, it feels more like –50, with the risk of frostbite to exposed skin," she said.

In Toronto, where there were reports of loud booms that have been blamed on so-called frost quakes, an extreme cold alert that began on Jan. 1 was cancelled Saturday as the mercury rose to around the freezing point. The recent deep freeze weather led to overflowing homeless shelters, burst pipes and transit disruptions. 

The Toronto Transit System saw dozens of streetcarsknocked out of service due to freezing air brakeswhile delays hit the regional bus and train service GO Transit.

The Toronto area is still recovering from the December ice storm that, at its peak, left some 300,000 hydro customers shivering in the dark. Power was restored to the last of them only a few days ago. 

Further east, the Prairie provinces, including all of Saskatchewan, were blanketed by extreme wind chill warnings. The wind chill is expected to go as low as –50 in some parts of the province over the weekend, according to Environment Canada. 

Those warnings remain in effect until Monday. 

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