The weather outside is frightful — and it's about to get worse in many parts of Canada

There's no place like home for the holidays, but in large swaths of Canada and the U.S., getting there could be tricky amid a spate of weather warnings.

Extreme cold, high winds, heavy snow for large sections of Canada and U.S. before and during holidays

A person dressed in black holds their head while looking at a blue screen with flights listed on it.
A passenger looks at a departure screen at Vancouver International Airport on Thursday. The airport is grappling with a backlog of flights and stranded passengers as a deep freeze disrupts holiday plans across Canada. (Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters)

There's no place like home for the holidays, but in large swaths of Canada and the U.S., getting there could be tricky amid a spate of weather warnings.

A storm and extreme cold in Western Canada has grounded hundreds of flights in Vancouver, Victoria and Calgary, and Environment Canada is saying to avoid any travel, if possible, in large portions of Ontario and Quebec as a winter storm approaches.

The Environment Canada warning map is lit up like a Christmas tree, full of reds and yellows. In the United States, the same weather systems are expected to cause power outages and travel chaos.

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All told, millions of people in both countries may have their travel or celebration plans affected during the holiday weekend. 

More snow on the way for already hobbled B.C.

Environment Canada says a "significant winter storm" is expected for British Columbia's south coast on Thursday night, with heavy winds and snow for Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley.

Conditions improved Thursday at Vancouver International Airport, where 100 of 660 flights were cancelled, but there were still warnings of more cancellations, delays and congestion for Friday. 

WestJet said Thursday night that it was proactively cancelling all flights arriving and departing Vancouver International Airport beginning at 11:50 p.m. PT until late afternoon Friday. The airline says flights into some of the provinces smaller airports are also cancelled. 

The airport was still dealing with a backlog of stranded passengers — and missing luggage — from a storm earlier this week, but says it is on track to lift a two-day cancellation of international arrivals at 5 a.m. Friday. Still, travellers are being encouraged to check with their airlines. 

A person holds their head with their mouth agape as they look at a sea of suitcases.
A passenger searches for luggage amid a graveyard of suitcases at Vancouver International Airport on Thursday. (Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters)

B.C. Transit said it would be suspending service in Victoria beginning at 12 a.m. on Friday, while B.C. Ferries also faced disruptions due to the freezing weather.

Matt Leger, who was stranded at the Vancouver airport attempting to get to Tampa, Fla. — and who was still stuck in Seattle on Thursday morning —  told CBC News Network that he wasn't able to speak to a representative at the airport or by phone.

"I was just sort of left in limbo, not knowing when my next flight will be."

Eventually he reached someone with the airline, who told him he'd either need to wait until Christmas or fly to Orlando, about a 135-kilometre drive from Tampa.

Other travellers faced similar challenges, including delayed and cancelled flights, and long waits at the airport. 

WATCH | Hopeful travellers face a series of delays: 

Passengers share disappointment as flights from Vancouver International Airport continuously delayed

3 months ago
Duration 1:13
Thousands of passengers trying to reach their families or a vacation destination for the holidays have been met with repeated delays or flight cancellations as winter weather hobbles Vancouver International Airport.

Vancouver International Airport's president and CEO, Tamara Vrooman, said lessons have been learned this week.

"It is the worst timing to have this kind of snow event right at the holidays. We apologize. We feel for passengers.

"This is not how we want to spend our time as an airport serving them, but we have made the adjustments. It is improving, and we hope that we'll be able to get more passengers connected to where they want to go."

WATCH | Vancouver Airport CEO promises improvements: 

Vancouver International Airport's CEO responds to mass cancellations, days-long delays ahead of Christmas

3 months ago
Duration 5:02
Vancouver International Airport's president and CEO, Tamara Vrooman, says delays are still likely through the Christmas weekend as the airport recovers from a snowstorm earlier in the week.

Consider postponing gatherings until Sunday, Ontarians told

In Ontario, the weather agency has placed most of the province under a warning or watch ahead of a major winter storm expected Friday and into the holiday weekend. Several school boards in the province, including the Toronto District School Board, have cancelled school on Friday.

Toronto's Pearson International Airport is also bracing for the incoming storm. WestJet has cancelled all flights into and out of Pearson beginning at 9:00 a.m. ET on Friday until the end of the day. Resumption of flights will depend on weather conditions Saturday. The cancellations will affect flights in and out of Ottawa, London, Waterloo and Montreal. 

Steven Flisfeder, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said damaging winds, possible flash-freezes and blizzard-like conditions will make for difficult driving. 

If you plan to travel for holiday get-togethers, aim to arrive before the worst of the storm or try to postpone gatherings to Sunday, he said.

Until then, "take this time ahead of the storm to prepare for the conditions that will be coming," Flisfeder said. "It's always best to be prepared, so that you don't have to scramble when the storm actually approaches."

A graphic timeline shows the progression of a snow storm that's expected to hit the Greater Toronto Area.
Environment Canada posted to Twitter this breakdown of the storm forecast for the Greater Toronto Area. (Environment Canada/Twitter)

In Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa, the agency is calling for up to 15 centimetres of snow by Friday and possible 90 km/h wind gusts. In other parts of southern Ontario, overnight rain combined with plummeting temperatures into Friday could result in flash-freezing conditions.

Starting Friday, Environment Canada says a "crippling blizzard" could hit parts of southwestern Ontario, including Niagara Region and Owen Sound, bringing wind gusts up to 120 km/h and 15 to 30 centimetres of snow by Sunday. Niagara Region also issued a flood alert for Lake Erie.

In Quebec, people are being told to prepare emergency kits that can help sustain them for up to 72 hours without power, with a mix of heavy snow, rain and strong winds expected from Thursday night in much of the province.

Meteorologist Jean-Philippe Begin says Quebecers should prepare for the possibility of blackouts "for prolonged periods."

C-c-c-cold elsewhere

In other parts of Canada, the hits just keep on coming:

In Newfoundland and Labrador, a special weather statement says a winter storm is expected on Saturday.

Prince Edward Island will face heavy rain and strong wind gusts beginning Friday afternoon. The weather could disrupt travel plans on Friday evening and Christmas Eve morning, with power outages also possible.

Officials are urging Nova Scotians to plan ahead for the holiday weekend, with a storm expected to hit western parts of the province on Friday afternoon, moving through to Cape Breton by Saturday morning.

In New Brunswick, snow, heavy rain, ice pellets, strong winds and a possible storm surge are expected Friday afternoon.

Most regions of southern Manitoba and the province's far north are under extreme cold warnings for Thursday evening, with wind chill values expected to approach –40 C in Winnipeg.

In Alberta, heavy snowfall, blowing winds and freezing rain are expected from Saturday evening into Sunday morning, before the province thaws out next week.

Extreme cold warnings were also in effect for Yukon and parts of the N.W.T. and Saskatchewan.

Few escape options

Drivers were urged to stay off the roads during bad weather, but if people have to head out, they should take extra precautions, including planning ahead and ensuring they have good snow tires, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) says.

Motorists should also keep an emergency roadside kit in their vehicle, as well as some sand or salt, and ensure their phone is fully charged, says Julie Beun, CAA's director of communications for eastern and northern Ontario. 

A person in a coat and jeans walks along a cleared path through piles of snow. There are picnic tables covered in snow, with yellow caution tape separating them from the person.
Snow piles up in downtown Vancouver on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Any snowbirds who were hoping to outrun winter this Christmas are also out of luck. In much of the U.S., the Christmas weekend could be the coldest in decades. There are wind chill warnings in 30 states.

The sub-zero temperatures affecting Canada are also expected to stretch deep into the U.S.; places with names like Inland Citrus, Fla., and Sweetwater, Texas, are being warned of freezing temperatures.

The U.S. National Weather Service is warning that the winter storm will bring "potentially crippling impacts" to the central and eastern U.S., with record-breaking cold and "life-threatening wind chill" over the Great Plains and the eastern half of the country on Friday.

The storm hitting the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and Interior Northeast regions will "lead to dangerous, to at times impossible, land and air travel leading up to the holiday weekend," a statement from the service said.

WATCH | 'Once in a generation' storm cripples Christmas travel across U.S.: 

'Once in a generation' storm cripples Christmas travel across the U.S.

3 months ago
Duration 2:30
A powerful winter storm is making its way through the U.S. and Canada, bringing with it severe snow and freezing temperatures. The storm has already disrupted travel for many ahead of the holidays.

Michigan State Police prepared to deploy additional troopers to help motorists. And along Interstate 90 in northern Indiana, crews worked to clear as much as 30 centimetres of snow. About 150 members of the National Guard have been deployed to help snow-bound Indiana travellers.

More than 4,400 flights within, into or out of the U.S. had been cancelled for Thursday and Friday, according to the tracking site FlightAware, while Amtrak cancelled dozens of passenger trains through Christmas, disrupting holiday travel for tens of thousands of people.

Another 8,450 flights were delayed Thursday.

A man in a balaclava with sunglasses resting on the top of his head is pictured from the chest up. His frost-covered balaclava is slightly askew and his breath is visible.
Charles Zajicek uses a power sweeper to clear snow off the sidewalk on Thursday in downtown Minneapolis. Temperatures plunged far and fast as a winter storm formed ahead of Christmas weekend. (Alex Kormann/Star Tribune/The Associated Press)

With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News


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