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Winter storm warning in effect: GTA could see up to 25 cm of snow

A winter storm is sweeping across southern Ontario, bringing heavy snow, strong winds and, in some instances, lightning.

Here’s what you need to know about the storm, including when conditions will improve.

ALERTS IN EFFECT

Snow began falling in the Greater Toronto Area around 7 p.m. Most places in the GTA were initially under a winter weather travel advisory, however, Environment Canada later issued a winter storm warning for Toronto, Peel Region, Durham Region and some locations in Halton Region.

The federal weather agency said the storm could dump 10 to 25 centimetres of snow by Saturday morning. It added that five to eight centimetres of snow could fall per hour.

“Snow heavy at times is expected to transition to periods of rain tonight as temperatures rise above freezing,” Environment Canada said.

In addition to the snow, strong wind gusts are also in the forecast, which could result in visibility being reduced significantly.

Several residents also reported seeing lightning as snow fell, a phenomenon commonly called “thundersnow.”

Environment Canada said travel should be avoided if possible due to hazardous driving conditions.

POLICE URGE CAUTION

As the snow began to fall, police reminded motorists to drive with caution and ensure that their vehicles were storm-ready.

“There is a potential for some significant accumulation of snow and rain will certainly make it challenging as well,” Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said in a video posted on social media.

“Those wind gusts can often take you by surprise if you’re going down the highway. Give yourself lots of distance behind traffic in front of you. Make sure you’re aware of your surroundings. Share the road safely and responsibly.”

Police in Toronto and Peel reported falling debris and downed utility and light poles.

WHEN WILL THE STORM END

According to Environment Canada, some areas will see snow transition to periods of rain overnight or early Saturday morning. However, rain will change to periods of snow later in the morning as cold air sweeps in.

“In the wake of this system, much colder Arctic air will become established across the region,” the federal weather agency said.

“A multi-day lake effect snow event is expected for locations east of the Great Lakes, bringing additional snowfall accumulations to some communities.”

In Toronto, local blowing snow is possible early Saturday afternoon as strong winds move in. The city could see an additional snowfall amount of two centimetres.

The temperature will fall from a high of 2 C to -2 C in the afternoon with a wind chill of -10.

Conditions are expected to improve in the evening. Next week, temperatures are expected to drop below zero, to a low of -7 C on Tuesday. 

TRAVELLING TO PEARSON

Toronto Pearson International Airport is also monitoring the storm, it said in a tweet Friday.

“We are closely monitoring these weather systems, which have the potential to impact flights arriving and departing at Toronto Pearson,” the statement reads. “If you’re flying today, we recommend checking the status of your flight online.”

 

Winter weather watch: Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for parts of southern Ontario, and an extreme cold warning for western Canada. We are closely monitoring these weather systems, which have the potential to impact flights arriving and departing at Toronto… pic.twitter.com/LNnlMU1M3e

 

— Toronto Pearson (@TorontoPearson) January 12, 2024

Sean Davidson, the spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, advises people travelling to Pearson this evening to arrive as early as possible.

He said travellers should expect delays due to the weather.

“We’re just asking people to have a little bit more patience tonight because we’re contending with a winter storm,” Davidson said. “But we have our full staff in place to make sure that we can get everybody moving as quickly as possible.”

He noted that the airport has over 100 pieces of high-tech equipment to ensure all runways and taxiways are clear of snow.

“Of course, it becomes a challenge when it snows because we need to clear that snow. But then when it goes from rain to freezing rain, there are different procedures in place that our airfield maintenance team needs to take to make sure that the airfield remains as safe as possible for takeoffs and landings, but it’s a massive effort,” Davidson said.

HOW TORONTO IS PREPARING

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) says it is taking proactive measures to get riders to and from their destinations, including deploting additional staff and maintenance vehicles to spread salt, clear surfaces of snow, keep signals, switches and overhead power operating and attend other weather-related issues.

The transit agency adds that it will also deploy additional busines on a route-by-route basis.

“This strategic measure is aimed at preserving service levels in areas where heavy snowfall or other adverse weather conditions result in significant slowdowns, detours, or disruptions,” the TTC said.

The agency is also monitoring 56 bus stops that are known to be affected when there is heavy snow or freezing rain.

In a news conference Friday morning, Vincent Sferrazza, Toronto’s Director of Transportation Operations and Maintenance, told reporters that city crews were ready for “every eventuality.”

“What’s contributing to the uncertainty or predictability of this particular event is the fact that throughout the early morning hours, we’re going to see quite a bit of precipitation in the form of rain that will result in a lot of sludge and messier conditions,” he said. 

A graphic outlining the City of Toronto’s plan for snow plowing on Friday evening can be seen above. (@cityoftoronto/Twitter)

Sferrazza said the city would activate salting operations once the snow begins to stick. If required, snow plows will begin plowing major routes at just over two centimetres of accumulation.

Local roads will see snow removal activated slightly earlier than usual, at about two to four centimetres, in an effort to utilize a lack of traffic during the overnight hours. The standard protocol is to send plows out to residential streets only after eight centimetres of snow has fallen.

Freezing rain warnings are in effect for parts of the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014.

In its advisory, Environment Canada said residents may want to consider postponing any non-essential travel until conditions improve.

“Motorists should expect hazardous winter driving conditions and adjust travel plans accordingly. Avoid travel if possible. Take extra care when walking or driving in affected areas,” it wrote.

Sferrazza reminded residents that if they encounter snow removal machinery on the roads, they should keep their distance.

“It is dangerous to drive quickly or fast around one of those pieces of equipment, and if you do have to pass, do so at the right time and slowly,” he said.

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