Severe winter storm closes GTA schools, causes major transportation disruptions

Greater Toronto Area residents are being urged to limit travel as a major blizzard continues to slam the area, forcing road closures and a delay to in-person learning for students on Monday.

Earlier Monday, Environment Canada had advised that the city and its surrounding areas could get as much as 60 centimetres of snow by the end of the day.

By mid-afternoon, about 38 centimetres had fallen in downtown Toronto, along with 45 centimetres in North Etobicoke as well as Whitby. The last time Toronto saw a storm with more than 25 centimetres was in 2019. The last time there was over 30 centimetres was in 2008.

With conditions beginning to taper off, the city will likely not top its largest single-day snowfall, recorded at the Pearson Airport measuring station: 45.5 centimetres in February 1965.

Cars are seen buried under snow on Toronto streets. The City of Toronto has also issued an extreme cold weather alert Monday as a severe weather continues to hammer the GTA. (David Michael Lamb/CBC)

For several hours on Monday morning, the weather agency upgraded its winter-storm warning to a blizzard warning, before snowfall started to taper off around noon and the warning was downgraded.

Environment Canada said the storm could cause serious problems in dense urban areas and warned of hazardous conditions, with heavy snow and strong winds resulting in “widespread near-zero visibility.”

Snow started coming down overnight, with several centimetres quickly accumulating in much of Toronto and surrounding areas. By Monday afternoon, cars and transit vehicles were getting stuck throughout the city.

“There may be a significant impact on rush-hour traffic in urban areas,” the federal weather agency said earlier Monday, advising people that “rapidly accumulating snow will make traffic difficult.”

Shortly after 10:15 a.m., Toronto police announced the temporary closure of the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway, two of the city’s major arteries, due to the “extreme weather.” Much of those roadways reopened in the early afternoon, though portions remained closed.

Cadillac Fairview also announced it would be closing the Eaton Centre at 4 p.m. due to inclement weather.

The blizzard is due to a low-pressure system tracking south of the Great Lakes, Environment Canada said.

Environment Canada said that, as of about 10:50 a.m., roughly 31.5 centimetres of snow had fallen at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, with about two to three more centimetres expected today.

Toronto under extreme cold weather alert

The City of Toronto has also issued an extreme cold weather alert.

Environment Canada says Toronto residents can expect a high of –6 C during the day with a wind chill of –15 in the morning and –12 in the afternoon.

The city says it is activating the following warming centres that will be open at 7 p.m.:

  • 129 Peter St.

  • 5800 Yonge St.

  • Exhibition Place, Better Living Centre, 195 Princes’ Blvd.

  • Scarborough Civic Centre, 150 Borough Dr.

Other parts of Ontario are expected to be hit even harder than the GTA. The heaviest snowfall is being forecast for eastern Ontario and the Niagara Peninsula, as well as parts of Simcoe County. 

Environment Canada urged Ontarians to consider postponing any non-essential trips until the storm relents. 

“Surfaces such as highways, roads, walkways and parking lots may become difficult to navigate due to accumulating snow. Visibility may be suddenly reduced at times in heavy snow,” the agency noted.

Dozens of collisions reported on GTA roads

​Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, spokesperson for the highway safety division of the Ontario Provincial Police, said there is no access from Highway 400 northbound from Highway 401 eastbound.  A couple of transport trucks are blocking lanes. 

“The snow is drifting up and it’s causing all sort of issues,” Schmidt said.

Highway 401 eastbound collector lanes approaching Keele Street are also jammed up 

Earlier, Schmidt said  snowy road conditions have led to dozens of collisions throughout the GTA.

“We’ve been going from call to call with this kind of situation, vehicles spinning out, losing control, either getting caught in the snowbanks, getting caught on the windrows and ending up in the ditch or into the wall,” Schmidt told CBC News.

“You can’t even see the road markings. It’s treacherous with lots of blowing snow out here.”

WATCH | A day to stay off the roads, Ontario police officer says:

A day to stay off the roads, Ontario police officer says

9 hours ago

Duration 3:47

Saying driving conditions are ‘treacherous’ in southern Ontario due to a major winter storm, Sgt. Kerry Schmidt of the Ontario Provincial Police asked drivers to stay off the roads until the snow stops falling. 3:47

Schmidt said the snow was slowly dissipating on Highway 401 but there is still lots to work through.

“It’s crippling the highways. Now the plows can’t even get through the highways because we’ve got stopped traffic everywhere.”

The OPP are advising anyone who can to stay home.

“Stay off the highways as best you can until the snow stops falling,” said Schmidt. “Let the plows do their work to clean the highways, then we’ll get back onto the roads.”

The TTC is also warning its customers to expect delays on bus and streetcar routes as a result of the road conditions.

The City of Toronto has 600 snow plows, 300 sidewalk plows and 200 salt trucks working to clear the roads, according to its website.

Some boards closing schools, cancelling buses

The snowfall has added a wrinkle to the province’s already contentious school reopening plan.

Students across the province were supposed to return to school for in-person classes today after two weeks of virtual learning following the winter holidays.

The Toronto District and Toronto Catholic District school boards cancelled the planned return to in-class learning today because of the weather, but will continue to offer the option of remote learning.

Similar announcements have been made by York Region and Dufferin-Peel Catholic district school boards, along with both the public and Catholic boards in Halton, though remote learning is not being offered as an option.

A full list of closures announced so far can be found here.

Meanwhile, all Toronto Public Library branches will be closed on Monday due to the weather conditions.

One car parked on Dentonia Park Avenue in Toronto is seen covered in snow Monday morning. Environment Canada warned of hazardous conditions with heavy snow and strong winds resulting in ‘widespread near-zero visibility,’ in the Greater Toronto Area. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Vaccine clinics shut down for the day

Vaccination clinics in Toronto, Peel and York regions were also forced to shutter as a result of the worsening weather conditions.

“With the significant snowfall continuing today, all vaccination appointments are being cancelled to ensure the safety of Toronto residents and staff,” Toronto Public Health (TPH) said in a news release.

The health unit said anyone with a scheduled appointment on Monday should have received direct communication from TPH to let them know it has been cancelled. 

TPH is encouraging everyone to rebook their vaccine appointments, as a result of the cancellation.

Similarly, all Peel and York Region Public Health-led COVID-19 vaccination clinics have been cancelled and health units are also asking everyone impacted to rebook their appointments.

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