All provinces and territories in Canada issued an emergency weather warning on Saturday as winter storms left thousands without power, grounded hundreds of flights and piled dozens of cars on an Ontario highway.
Even accustomed to the cold and vagaries of Arctic weather systems, Canadians faced a long list of extreme conditions that included heavy snowfall and sub-freezing temperatures, storm surges, freezing fog, high winds, and so-called ice bombs.
“There were 425 weather warnings across Canada,” an almost unprecedented number, said David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, the national weather agency.
“There have been thousands of power outages and the impact has been throughout the busiest travel season of the year,” Mr Phillips said. Wind chill readings have dropped to -50 degrees Celsius, about -58 degrees Fahrenheit, he said. Such cold, he added, “freezes meat in minutes.”
Weather across Canada is part of the same system that is plaguing much of the United States, which has disrupted Christmas travel and celebrations and plunged cities across the country into record cold temperatures. The United States recorded at least a dozen deaths on Saturday and at one point more than 1.5 million homes were without power.
In Canada, more than 500,000 homes were without power as of Saturday morning, according to poweroutage.com, an online data collector. Eastern Canada, specifically Quebec, has been hardest hit with nearly 70 percent of the outages. In Sept-Rivières, a sparsely populated region of Quebec, almost every customer was without power.
“It’s not over yet,” said Philippe Archambault, a spokesman for Hydro-Québec, the public utility that manages electricity across the province. “We still have very strong winds along with really heavy snow.”
“Right now we still have around 300,000 people without power due to the storm that has ravaged Quebec for the past two days,” he said, adding that more than 500 teams were working to restore power. “We work around the clock.”
Heavy snowfall in Ontario caused slick roads and whiteout conditions that led to a 60-vehicle pile-up on a London-Sarnia highway on Friday.
Photos showed the twisted debris of cars and trucks along Highway 402. No fatalities were reported, but Ontario Provincial Police closed the highway to traffic on Friday, warning drivers in a Twitter post “not to travel unless it is necessary.“
On the West Coast, bus and ferry services have been suspended in Vancouver and two major bridges in British Columbia have been closed due to freezing rain and ice making them unsafe.
Authorities in British Columbia closed the Port Mann and Alex Fraser bridges because of the risk of “ice bombs,” masses of ice that can collect on the bridge’s cables and fall on cars.
“We went into freezing rain this morning and our concern is ice tracks building up on the cable braces and the cables on the bridges themselves,” Ashok Bhatti of the province’s Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure told CTV News.
Hundreds of air travelers had their Christmas plans turned upside down as flights across Canada were canceled at even the busiest airports. Several flights from Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto have been grounded and WestJet, one of the country’s leading operators, preemptively canceled flights at airports in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
Amid the storm, 54 flights from Toronto Pearson Airport, the busiest in Canada, had already been canceled early Saturday, with dozens more being delayed, according to the airport’s departure board.