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Winds tear across southern Ontario


Gusting winds tore the roof off a shopping plaza in Toronto's west end Friday night. Click to see a slideshow of more damage from the storm.
Gusting winds tore the roof off a shopping plaza in Toronto's west end Friday night. Click to see a slideshow of more damage from the storm.

Alexandra Pope, staff writer

February 19, 2011 — Winter suddenly returned to southern Ontario Friday, bringing damaging winds with it.

Mild temperatures on Thursday and Friday caused localized flooding in places like Collingwood
Mild temperatures on Thursday and Friday caused localized flooding in places like Collingwood

Winds strong enough to tear the roof off a shopping plaza in Toronto's west end blasted through southern Ontario Friday, heralding a sudden return to winter after days of mild weather.

Earlier in the day, temperatures reached record-breaking double digits in some areas, including Toronto, which broke a 1949 record with a high of 10.8°C. Ditches were flowing fast with snow melt, causing localized flooding in places like Collingwood and Thorold. In Ottawa, where the high hit 11.8°C on Friday, the mild temperatures forced officials to close the Rideau Canal, disappointing visitors hoping to enjoy the last weekend of Winterlude.

But the brief taste of spring didn't last. A cold front roared into southern Ontario Friday evening, dropping temperatures more than 10 degrees and packing strong winds. A gust of 96 km/h was recorded at Pearson Airport Friday night, and winds were gusting up to 60 km/h across the region, causing widespread damage.

The wind tore the roof off a strip mall in Toronto's west end, ripped a balcony off an apartment building, and toppled trees and powerlines throughout the GTA.

Strong winds also hit the northeastern United States. In Washington D.C., a gust toppled the National Christmas Tree, a 47-year-old, 13-metre-high Colorado blue spruce planted near the White House.

The winds had died down somewhat by Saturday morning, but not before they whipped up some lake effect snow to complicate things for motorists. Police shut down Highway 400 north of Highway 88 early Saturday morning due to the poor conditions. Highways 6, 12, 21 and 89 were also closed due to near-zero visibility. Intense squalls blowing off Lake Huron stretched across southern Ontario, bringing significant snow to places like Burlington, Mississauga and St. Catharines.

Snow moves in Sunday afternoon
Snow moves in Sunday afternoon

By Sunday, motorists will have other problems to contend with on the roads. A storm system will make its way into southern Ontario, bringing snow to some places, rain to others. Up to 5 cm of snow is expected for the Greater Toronto Area. Heavier amounts of snow are likely towards the Niagara Peninsula due to lake enhancement with easterly and northeasterly winds.

There is also a risk of freezing rain in some places, including Windsor and the Niagara Peninsula, says Dayna Vettese, a meteorologist at The Weather Network.

“Our surface temperatures are below 0°C, but we'll have warm air aloft, and that's when we could see some freezing rain,” she explains.“Monday is a holiday, but not for everyone, so whoever has to commute, it'll be messy in the morning.”

The battle between the spring and winter season is common at this time of year as there's still a lot of cold air entrenched across much of the north.

“Old Man Winter is going to have the last laugh,” warns Patrick Cool, another meterologist at The Weather Network. “Winter by no means is over.”

To stay up-to-date on weather conditions in your area, be sure to check your local forecast. You can also tune in to The Weather Network on TV, where your Regional Forecast comes up at the top and bottom of every hour.

You can also sign up to receive public alerts on your mobile phone.

With files from the Toronto Star, the Associated Press and Andrea Stockton.

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