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Groundhog Day storm tracks east


Widespread winter storm warnings in eastern Canada
Widespread winter storm warnings in eastern Canada

Alexandra Pope, staff writer

February 2, 2011 — The Groundhog Day storm is now tracking eastward towards Kingston and Ottawa, before it moves on to Quebec and the Maritimes.

Snowfall totals expected through Wednesday.
Snowfall totals expected through Wednesday.

LATEST STORM UPDATE

The 'Groundhog Day Storm' is pounding southern Ontario with heaps of snow. Upwards of 30 cm is forecast for some areas by the mid-afternoon.

As of 5 a.m. this morning, Windsor had already been hit with 15 cm. The snow, combined with forceful winds and even lightning strikes has prompted Environment Canada to issue a blizzard warning for cities including London and Hamilton. The rest of the region is under a winter storm warning.

Winds were also incredibly fierce. As of 10 a.m. Long Point, along the shore of Lake Erie saw peaks gusts of 103 km/h, and Toronto Island was lashed with 67 km/h winds.

Dayna Vettese, a meteorologist here at The Weather Network says that “the worst of the snowfall is over for the Toronto area and the system is now tracking east towards Kingston and Ottawa.” These areas are expected to see up to 20 cm of snow by the time the storm rolls through.

As the snow eases across most of southern Ontario by the evening hours, it'll be revving up across Quebec and the Maritimes throughout Wednesday afternoon. More than 35 cm is expected to hammer Halifax and surrounding area. There are already several school closures across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

CANCELLATIONS

The storm has prompted hundreds of closures and cancellations all across southern Ontario.

GO Transit will be running on an adjusted schedule, which means express trains will be making all stops.

“This limits the number of trains crossing over onto other tracks, reducing the likelihood of switch problems, as well as snow and ice buildup,” explains Vanessa Thomas, a spokesperson for GO.

A quarter of the flights at Toronto's Pearson International Airport have been cancelled due to severe weather conditions there.

Several airlines are encouraging travellers to check their flight information before heading to the airport.

The City of Windsor has declared a snow emergency in order to activate its municipal snow removal plan. Plowing of major routes will begin as soon as the snow begins to fall; residential streets will not be plowed until the storm has ended.

DRIVING CONDITONS

Officials are asking people to drive with caution if you're planning on travelling in the snow. According to CAA the call count reached around 800 as of 9 a.m. this morning. Here are the latest wait times: GTA 45-70 minutes, Barrie and north 90 minutes, Newmarket/Aurora 75-90 minutes, Windsor 120 minutes, Hamilton 120 minutes, Durham 60 minutes, Peterborough 75-90 minutes and Kingston 90 minutes. All ETA's are expected to rise due to the poor road and travel conditions.

Peter Noehammer, director of transportation with the City of Toronto - which hasn't seen more than 20 cm of snow at once since February 2008 - says drivers will have to be patient.

“It looks like it will be difficult to not only keep the roads open and clear for the commuters, but with the snow continuing to fall, visibility will be reduced as well,” he says.

It also means drivers will have to remember how to share the road with snowplows.

When winter storms hit, the safest place to be is at home, and the Ontario Provincial Police are asking people to avoid unnecessary travel Wednesday.

TIPS FOR WINTER DRIVING

Those who have to venture out on the roads should be familiar with some winter driving techniques, says Tom Reynolds, traffic and transit specialist with The Weather Network.

For example, shifting a vehicle with an automatic transmission into neutral when coming to a stop on slick or snow-covered roads will prevent the wheels from pushing the vehicle forward and help it stop more quickly.

If the vehicle goes into a skid, don't brake; try to steer out of the situation.

“Look where you want to go,” says Reynolds. “If you look towards the ditch, you'll end up in the ditch. If you want to go back onto the road, look towards the road and you will steer in that direction almost automatically.”

It's also a good idea to pack a survival kit, including a blanket, food, shovel, candles and an alternate heat source.

“If you get stuck on the side of the road or in a ditch, you could be there for a long time,” Reynolds says. “Emergency crews won't be able to respond as quickly.”

The most important thing is to slow down, especially in whiteout conditions, although something as simple as making sure your fuel tank is full can make your vehicle heavier and less prone to skidding.

If the vehicle does go into a skid, don't brake, Reynolds says.

WHY IS THIS SYSTEM SO POTENT?

The conditions involved in the formation of this storm have come together in all the right ways to make it such a strong system.

“Part of the reason this system has so much moisture associated with it is because it is tapping into warm air from the Gulf of Mexico,” explains Dayna Vettese, a meteorologist at The Weather Network. Vettese also says an area of high pressure bringing bitterly cold temperatures to the Prairies is a factor in the intensity and location of the snowfall.

“The high pressure in the west is creating a very tight pressure gradient. That's forcing precipitation into a tighter concentrated band of snow.” She also adds the pressure gradient will be responsible for gusty winds which will lead to blowing snow and whiteout conditions.

The system will taper off by Wednesday evening, but don't expect a smooth drive home, cautions Rob Davis, another meteorologist at The Weather Network.“If you made it to work, you're going to have a bit of a rough commute getting back,” he says.

A band of freezing rain associated with the storm could brush over the southernmost tip of Ontario, but most of the freezing rain will affect the northeastern United States.

The storm will push into Atlantic Canada for Thursday, leaving cold temperatures in its wake. If the numbers play out as expected, Davis says the storm will be one to talk about.

“We're going to get quite the storm.”

For more details as this storm develops, be sure to check your local forecast.

You can also sign up to receive weather updates and alerts on your mobile phone.

With files from Jill Colton, Matt Casey and Andrea Stockton

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