Thunder Bay

Gillies Township debriefs storm response as northwestern Ontario braces for more winter weather

As northwestern Ontario braces for another potentially harsh weather week, officials in the township of Gillies, Ont., are coming up with new storm contingency plans after power in the community was knocked out for days last week.

Last week's storm knocked out power, cell service and prompted a state of emergency in the community

Areas in northwestern Ontario continue to feel the wrath of winter well into April. The season has been a challenging one for people in the region, with nearly record breaking amounts of snow through 2022. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

As northwestern Ontario braces for another potentially harsh weather week, officials in the township of Gillies, Ont., are coming up with new storm contingency plans after power in the community was knocked out for days last week.

A weather system rolled through northwestern Ontario during the middle of last week. Soon powerful wind gusts and wet, heavy snow created a recipe for disaster.

"I was actually pleasantly surprised that so many people were self-sufficient," said Wendy Wright, Reeve of the Township of Gillies.

"We always are asking people to have 72-hour emergency kits, that kind of thing at home. But we're quite lucky that the temperature was mild. If this had been -30 C with this going on, it would have been quite a different story," she said.

Township council will be holding a regularly scheduled meeting Monday night, and Wright said the storm and outage response will be debriefed.

She said contingency plans need to be created for scenarios where outages happen in even harsher and much colder weather.

Volunteers take on wellness checks

The outage prompted township officials to organize volunteers and the volunteer fire department to go door-to-door, making sure people were safe and had any supplies they needed. A state of emergency was also declared Friday, which has since been lifted.

"That's just too long for people, so luckily everyone was safe," said Wright.

Wright said all residents were checked on Friday, as volunteers also struggled to get around on the rural roads.

Another barrier in the storm was the loss of cellular reception, further isolating some community members.

"Not that many people have landlines anymore, right. I have one here. The fire chief has one … Maybe more people will get one now," said Wright.

Parts of the region may be in for another hit of winter this week

Wright said power outages are definitely not unusual in the rural community, which is located about 35 kilometres west of Thunder Bay, but she said this outage was the longest she's seen during her tenure as township reeve.

The weather is also only becoming more volatile as the climate changes, which is forcing many municipalities to rethink their responses to preparedness to significant weather events.

In fact, it's possible that harsh weather might not be over for the winter just yet.

Environment Canada issued weather statements for part of northwestern Ontario Sunday, affecting Kakabeka Falls, Whitefish Lake, Atikokan, Shebandowan, Quetico and Upsala areas.

Snow is expected in the area beginning Sunday night, which could amount to around 15 centimetres by Monday, before changing to a mix of rain and freezing drizzle.

"If you're traveling Monday morning, might be some snow covered roads, particularly some of the higher terrain areas along the highway. Could be a difficult travel for Sunday into [Monday] morning. And then that should taper to scattered showers, flurries and quickly dry out for Tuesday," said Ryan Rozinskis, a metrologist with Environment Canada. 

The federal agency is also keeping close watch on a "strong and slow" moving system that's expected to bring significant amounts of snow into the region Wednesday.

Rozinskis said areas near the Manitoba border like Kenora, Dryden, Red Lake, and north to Pikangikum could see upwards of 40 centimetres of snow beginning Wednesday and stretching into Thursday.

Moving east from the Manitoba border into the Thunder Bay area, the storm could bring a wintery mix of snow and rain according to Environment Canada.

"This is looking to be a pretty big snowfall and certainly not uncommon this time of year … but this is a lot of snow even by winter standards," he said.

Rozinski said the public should continue to check in with Enviroment Canada online for updated weather alerts as the specifics of the storm is not yet clear, and could change by Wednesday.

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