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Winter storm cancels flights and closes schools in Canada

TORONTO — A major winter storm that hit Ontario and Quebec on Friday caused widespread flight cancellations and school closures, and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers on Friday, with an Environment Canada meteorologist warning of a possible weather event once a decade.

Environment Canada predicted high winds, heavy snowfall and the possibility of sudden frost, issuing winter storm warnings for the vast majority of Ontario and Quebec.

“We may only see one of these storms every five or ten years,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Mitch Meredith. “I’ve only seen a few storms like this in the past 20 years.”

Environment Canada said sudden or sudden freezes were likely as rain turned to heavy snow Friday in parts of southern Ontario, creating dangerous driving conditions.

The Ontario Provincial Police closed Highway 401 west of London on Friday morning after reporting multiple collisions. Meanwhile, high winds began to wreak havoc on provincial utilities. Hydro-Quebec said the outages affected more than 225,000 customers.

Hydro One, Ontario’s largest electric utility, said about 45,000 customers were without power as of 11 a.m. In Quebec, many regions were expected to receive a mix of heavy snow, rain and high winds.

The storm upended holiday travel plans for thousands of people as airlines preemptively canceled flights, with further disruptions expected.

WestJet, Canada’s second-largest airline, announced late Thursday that it was canceling flights at airports in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. It announced 300 “proactive” flight cancellations for British Columbia, southern Ontario and Quebec on Friday due to bad weather. That brought the airline’s total number of cancellations since Monday to 1,196, according to an emailed statement.

Air Canada said on Friday it had canceled “a number of flights” in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, including all of its flights departing from Toronto’s Downtown Island Airport, citing the storm, reduced airport capacity and operational constraints.

Rob Milton, who was traveling with his wife, said their flight to Quebec was canceled on Friday morning from Toronto’s Pearson airport, upending the couple’s plans to celebrate Christmas in Quebec. “We had booked a hotel in Quebec; we had to cancel it. We had restaurants; we had to cancel them. We had planned the whole weekend,” he said at the airport.

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

“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.

The Toronto Transit Commission has shut down 41 bus stops in hilly areas that are difficult to navigate in snowy and icy conditions. GO Transit, which serves the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, has canceled express trains and reduced rush hour train service.

ABC News

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