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Environment Canada warns of major winter storm


Major storms left hundreds of thousands of people without power in Quebec and Ontario ahead of Christmas Eve and closed critical bridges and roads in Metro Vancouver as heavy snowfall, rain, ice and strong winds swept over every region.

Friday’s storm in eastern Canada was marked by a low pressure system in southern and eastern Ontario and parts of Quebec, followed by a dramatic drop in temperatures, said meteorologist Peter Kimbell. to Environment Canada, in an interview.

“The problem is always when you have temperatures above freezing and it’s raining or snowing, then temperatures quickly dip below freezing, roads freeze, icy conditions develop and bad things happen on the roads,” Kimbell said.

The number of power outages in Quebec rose steadily for much of the day, with winds reaching 100 kilometers per hour in parts of the province, snapping power lines and downing trees. As of 5 p.m., the number of Hydro-Québec customers without electricity had decreased slightly to around 340,000, including more than 80,000 customers in the Québec region.

Eric Filion, the utility’s executive vice president, said he expected workers to restore power to most customers by Sunday evening. Hydro-Quebec spokesman Maxence Huard-Lefebvre said about 1,000 workers were repairing power lines. High winds and snow accumulation were making work difficult and causing further breakdowns, he said.

“It’s like a marathon,” said Huard-Lefebvre. “Sometimes it happens that we have a few hours of gusts or a few hours of bad weather.

“As it happens, the weather has been rough since Thursday night and will be for several more hours, so there will still be gusty winds tonight, tonight and even tomorrow.”

The Quebec region was the most affected part of the province, he said, “mainly because of the very violent gusts of wind that had been blowing since this morning, gusts of wind more than 100 kilometers to the hour”.

Hydro One, Ontario’s largest electric utility, said about 56,000 customers in southern and eastern parts of the province were without power Friday. In Ottawa, the number of outages was decreasing and by 4:00 p.m. approximately 4,200 Hydro Ottawa customers still had no power.

The Ontario Provincial Police have closed approximately 120 kilometers of the busy 401 Highway from London to Tilbury after reporting that up to 100 vehicles were involved in multiple collisions. Police also closed Highway 402 from London to Sarnia, citing multiple crashes.

“The wind and snow are blowing and today is going to be a tough day for a lot of drivers,” said Sgt. Kerry Schmidt. “Please, if you don’t need to be on the roads, stay home, wait for the system to pass, let the plows and gritters do their job.”

The president of the Ontario Paramedics Association said ambulance services across the province were operating at “full level” on Friday. Darryl Wilton said slippery road conditions combined with closed and blocked roads made it difficult for paramedics to get to calls, causing delays.

“Paramedics often go on call and encounter other incidents like motor vehicle collisions in their path, where they (then) radio call for additional resources,” he said.

Meanwhile, the storms upended vacation travel plans for thousands of people traveling to or from Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority said nearly 39% of all flights departing Pearson Airport on Friday and more than 40% of arriving flights were canceled due to the storm.

In Metro Vancouver, ice build-up has brought transit trains to a halt and threatened to fall cables over two major bridges, Port Mann and Alex Fraser, which have been closed for safety reasons.

Heavy snow mixed with freezing rain triggered “moderate to high” avalanche warnings for Highway 3 between Hope and Hedley, as well as Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon.

About half of flights out of Vancouver International Airport were canceled on Friday, President and CEO Tamara Vrooman said in an interview.

Advance notice given to WestJet and Air Canada passengers meant that only those with confirmed departures arrived at the airport, she said.

International flight arrivals have also resumed in Vancouver, after a two-day ban intended to clear congestion on the tarmac.

However, Vrooman said airport staff were monitoring weather systems closely, with freezing rain poised to create the most difficult conditions.

“Freezing rain is the hardest for planes because it’s harder to de-ice and it builds up faster,” Vrooman said.

At Vancouver airport, Toronto resident Vanessa Romano was in an Air Canada queue trying to find a way home for Christmas after arriving several days early from Singapore, where she is a student in exchange. She said she received notification during a layover in Hong Kong that the Vancouver-Toronto leg of her trip, scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday, had been canceled.

She said she was looking forward to the first family reunion since the COVID-19 pandemic, but said she didn’t get a seat. “Hopefully something will work out and I can go home in the next few days.”

Daniel Araya, who was traveling with his family from Chile to Vancouver, was stuck at the Toronto airport after his fight was delayed due to weather.

“We are really hoping for a Christmas miracle,” he said. “It took us a long time to get here and it will be really sad if we can’t make it to Vancouver to see my sister.”

In Montreal, Pauline Thieffry, a Belgian exchange student studying in Trois-Rivières, Que., said she was worried her flight to Brussels – scheduled for Friday evening – might be cancelled. She said she hoped to get home in time for a family dinner.

“I don’t want to cry at the airport,” she said.


This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 23, 2022.


— With files from Christian Collington in Brampton, Jessica Smith in Toronto, Nono Shen and Amy Smart in Vancouver.

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