Commute home could be messy, but TTC and city crews say they're prepared

As thousands of GTA students got a snow day as another winter storm descended on the region Tuesday, city crews were preparing to keep those who did make it to work home safely despite worsening weather conditions.

Airports are advising travellers to check their flights before heading out the door as storm worsens

Get ready for a snowy and potentially slow-moving commute home on Tuesday amid a fierce winter storm. (John Rieti/CBC)

As thousands of GTA students got a snow day as another winter storm descended on the region Tuesday, city crews were preparing to keep those who did make it to work home safely despite worsening weather conditions.

The Toronto, Peel and Halton boards closed schools ahead of the storm, which is expected to dump as much as 25 cm of snow and ice pellets on the region over the next 24 hours.

The TDSB's decision to close schools is a rare event, with the last time being on Feb. 2, 2011. Before that, schools were closed on Jan. 14, 1999, when then-mayor Mel Lastman called in the army to help the city recover from a winter storm.

While the morning commute was uneventful, given that snow did not start falling until about 8 a.m., road crews and TTC staff are getting ready for what could be a messy afternoon commute.

"Our crews are working hard today, they are working around the clock," Myles Currie, director of road operations for the city, told reporters late Tuesday morning. There are 200 salters, 300 sidewalk plows and 600 road plows operating right now.

A city worker tries to clear snow from the skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square Tuesday. (Chris Mulligan/CBC)

Road salting began around 7:45 a.m., Currie said, and crews have transitioned to plowing major arterial roadways. Once crews can move on to side streets, that will be "an 18-hour project," he said. He asked that residents not park on the road to help crews push snow right to the curb.

The TTC says it is prepared to get commuters home this afternoon. But the transit agency asks that people give themselves plenty of time and remember that TTC vehicles "can only travel as quickly as traffic and weather conditions permit."

There are already a handful of buses that are on diversions due to snowy hills, including the 29 Dufferin and the 64 Main. Extra buses are running on typically busy routes, and are on standby should there be any problems with subway or streetcar routes.

Widespread closures

With all of southern Ontario under a winter storm warning, GTA schools halted operations and buses were cancelled, leading to snow days for thousands of students.

The first school to declare a snow day was Centennial College, which tweeted Monday evening that all campuses will be closed Tuesday. All daytime and evening classes are cancelled, as are all services and child-care centres.

George Brown College then announced just before 11 p.m. Monday that the school will be closed Tuesday. The child-care lab centres will be closed, and evening continuing education classes are cancelled.

Sheridan College is also closed, as are all Humber College campuses, including the University of Guelph-Humber. However, residences remain open.

York University announced early Tuesday that the school will be closed and all university operations will be suspended. Classes are cancelled and exams are postponed. Ryerson University is also closed, with classes, university-run events, research labs, business services and administrative operations all cancelled for the day. Residences remain open.

The University of Toronto's Mississauga and Scarborough campuses were closed Tuesday morning, while classes at the downtown campus are cancelled after 4 p.m. OCAD University was also closed.

An image from a dashboard-mounted GoPro shows snow falling on Burlington early Tuesday morning. (James Morrison/CBC)

As for elementary and high schools across the region:

School closures:

  • Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District School Board have closed schools. The TDSB noted on Twitter that activities that require a permit are cancelled for today, as are continuing education classes. Child Care Centres located inside schools are also closed.
  • Peel District School Board and Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board have both closed their schools and offices today. 
  • Halton District School Board and Halton Catholic District School Board have closed schools and board facilities.
  • Viamonde French public school board is closed.
  • MonAvenir Catholic French school board is closed.
  • Havergal College is also closed and expects to reopen on Wednesday.
  • Bishop Strachan School.
  • Branksome Hall.
  • St. Clement's School.
  • Waldorf Academy.
  • Both campuses of the Leo Baeck Day School.
  • Greenwood College School.

Bus cancellations:

  • All Durham District School Board and Durham Catholic District School Board buses are cancelled. Schools remain open.
  • South Simcoe District School Board and Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board have also cancelled buses, but schools remain open.
  • York District School Board and York Catholic District School Board taxi and bus services have been cancelled, however schools remain open.

The City of Toronto also announced that all non-essential city services will close at 2 p.m. to ensure employees get home safely, Brad Ross, the city's chief communications officer, said in a tweet.

The Toronto Public Library said it is also closing at that time and it expects to reopen as usual on Wednesday, but will monitor the weather.

A winter storm warning remains in effect for all of southern Ontario that calls for "hazardous winter conditions" of snow, ice pellets, high winds and possible freezing rain.

Snow began around 8 a.m. and was heavy throughout the morning. Strong wind gusts of up to 70 km/h will lead to "sudden and significantly reduced visibility due to blowing snow," Environment Canada said.

Between 15 and 25 cm of snow and ice pellets could fall on the region before the storm moves out on Wednesday.

The forecast has both Pearson International Airport and Billy Bishop Airport warning of potential delays and cancellations. Travellers are advised to check their flights before heading to the airport.

At Pearson, about 229 of 706 scheduled arriving flights and 227 of 695 scheduled departing flights were cancelled as of noon.

Air Canada said early Tuesday that it has revised its ticketing policy for customers booked on flights affected by the weather. Customers looking to change their travel plans can do so without penalty using the online re-booking tool.