Winter weather blasts Central, Atlantic Canada

The relentless weather is causing misery across much of Canada, with southern Ontario gripped by a deep freeze, wind chill warnings in some parts of the Prairies and about 1,000 Newfoundlanders still in the dark after a mass power outage on the weekend.

In Ontario, parts of the province were hit with heavy snowfalls, while other areas, including the Toronto region, were pelted with snow and freezing rain before a sudden drop in temperatures.

"In southern Ontario, temperatures are plunging and they will continue to do so as we head into tonight. It's going to be brutally cold," CBC meteorologist Michelle Leslie said Monday afternoon.

"Wind chill warnings are in effect through tonight, when the city of Toronto could be feeling between –35 and –40 as that Arctic air really punches in again."

Both drivers and pedestrians were warned of a flash freeze, when a steep temperature drop causes water from rain or melted snow to quickly freeze.

The weather wreaked havoc at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Monday, with hundreds of flights cancelled or delayed. Corrinne Madden, a spokeswoman for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority, said that 272 flights had been cancelled at Pearson as of 2 p.m. Monday.

Both Air Canada and WestJet advised customers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.

"I wasn't five minutes here at the airport before people started telling me horror stories of being stuck on an airplane for hours on end," CBC reporter Linda Ward said from the airport.

"Passengers are telling me their planes just couldn't get to the gate because of so many cancelled planes, so it's definitely a very frustrating scene here this morning.… The people who were on those planes [are] very angry, very tired, very hungry.… They say all in all this was just a horrible travel experience."

The City of Toronto issued an extreme cold weather alert Monday, which is called to trigger additional services for the homeless.

Local school boards warned parents to check online Monday morning to see if any schools cancelled classes for the day. The Toronto District School Board said all schools would be open but warned of potential delays, while the Toronto Catholic District School Board said all facilities would be open.

Northwestern Ontario, meanwhile, was under a wind chill warning, where icy winds were making it feel as cold as –45.

Much of Quebec was also facing weather warnings Monday as Environment Canada issued winter storm, blizzard and wind warnings for most of the province. In Montreal, winds were reaching up to 70 km/h.

Fewer than 14,000 Hydro-Québec customers were in the dark on Monday afternoon, down from about 30,000 earlier in the day. Officials said it wasn't clear when power might be fully restored, but the utility said it had sent out 500 employees to restore electricity across the province.

The winter weather blast also left much of Atlantic Canada under weather advisories.

Environment Canada issued a combination of flash freeze and rainfall warnings for all of New Brunswick, and rain warnings for most of Nova Scotia. Newfoundland was under freezing rain, blizzard and wind warnings. In some parts of the province, wind gusts are expected to reach 160 km/h.

"Some freezing rain in and around Prince Edward Island, some rainfall starting to make its way through Nova Scotia," said Leslie, the CBC meteorologist. "This is all en route for Newfoundland, and my concern for those folks without power in Newfoundland [is] the winds."

In Newfoundland and Labrador, about 1,000 Newfoundland Power customers were still without electricity Monday evening after a power plant went offline Sunday night. At its peak the sudden outage left some 100,000 customers in the dark.

Officials warned that rolling power outages are still "likely" for this evening and encouraged conservation.

Aging infrastructure, a terminal station fire and a blizzard that ripped through the province Friday night combined to overburden an already stretched electricity grid, according to Premier Kathy Dunderdale.

She said it is hoped power will be restored to all customers at some point Monday.

"We're asking people of the province to conserve. The response was immediate when we made the request yesterday and we saw an impact almost immediately with demand decreasing," Dunderdale told CBC News.

"We want life to be as normal as possible during this period but, you know, if you're not using rooms in your house, close the door and turn down the heat.… We want to treat the system calmly, but we want to keep life normal too."

Dunderdale stood by a statement she made over the weekend in which she said the power outages are not considered a "crisis."

"Words are important. We certainly don't want to alarm people or describe a situation as more than it is," she said.

"We are going through a critical time here in the province because of an unfortunate series of events.… People are uncomfortable. They are inconvenienced, there's no doubt about it. But all services are being provided.… I don't know how others describe a crisis, but this isn't the circumstance that I would describe in this way."

At the peak of the power outages Saturday morning, about 190,000 customers were in the dark, Newfoundland Power said. Rotating outages lasting about an hour were also back in effect Monday morning, to conserve energy and help in the widespread power-restoration work.

Forecasts of rain, freezing rain and high winds have also prompted preparations for possible flooding in St. John's, as well as neighbouring Mount Pearl. Officials are asking residents to dig out storm drains and fire hydrants in a "collective push" to ready the city for the expected weather, said CBC reporter Adam Walsh.

Meanwhile, the wind chill warnings that had earlier blanketed Saskatchewan were lifted, but remained in effect across southern Manitoba, where residents are facing temperatures that feel as cold as –40 with wind chill.

CBC reporter Chris Glover said local hospitals have treated dozens of patients for cold-related injuries, including frostbite and hypothermia.

"It is frigid cold weather here … when the wind chill gets below –40, that's when it gets really, really cold and people have to be careful," Glover said.

"They have to bundle up. And they have to make sure that they take those precautions because in these [conditions] exposed skin can freeze in as little as five to 10 minutes, so it can be quite dangerous."

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