Wintry mix of weather coats Toronto as residents urged to stay off roads

A wintry mix of weather coated Toronto with snow and ice and residents were urged to stay off the roads if possible on Sunday.

Slippery road conditions have led to numerous collisions across the GTA on Sunday

Freezing rain coats the side of a vehicle in Toronto. (James Morrison-Collalto/CBC )

A wintry mix of weather coated Toronto with snow and ice and residents were urged to stay off the roads if possible on Sunday.

Mark Mills, superintendent of road operations for the City of Toronto, told reporters that the combination of snow, ice pellets, freezing rain and strong winds could create conditions that could be "very dangerous" for drivers. He urged drivers to be cautious and patient.

"For today, please avoid travel if possible," Mills said. "If you need to travel today, please plan ahead, leave lots of extra time and consider using public transit. If you drive, please slow down. Drive to the conditions of the roadway.

"Please give yourself time and space for our pedestrians and our cyclists. If you see the operations equipment out there, the snow fighters, give them the time and space necessary. We are there to help."

Mills said the wintry weather will likely be what he called an "all hands on deck event."

Earlier on Sunday, Environment Canada issued weather warnings for much of southern and central Ontario. These have since been discontinued.

The city has deployed salt trucks to the main arterial roadways, expressways, collector roads and local roads, he said. At 9 a.m., the city began salting roads. At 11 a.m., the city started plowing "high volume" sidewalks. Between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m., the city will be plowing expressway, arterial and collector roads, he said. 

"Salt is always our first line of defence," Mills said.

Ice accumulates on a railing next to Lake Ontario. Residents can expect mostly snow on Sunday afternoon, before it tapers off, then flurries on Sunday night. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC)

Mills said the city has access to 1,100 pieces of equipment and 1,500 staff. 

"With these mixed precipitation events, we'll have to be diligently patrolling and sometimes we'll have to change the plan midstream, but we have the ability to do that," he said.

The city expects to do some plowing of local roads Sunday evening, a task that could take 18 hours.

"We will eventually get there. The goal today for road operations is to get these roads in good condition for the Monday morning commute."

Dean Hart, spokesperson for the city's urban forestry operations, urged residents to call 311 if winds bring down city trees.

'Strengthening' low pressure system bringing snow, winds

Haizhen Sun, severe weather meteorologist for Environment Canada in Toronto, said residents can expect flurries on Sunday night. The low for the city on Sunday night is expected to –3 C.

"Just stay indoors. Roads are slippery. Driving conditions could be bad. If you really need to go out, drive with caution," she said.

A car is seen through a rain speckled window in Toronto's east end. 'It's not a good day to be out on the roads. Stay off the roads if you can,' says Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, spokesperson for Ontario Provincial Police's Highway Safety Division. ( Alan Habbick/CBC)

A "strengthening" low-pressure system, which originated in the U.S. Midwest and crossed the central Great Lakes, was responsible for the mixed precipitation that included ice pellets, freezing rain and snow.

Sun said another system that will bring an estimated two to five centimetres of snow is expected on Wednesday.

Toronto police, OPP say roads 'treacherous'

Toronto police described the road conditions as "treacherous" and said the roads are icy.

In the area of Davenport and Avenue Roads, 12 vehicles were damaged due to a series of collisions on one stretch of road, but no one was injured. Const. David Hopkinson, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, says police were first called to the area at 10:15 a.m.

Ontario Provincial Police, meanwhile, say they have been dealing with dozens of crashes on highways in the Greater Toronto Area.

"We have three dozen crashes on the go at any time," said Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, spokesperson for the OPP's Highway Safety Division.

Schmidt said snow and ice are accumulating on the highways and conditions are icy and windy. The Fort Erie-bound QEW has been closed at Jordan because of a fatal accident.

"It's not a good day to be out on the roads. Stay off the roads if you can," Schmidt said.

Airport reporting some delays, cancellations

Toronto's Pearson International Airport reported some delays and cancellations.

As of 2:05 p.m., the airport reported that more than 17 per cent of departures and more than 15 per cent of arrivals had been cancelled. 

"We're always keeping an eye on how the weather is changing," Tori Gass, spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, said. "We put a plan in place with how we're going to deal with that." 

Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, said GO bus riders should expect delays because buses, especially those travelling from the west, are "driving defensively."

Brad Ross, city spokesperson, said 24-hour respite centres are open on Sunday for Toronto's homeless population. 

Mississauga and Burlington have both cancelled their Santa Claus parades and Toronto's Christmas Market, located in the Distillery District, was closed Sunday due to weather conditions.

With files from Julia Knope