TORONTO – Environment Canada says the ice storm pelting parts of southern Ontario could be “historic,” potentially downing trees and power lines and leading to widespread power outages.
The forecast left much of the region scrambling to prepare; Hydro One had extra crews on standby, some universities cancelled weekend exams and airports warned travellers to check their flights online before heading out.
Environment Canada said freezing rain, ice pellets and snow could affect areas stretching from Windsor, Ont., up to the Muskoka region and east to Ottawa.
The weather left roads slippery, at a time of year when many people had already removed their winter tires.
Provincial Police Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said there had been dozens of collisions on the highways surrounding Toronto by early Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve got cars in the ditches, we’ve got cars on the concrete wall, we’ve got cars facing the wrong way,” he said. “We’ve got problems all over the place.”
“Some people may think that it’s just wet roads, not realizing that it’s freezing rain coming down,” Schmidt added.
Peter Kimbell, a meteorologist with the weather agency, said some communities in southwestern Ontario near Sarnia and Lake Erie could get up to 40 millimetres of freezing rain — more than the 30 millimetres that hit Toronto in 2013, leaving parts of Ontario without power for days.
“It’s a lot of freezing rain, no question about it,” said Kimbell. “It certainly has the potential to cause a significant impact for sure.”
The sloppy weather is expected to continue into Sunday until temperatures rise to above freezing sometime in the afternoon.
Toronto is expected to only receive 15 millimetres of freezing rain, while Kimbell said areas like Hamilton could receive between 20 and 30 millimetres by Sunday.
Toronto’s Pearson Airport advised passengers to check their flight status before leaving, with about two dozen flights cancelled or delayed by early Saturday afternoon.
Hydro One said it has crews ready to respond to outages 24/7, and additional resources are on standby this weekend. By early Saturday afternoon, about 8,000 people were without power.
Meanwhile, various universities — including Ryerson, Waterloo, McMaster and Wilfrid Laurier — opted to delay weekend exams due to the weather.
Drivers were urged to take extra care, as gusty winds and broken tree limbs could add to the danger on icy roads.