Heavy snowstorm hits southern Ontario

Crews clear snow from the stairs in front of the West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on January 17.Justin Tang / The Canadian Press

Cities across southern Ontario closed major highways and closed vaccination clinics, schools and libraries as the most snow fell for years over a wide swath of the province.

Toronto’s local transit agency, the most used in the country, said at one point that “a majority” of its surface fleet was stuck in the snow. And even places like Ottawa, known for their snowy winters, reported unusual landfills.

“It really knocked us out pretty well,” Tim Tierney, city council member and chairman of Ottawa’s transportation committee, told a briefing, noting that the city has only had snowfall greater than 30 centimeters twice in the last 14 years.

“We are running at full power. We have got our crew out and as we mentioned, it will take a few days to clean all areas.”

The storm also coincided with what was expected to be the first day of this month left in the classroom for school children in Ontario. Personal classes were canceled due to the weather, but instead of a snowy day, online schooling was resumed on most school boards.

Public Weather Forecasts Issued in Canada, by Weather Forecast

From 17 January


Public Weather Forecasts Issued in Canada, by Weather Forecast

From 17 January


Public Weather Forecasts Issued in Canada, by Weather Forecast

From 17 January


The roads were relatively quiet as those who could work from home did. In many jurisdictions, police discouraged any unnecessary travel.

“It was a good day to leave the car at home, and I think tomorrow will be the same, and maybe even the next day after that,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told a briefing.

People are helping push a TTC bus stuck in deep snow on Mt. Pleasant Rd. in Toronto on January 17th.Fred Lum / The Globe and Mail

He announced that the city had received enough snow that it could not just plow it, but had to remove it. To that end, he declared a special “snow condition” that would restrict parking in certain areas. People whose cars prevent snow removal can receive what is called a “friendly tow” – the vehicle is not seized, but instead pulled out of the way for operations and left on a nearby street.

From Niagara to Ottawa, cities canceled and changed municipal activities, including garbage collection, community services, and recreational facilities. Some, such as Hamilton, kept their vaccination clinics in operation, while others, including Toronto, closed theirs. Canada Post issued a service warning and suspended deliveries for the day.

In Toronto, police temporarily closed the two highways in the cities and urged people to stay off the roads. Prime Minister Doug Ford subsequently raised his eyebrows by driving around his neighborhood looking for people to help and do a video interview with a local TV station while sitting at the wheel.

For those who were out, the roads were treacherous as plows could not keep up with the rapidly falling snow.

A doctor on his way to a hospital north of Toronto reported that he spent four hours stuck in traffic. Some health workers went to Sunnybrook Hospital in the city center, left stuck vehicles and got on foot.

Social media was quickly filled with pictures of cars and trucks slipping out of control, as well as stranded buses and trams.

The Toronto Transit Commission said in the middle of the afternoon that hundreds of its vehicles were stuck – more than half of its fleet, according to the agency’s Twitter account, with a spokesman later changing the number to 540 of TTC’s 1,300 vehicles. A popular video on social media showed the passengers in a bus going together to push it free of the snow.

“I just want to commend the transit staff for keeping the transit system going,” said Mayor Tory, who noted that it is customary for TTC buses not to be equipped with snow tires.

“It will be there tomorrow and it will be in better condition even tomorrow as people may decide to use it instead of using their cars.”

The storm, which in some places dropped more than 40 inches of snow, came as cities also struggled with a COVID variant that has torn through municipal workforces and reduced staff. But spokesmen in a number of cities said their response was unaffected by absenteeism.

Toronto, Ottawa and Mississauga all said COVID-related absence was a non-issue with these cities’ reactions to the storm.

People shovel snow in front of their home in Merton St. on January 17th.Fred Lum / The Globe and Mail

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