‘Hazardous’ travel conditions, flash freeze expected: The latest on the winter storm headed for the GTA

Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Greater Toronto Area, with the worst of the weather expected Friday and Saturday, ahead of the busy holiday travel period.

The forecast for Toronto calls for:

  • A potential flash freeze on Friday morning.
  • Five to 15 centimetres of snow by Saturday morning.
  • Strong winds with gusts up to 90 km/h, developing Friday morning and continuing into Saturday.
  • Wind chill values in the minus 20s that will develop on Friday and persist into the weekend.

The federal weather agency urges people to avoid “non-essential” travel during the storm, saying the potential flash freeze on Friday morning could make roads and sidewalks alike icy and treacherous.

  • If the power or data on your device is low, get your storm updates on CBC Lite. It’s our low-bandwidth, text-only website.

Environment Canada says the snow will start on Friday morning and taper off into flurries on Saturday morning. 

Toronto can expect rain or snow late Thursday afternoon or early Thursday evening, continuing as rain for many areas on Thursday night. “Rapidly falling temperatures” could lead to the flash freeze and could come with strong winds, heavy snow and “widespread blowing snow,” the weather agency says.

“Visibility will be suddenly reduced to near zero at times in heavy snow and blowing snow. If visibility is reduced while driving, slow down, watch for tail lights ahead and be prepared to stop.”

City prepares to salt roads

The City of Toronto, meanwhile, says it is sending crews and equipment to high-priority areas so that they can respond when required. 

Salting will begin as soon as the snow starts to stick to the ground. Plowing will begin when the snow reaches:

  • Two centimetres on sidewalks and separated cycle tracks.
  • 2.5 centimetres on expressways.
  • Five centimetres on major roads, transit routes and streets with hills.
  • Eight centimetres on residential streets.

The city says it will also open three warming centres on Thursday night for people experiencing homelessness:

  • Scarborough Civic Centre, 150 Borough Dr. , will open at 7 p.m.
  • Metro Hall, 55 John St., will open at 7 p.m.
  • Mitchell Field Community Centre, 89 Church Ave., will open at 8 p.m.

According to the city, forestry crews are preparing to respond if high winds snap branches or bring trees down. Hazards to public safety or property and roads that needs to be cleared will be the priority. Residents can report fallen branches and trees to 311.

Toronto Water crews are also on standby to repair watermain breaks and offer help if local areas flood.

The city advises residents to avoid travel until conditions improves. If travel is essential on Friday morning, expect low visibility and icy and slippery conditions. Motorists should slow down, follow at a safe distance, watch out for pedestrians and cyclists, and stay alert.

All residents are also urged to keep a safe distance from snow clearing equipment and crews to let them do their work.

Several school boards close

Several Greater Toronto Area school boards say they will close their schools on Friday due to an impending winter storm.

The Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, Peel District School Board, York Region District School Board, York Catholic District School Board and Durham District School Board all say they will shut their schools because of the weather. 

The TDSB said in a statement that it made the decision with the TCDSB to close schools, administrative buildings and sites to students and staff. Travel is expected to be hazardous and the forecast calls for widespread blowing snow, strong winds and very cold wind chill values. 

“We recognize that these decisions can have a significant impact on thousands of families across Toronto and are not taken lightly, however given the current weather forecast, we felt it was prudent to make this decision now to provide families and staff with as much notice as possible,” the TDSB said.

Other school boards will close their schools on Friday, not because of the weather, but because the closures were scheduled according to their calendars. These boards include Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and Halton District School Board.

The TDSB said child care centres and before and after school programs located in its schools will also be closed and all permits will be cancelled for the day.

All in-person Continuing Education after school and evening courses are also cancelled on Friday. Those courses include International Languages Elementary and African Heritage, Learn4Life Community Programs and Adult ESL.

How should you prepare?

Residents are urged to make an emergency plan and prepare a kit with drinking water, food, medicine, first aid supplies and a flashlight, the federal weather agency says.

Environment Canada says residents should continue to check local forecasts. 

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