Winter storm sweeps Toronto, leaving slippery roads, power outages, flight cancellations

A major winter storm brought snow and wind to the Greater Toronto Area on Friday, leaving slippery roads, power outages and flight cancellations in its wake.

Strong winds, blowing snow to continue into Saturday, Environment Canada says

A person walks past a car that crashed into a nearby electricity pole.
Torontonians navigate icy conditions and blowing snow on Dec. 23, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The latest: 

  • About 800 customers in Toronto were without power as of 10:30 p.m., according to Toronto Hydro.
  • A total of 70,000 customers in Ontario were without power as of 8 p.m., according to Hydro One.
  • Up to 100 vehicles were involved in a collision on Highway 401 west of London, Ont., according to the Ontario Provincial Police.
  • Air Canada and Porter Airlines cancelled flights out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. City of Toronto ferry service to Toronto Islands was cancelled.
  • WestJet cancelled all flights out of Pearson saying weather situation across Canada "unlike anything we've experienced."
  • On the TTC's Line 3, there is no service between Kennedy and McCowan stations.
  • School boards across southern Ontario were closed to students on Friday.

A major winter storm brought snow and wind to the Greater Toronto Area on Friday, leaving slippery roads, power outages and flight cancellations in its wake.

Const. Jeniffer Sidhu, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, said there were crashes in Toronto as result of slippery roads on Friday. No number of collisions was available.

"We have had radio calls where officers had to attend to crashes," she said on Friday night. 

Police are asking people to stay home if they can. She said if they cannot, they are urged to drive slowly, keep a distance between vehicles and proceed with caution.

Toronto residents escaped the worst when it came to power outages, with about 800 customers without power as of 10:30 p.m., according to Nicole Kubas, spokesperson for Toronto Hydro.

There were about 70,000 customers in Ontario without power as of 8 p.m., according Meghan Collie, spokesperson for Hydro One. Crews restored power to 110,000 customers since 4 a.m.

Winter storm warning still in effect for Toronto

A winter storm warning remained in effect for Toronto on Friday night. In the warning, Environment Canada said the major winter storm will continue into Saturday.

"Travel will be extremely difficult and is not advised," the federal weather agency said.

Earlier, Ontario Provincial Police warned people to avoid non-essential travel during the winter storm. 

"Road and weather conditions continue to deteriorate," Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, spokesperson for the OPP's Highway Safety Division, said in a tweet on Friday. "Please stay home if you can."

Schmidt said police saw major problems across the province.

Earlier Friday, about 100 vehicles were involved in a pileup that led OPP to close a roughly 120-kilometre stretch of the Highway 401 from London to Tilbury, along with Highway 402 from Michigan to London.

"Let the plows and salters do their job," he said.

A pileup of trucks and cars next to pieces of debris is pictured outside as snow continues to fall onto the ground.
Ontario Provincial Police says its advising against travel non-essential travel as a winter storm batters southwestern Ontario. The storm has lead to a multi-vehicle crash that has closed parts of the Highway 401 and Highway 402 corridor, police say. (OPP West Region/Twitter)

The president of the Ontario Paramedic Association said ambulance services across the province were working at "full levels" on Friday.

Darryl Wilton said slippery road conditions combined with closed and blocked roadways were making it difficult for paramedics to travel to calls, causing delays.

"Paramedics are often proceeding to one call and coming across other incidents like motor-vehicle collisions on their way there, where they're [then] radioing in for additional resources," he said.

The weather is expected to improve slightly on Saturday but not by much.

"It could get very slippery," Mitch Meredith, meteorologist for Environment Canada, said on Friday.

Meredith said high winds on Saturday could make it feel like it's snowing even after the snow has tapered off into flurries.

Environment Canada predicted winds up to 100 kilometres an hour in many parts of Ontario.

Toronto's forecast calls for:

  • Five to 15 centimetres of snow by Saturday morning.

  • Strong winds with gusts up to 90 km/h, continuing into Saturday.

  • Wind chill values in the minus 20s that will persist through the weekend.

The federal weather agency urges people to avoid "non-essential" travel during the storm. 

If the power or data on your device is low, get your storm updates on CBC Lite. It's our low-bandwidth, text-only website.

Several Greater Toronto Area school boards closed schools on Friday due to the storm. As well, the TTC and GO Transit have both made service adjustments in light of the storm. You can find all the details here.

Salting of city streets underway

The City of Toronto, in an update late afternoon, said all roads were currently being salted.

Snow clearing on sidewalks, bikeways, multi-use paths, transit stops and crosswalks has also started, signalling two centimetres of snow has accumulated so far.

Additional plowing will begin when the snow reaches:

  • 2.5 centimetres on expressways.
  • Five centimetres on major roads, transit routes and streets with hills.
  • Eight centimetres on residential streets.

WATCH |To brine or not to brine the roads? John Tory answers the question:

To brine or not to brine the roads? John Tory answers the question

9 months ago
Duration 2:17
In advance of a major winter storm expected to hit Toronto, city officials, including Mayor John Tory, outline protocols around salting and brining of roads.

The city also opened three warming centres on Thursday night for people experiencing homelessness:

  • Scarborough Civic Centre, 150 Borough Dr., opened at 7 p.m.
  • Metro Hall, 55 John St., opened at 7 p.m.
  • Mitchell Field Community Centre, 89 Church Ave., opened at 8 p.m.

All city recreation centres, arenas, and conservatories are closed due to the weather, but the city said Agincourt Recreation Centre, John Innes Community Recreation Centre and Regent Park Community Centre will stay open for respite from the cold.

According to the city, forestry crews are preparing to respond if high winds snap branches or bring trees down.

Hazards to public safety or property and roads that needs to be cleared will be the priority. Residents can report fallen branches and trees to 311, but the city is asking residents to wait at least 16 hours after the snow stops falling to create a request.

Toronto Water crews are also on standby to repair watermain breaks and offer help if local areas flood.

The city advised residents to avoid travel until conditions improves.

All residents are also urged to keep a safe distance from snow clearing equipment and crews to let them do their work.

WestJet cancels all flights out of Pearson

Meanwhile, WestJet cancelled all flights arriving and departing from Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Friday. 

The cancellations began at 9 a.m. ET until the end of the day and the airline says a "restart" depends on weather conditions by Saturday.

Other airlines followed suit. Porter Airlines and Air Canada have cancelled all flights at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, with the latter cancelling "a number of flights" in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.

Along with Pearson airport, WestJet said the cancellations will affect 140 flights across four airports in Ottawa, London, Waterloo and Montreal. It added that the decision to cancel was made after it consulted airport authorities and NAV Canada. All travellers have been notified, it said.

"The prolonged and extreme weather events that continue to impact multiple regions across Canada are unlike anything we've experienced," said Diederik Pen, WestJet's chief operations officer, said in a statement.

A couple with several pieces of luggage are seen walking outside an airport terminal as it's snowing.
People arrive at Terminal 3 during a winter storm at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Dec. 23, 2022. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Tori Gass, spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority, said the expected high winds and blowing snow could significantly slow down operations.

Gass added it is "definitely a possibility" that other airlines could begin mass cancelling flights if conditions deteriorate, and she urged all travellers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.

How should you prepare?

Residents are urged to make an emergency plan and prepare a kit with drinking water, food, medicine, first aid supplies and a flashlight, the federal weather agency says.

Environment Canada says residents should continue to check local forecasts. 

With files from Muriel Draaisma, Jane Gerster, Vanessa Balintec and The Canadian Press