Drivers are being warned to expect dangerous road conditions throughout the night after a messy mix of winter weather walloped the Greater Toronto Area on Thursday.
Environment Canada had initially warned that the storm could dump 10 to 15 centimetres of snow on the city but later revised its forecast down to five to 10 centimetres after many parts of Toronto got the bulk of the precipitation in rain and freezing rain instead.
“Remember, we’re right on that freezing mark so where you start and where you finish, you could have completely different driving conditions,” OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said during an interview with CP24 late Thursday afternoon. “The roads have mostly been salted and are just wet. But there’s still a lot of snow accumulation on shoulders and some roads that are less travelled.”
A number of collisions have already been reported in areas where freezing rain warnings are in effect — including a 17-vehicle pileup on the Garden City Skyway in Niagara Region earlier in the day.
Schmidt said that while there has been “plenty of fender benders” throughout the day,” few of them have resulted in serious injuries, at least so far.
A winter weather travel advisory, however, remains in effect from Environment Canada for Toronto and most of southern Ontario.
The “complex” system includes freezing rain, transitioning to snow as the temperature hovers around the freezing mark.
Snowfall and freezing rain warnings are in effect for many parts of the province, include some areas around Toronto. Environment Canada said York and Durham regions could still see as much as 15-20 cm of snow, while freezing rain warnings are in effect for Burlington, Oakville, Hamilton and Niagara.
“We are just right on the bubble there in terms of how traffic is going to manage in the overnight hours as it gets dark and as we are near the freezing mark,” Schmidt said.
DRIVERS URGED TO USE CAUTION
Environment Canada is warning people to be cautious of reduced invisibility due to snow or blowing snow. Southeasterly wind gusts near 70 km/h are expected, with the strongest winds are expected near the shores of Lake Ontario.
“Motorists should expect hazardous winter driving conditions and adjust travel plans accordingly,” the weather agency said. “If visibility is reduced while driving, turn on your lights and maintain a safe following distance. Surfaces such as highways, roads, walkways and parking lots may become icy and slippery.”
The statement said the weather could have a “significant impact” on rush-hour traffic.
A number of school boards around the GTA have already cancelled buses due to the expected storm, though most schools remain open.
The Toronto District school Board said that buses are running, but there may be some delays because of the weather.
In a tweet, Toronto police urged people to use caution if venturing out today.
“Toronto is expecting winter weather & strong winds today. Please use caution if you must venture outside, and be aware of blowing debris and power outages at signalized intersections,” police said. “Slow down and drive to the weather conditions. Stay safe, everyone!”
Schmidt also advised people not to try and get out around plows on roads and highways.
“Don’t be trying to squeeze through them,” he said. “You get involved with a collision with the plow, it shuts the whole plowing operation down. So give them space, let them do their job. They’re driving at the maximum speed that they can to lay down enough salt or brine to you know get rid of that ice.”
TRANSIT, AIR TRAVEL IMPACTED
The TTC said Thursday morning that it is cancelling service to dozens of bus stops in spots where vehicles tend to get stuck in order to avoid vehicles stalling.
The TTC said in a statement Wednesday that it was preparing for the storm by adding extra staff and vehicles, readying shuttle buses in case Line 3 (Scarborough SRT) is impacted, and carrying out anti-icing for all vehicles.
GO Transit advised riders to plan ahead for the weather, to “be careful on train and bus platforms,” and to stay tuned to schedule updates.
Toronto Pearson warned travellers that the weather “may impact operations” and advised people to check their flight status before leaving for the airport.
The airport said that while the morning was mostly problem-free, the afternoon and evening might be different, as flight volume could be limited for safety reasons.
“We might have to reduce the number of flights that are coming and going,” Greater Toronto Airports Authority Spokesperson Tori Gass told CP24.
She advised travellers to check with their airlines before leaving for the airport.
The city said that it began brining the roads early Thursday ahead of the storm.
“We actually started applying liquid brine last night throughout Etobicoke and North York and other parts of the city,” Vince Sferrazza, Toronto’s director of operations and maintenance, said. “We applied liquid brine to the expressways, to hills, bridges and high priority intersections. In addition to that, we also started what we refer to as spot salting where there has already been some areas of the city where ice is formulating, whether it be on the sidewalks and the roads.”
He said the city’s plan this season will be to dispatch salting equipment to all roads as soon as there is snow sticking, as opposed to getting to all arterial roads first.
“Previously in the old contracts, we would deploy the equipment on the expressways and arterials and we normally got to the local roads after we finished the arterial roads,” Sferrazza said. “Now as soon as the snow begins to stick, regardless of the road classification, we will send out the salters. In addition to that, our contractors have now started using different types of equipment.”
He said that includes some vehicles which can both plow and salt.
He said the new equipment gives the city “additional flexibility” in the cleanup effort on the roads.
In terms of temperature, Toronto sat at 1 C Thursday afternoon. A high of 1 C is expected today, though it will feel more like -11 with the wind chill.
Periods of snow and drizzle are expected to continue overnight, with the temperature hovering around the freezing mark overnight and into Friday.
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