Heavy snow hits Toronto as winter storm disrupts travel, leading to cancelled flights, car crashes

A winter storm brought heavy snow to Toronto on Wednesday, leaving canceled flights, slippery roads and vehicle crashes in its wake.

Toronto’s Pearson International Airport reported on its website that more than 25 per cent of its departures and more than 26 per cent of its arrivals were canceled on Wednesday. The numbers mean 414 departing flights and 409 arriving flights did not go ahead as scheduled.

“Delays and cancellations are expected so please check your flight status with your airline,” the airport said.

Toronto police reported scores of minor crashes.and urged motorists on Wednesday night to slow down, drive to the weather conditions, use extra caution and leave extra time to get to their destinations.

“There are plows and salters out on the roadways, but we are receiving a significant amount of reports of minor collisions, people sliding through intersections or sliding down or being stuck on hills within the city,” Toronto Police Const. Laura Brabant said.

Brabant said police has been asking everyone to stay home if they can unless it is an emergency. If residents do have to go out, they are urged to make sure their windshield washer fluid is topped up, their vehicles have snow tires and are fit for the road.

‘Avoid driving unless absolutely necessary’

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also urged people to stay at home on Wednesday, saying on Twitter: “Southern Ontario will be getting a severe snow storm that will create treacherous driving conditions in many areas. Please avoid driving unless absolutely necessary.”

A snowfall warning remained in effect for most of the GTA on Wednesday, with Environment Canada forecasting between 15 to 20 centimeters for the region.

A TTC bus slides in snow.
A TTC bus slides down the road on Eglinton Avenue East on Wednesday. (Submitted by Al Stewart)

Toronto, Halton, Peel, York, Durham, Barrie and surrounding areas remained under snowfall warnings, with the weather agency telling people to expect “a significant impact on rush hour traffic in urban areas.”

The forecast called for reduced visibility with rapidly accumulating snow that will make travel difficult.

“Isolated power outages are possible,” Environment Canada said, adding that people should prepare for quickly changing and deteriorating travel conditions.

Rob Kuhn, a severe weather meteorologist with Environment Canada, said he expected roughly 10 centimeters of snow to fall between noon and 6 pm on Wednesday, and another 10 centimeters through the evening and overnight into Thursday.

The snow is expected to taper off by Thursday morning.

Line 3 and 41 bus stops out of service, TTC says

Meanwhile, GO Transit says it is operating on “a reduced and adjusted schedule to ensure reliability and safety for passengers.”

The TTC said in a news release issued on Wednesday afternoon that the storm is “likely to make surface travel challenging.”

Line 3, also known as the Scarborough SRT, has been closed. Shuttle buses are now operating between Kennedy and McCowan stations.

The TTC also said that 41 bus stops located in hilly areas that are “difficult for buses to navigate in snow” had been taken out of service as of 1:15 pm on Wednesday.

A pedestrian crosses Wellington Street West at Simcoe Street on Jan.  25, 2023.
A pedestrian crosses Wellington Street West at Simcoe Street on Wednesday. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

York Region District School Board and York Catholic District School Board, meanwhile, said student transportation is canceled for Thursday but schools will remain open to students.

At YRDSB, in-person exams will not occur on Jan 26, but virtual school exams continue as scheduled.

Sheridan College said it closed its campuses at 4 pm for the evening. All scheduled in-person classes are cancelled, while virtual classes will continue on schedule.

City closes libraries, zoo, recreational programs

The City of Toronto said community recreation centers and indoor arenas closed at 6 pm All instructional, drop-in programming and permits were canceled as of 4:30 pm, the city said in a news release.

After-school programs and facilities with child care will remain open until all participants are picked up. Artificial outdoor ice sink leisure programs will continue but instructional programming and skate lending are cancelled.

All Toronto Public Library branches and buildings closed at 4:30 pm, while the Toronto Zoo closed at 2 pm

A pedestrian crosses a street at the start of a significant snowstorm in uptown Toronto on Jan.  25, 2023.
A pedestrian crosses a street at the start of a snowstorm in uptown Toronto Wednesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

More snow expected Sunday

On Wednesday afternoon, the city said that salting operations had begun across the city, while sidewalk, separated bike lane and bus stop clearing had started in Scarborough.

“The City is monitoring the weather forecast and road conditions and is deploying crews and equipment as required,” the city said in the release.

The city said plowing will start once the snow reaches 2.5 centimeters on expressways, five centimeters on major roads, transit routes and streets with hills, and eight centimeters on residential streets.

Crews and contractors with the City of Toronto were out Tuesday night applying liquid brine on highways, bridges, hills and priority intersections, said Vincent Sferrazza, maintenance and operations director with transportation services.

Sferrazza said he expects the storm could necessitate six to eight rounds of plowing on major arterial roads and up to three rounds on local streets.

“This is going to take a few days, going into the weekend,” he says. “It’s all hands on deck, we are ready to go.”

Sferrazza added that some snow removal will likely be required as well, particularly for protected bike lanes, streetcar routes, bus stops and pedestrian walkways. That work would begin over the weekend and continue into next week.

“I ask our residents to please be patient. Let our operators get to their beats, let them finish. And then, certainly, they can notify us through 311 to identify any areas that perhaps we may have missed or may need further work,” Sferrazza said.

Warming centers to open in evening

The city was to open three warming centers as of 7 pm at the Scarborough Civic Center at 150 Borough Dr., Metro Hall at 55 John St. and Mitchell Field Community Center at 89 Church Ave.

The centers offer a warm place for unhoused people to rest indoors with snacks, washroom facilities and referrals to emergency shelters.

City officials say they are expecting another five to 10 inches of snow on Sunday.

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