December 13, 2010 was a day that many drivers in southwestern Ontario won't soon forget.
An intense lake-effect snow storm brought in heavy snow, powerful winds and frigid temperatures. The result was impassable roads and dangerous white outs.
Highway 402, a major route connecting Sarnia and London, was completely shut down. Hundreds of drivers were trapped on the road. A state of emergency was declared, and Emergency Management Ontario issued a “red alert” for the area.
Police relied on snowmobiles and 4 x 4 vehicles to get through the dangerous weather conditions. Military helicopters were also sent to the area to help with the rescue efforts. At one point, more than 360 vehicles needed assistance on the 402.
Drivers were told to stay in their cars until rescuers get to them. Despite spending hours trapped on the roadway, everyone was okay.
Camera Operator Mark Rozitas was in the thick of the storm and was also there for the search and rescue.
“I went with a farmer on a large tractor and we were able to get through the drifts and pull some people out,” he said. “I gave all the spare fuel I had in the red can to one lady who had no cell phone and very little fuel left.”
“We had extremely high wind, heavy snow, blizzard conditions,” Rozitas recalls. “You simply could not see what side of the road you were on. Many people were stuck in cars and trucks.”
While December 2010 was a trying time for the stranded motorists and rescue teams, most remember the storm for bringing the community together. Police say drivers used a buddy system to band together and help save fuel. Warming centres were also opened in Wyoming, Watford, Forest and Warwick to provide shelter and food for anyone near the affected area.
One year later, the weather story looks a little different across southwestern Ontario.
“The squalls have started quite late this year,” says Gerald Cheng, a meteorologist at The Weather Network. “Temperatures were quite warm in November, and have been through the first part of December as well. That's why an event of that magnitude hasn't happened yet this year.”
For an idea of what is expected through the rest of the season, be sure to check The Weather Network's Winter Outlook 2011/2012.