Toronto declares 'major snow storm condition' to aid cleanup after winter storm

The City of Toronto has declared what it calls a "major snow storm condition" to ensure its crews can remove snow on city streets left by a winter storm on Monday.

Storm, which dumped 36 cm of snow on downtown Toronto, called 'pretty historic'

A snowplow clears streets during a winter storm in Toronto on Monday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The City of Toronto has declared what it calls a "major snowstorm condition" to ensure its crews can remove the snow on city streets left by a winter storm on Monday.

Mayor John Tory said the declaration means parking is prohibited for 72 hours on designated snow routes. Such routes are primarily in the downtown core and include all streetcar routes. All are clearly signed.

Anyone who parks on a designated snow route during a major snow event could be fined up to $200. The snowstorm condition could be in place longer than the normal 72 hours.

Tory said the declaration is necessary because of the quantity of snow that fell on Monday and the impact it could have on public safety. He said the snowfall was "extraordinary" for the city. Vehicles left on snow routes can receive "a friendly tow," he said, noting that could happen on local roads as well.

"I will just say that we are doing our best in a challenging situation that is more challenging than normal," Tory told reporters at a news briefing on Monday afternoon.

Snowfall broke daily record at Pearson for Jan. 17 

Downtown Toronto had received 36 centimetres of snow by 2 p.m. on Monday, according to a summary from the Ontario Storm Prediction Centre. Ottawa, meanwhile, received 45 centimetres of snow.

The snowfall recorded at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Monday — 32 centimetres — broke a daily record for Jan. 17, according to Environment Canada. The previous daily record at Pearson was set in 1994, when 7.6 centimetres of snow fell.

The summary said the snowfall amounts reported at Toronto Pearson International Airport and Ottawa International Airport fell within the Top 10 highest snowfall totals reported in a single snowfall event.

The last time Toronto saw a storm with more than 25 centimetres was in 2019. The last time there was more than 30 centimetres was in 2008.

Toronto's largest single-day snowfall, recorded at Pearson Airport, was 45.5 centimetres in February 1965.

A mother and son walk down a residential street in Scarborough after the winter storm. (Muriel Draaisma/CBC)

Ray Houle, a severe weather meteorologist for Environment Canada, called Monday's storm a "significant" weather event.

"The general consensus around here is that it was a pretty historic storm. Not very often do we get a storm that brings snowfall amounts and blizzard-like conditions like that to the Golden Horseshoe and the GTA," said Houle.

"I thought it was pretty significant — it was once-in-a-decade kind of storm."

On Monday night, Toronto Hydro reported scattered power outages across the city. It said restoration efforts may be affected by current weather conditions.

Meanwhile, local authorities are urging Toronto residents to continue to limit travel after the storm forced road closures and a delay to in-person learning for students.

"Residents are encouraged to stay home during and after this snowfall," the city said in a news release on Monday.

"Road users should expect delays, slippery conditions and poor visibility. If driving, slow down, follow at a safe distance, and use gentle braking, steering and acceleration."

On Monday night, four GTA school boards all announced via Twitter that their schools would also be closed to in-person learning on Tuesday, including Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, Peel District School Board and Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

Students that fall under the Peel boards will move to remote learning for the day. The TDSB said "students will not participate in live remote or virtual learning," while the TCDSB said it would only offer asynchronous learning.

Cars are seen buried under snow on Toronto streets. The City of Toronto has issued an extreme cold weather alert as severe weather hammered the area. (David Michael Lamb/CBC)

For several hours on Monday morning, the weather agency upgraded its winter storm warning to a blizzard warning; the snowfall started to taper off around noon and the warning was then downgraded and later lifted.

Environment Canada had warned that the storm could cause serious problems in dense urban areas and hazardous conditions, with heavy snow and strong winds resulting in "widespread near-zero visibility."

A blizzard warning means the agency expects at least four hours with visibility that is 400 metres or less and winds of at least 40 kilometres per hour, said Steven Flisfeder, lead meteorologist with Environment Canada.

In comparison, a winter storm warning means a forecast of more than 25 centimetres of snow within 24 hours, along with other criteria, such as blowing snow and reduced visibility, he said.

Snow started coming down overnight on Sunday, with several centimetres quickly accumulating in much of Toronto and surrounding areas. By Monday afternoon, cars and transit vehicles were getting stuck throughout the city.

Shortly after 10:15 a.m. ET, Toronto police announced the temporary closure of the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway, two of the city's major arteries. Those roadways have now fully reopened.

Cadillac Fairview also announced it would be closing the Eaton Centre at 4 p.m. due to inclement weather.

The winter storm was due to a strong low-pressure system tracking south of the Great Lakes, Environment Canada said.

City issues extreme cold weather alert

The City of Toronto also issued an extreme cold weather alert on Monday, prompting the activation of the following warming centres. The centres were to open at 7 p.m.:

  • 129 Peter St.
  • 5800 Yonge St.
  • Exhibition Place, Better Living Centre, 195 Princes' Blvd.
  • Scarborough Civic Centre, 150 Borough Dr.

Other parts of Ontario were hit even harder than the Greater Toronto Area. The heaviest snowfall was forecast for eastern Ontario, the Niagara Peninsula and parts of Simcoe County. 

OPP reports dozens of collisions 

Snowy road conditions had led to dozens of collisions throughout the GTA, said ​Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, spokesperson for the highway safety division of the Ontario Provincial Police.

"We've been going from call to call with this kind of situation — vehicles spinning out, losing control, either getting caught in the snowbanks, getting caught on the windrows and ending up in the ditch or into the wall," Schmidt told CBC News.

"You can't even see the road markings. It's treacherous with lots of blowing snow out here."

WATCH | A day to stay off the roads, Ontario police officer says:

A day to stay off the roads, Ontario police officer says

1 year ago
Duration 3:48
Saying driving conditions are 'treacherous' in southern Ontario due to a major winter storm, Sgt. Kerry Schmidt of the Ontario Provincial Police asked drivers to stay off the roads until the snow stops falling.

Schmidt had said the snow was slowly dissipating on Highway 401 but there was still lots to work through.

"It's crippling the highways. Now the plows can't even get through the highways because we've got stopped traffic everywhere."

The OPP advised anyone who can to stay home.

"Stay off the highways as best you can until the snow stops falling," said Schmidt. "Let the plows do their work to clean the highways, then we'll get back onto the roads."

The TTC warned its customers to expect delays on bus and streetcar routes as a result of the road conditions.

The City of Toronto has 600 snowplows, 300 sidewalk plows and 200 salt trucks working to clear the roads, according to its website.

Some boards closed schools, cancelled buses

Earlier on Monday, the snowfall added a wrinkle to Ontario's already-contentious school reopening plan. Students across the province were supposed to return to school for in-person classes today after two weeks of virtual learning following the winter holidays.

The Toronto District and Toronto Catholic District School Boards cancelled the planned return to in-class learning on Monday because of the weather, instead offering the option of remote learning.

Similar announcements were made by York Region and Dufferin-Peel Catholic district school boards, along with both the public and Catholic boards in Halton, though remote learning was not offered as an option.

A full list of closures can be found here.

All Toronto Public Library branches were closed Monday due to the weather conditions.

A car parked on Dentonia Park Avenue in Toronto is seen covered in snow Monday morning. Environment Canada warned of hazardous conditions with heavy snow and strong winds resulting in 'widespread near-zero visibility.' (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Vaccine clinics shut down for the day

Vaccination clinics in Toronto, Peel and York regions were also forced to shutter as a result of the worsening weather.

"With the significant snowfall continuing today, all vaccination appointments are being cancelled to ensure the safety of Toronto residents and staff," Toronto Public Health (TPH) said in a news release.

The health unit said anyone with a scheduled appointment on Monday should have received direct communication from TPH to let them know it has been cancelled. 

TPH is encouraging everyone to rebook their vaccine appointments, as a result of the cancellation.

Similarly, all Peel and York Region Public Health-led COVID-19 vaccination clinics were cancelled and health units are also asking everyone impacted to rebook their appointments.

With files from The Canadian Press