Commuters and travellers are bracing for a rough ride as a massive storm tracking northeast is expected to bury southern Ontario and the Maritime provinces in up to 45 centimetres of snow.
Police are urging drivers to stay home, as winds gusting up to 70 km/h are expected to cause blizzard-like conditions in parts of southern Ontario.
The “Groundhog Day storm” will hit Ontario on Wednesday, the same day that Canada’s famed groundhog Wiarton Willie will make his own weather prediction.
The massive weather system originated in Texas and made its way through the Midwestern United States, where cancelled flights have left travellers stranded.
Its effects will be felt from Windsor, Ont., to Newfoundland as it travels northeast, said Environment Canada meteorologist Peter Kimbell.
Meanwhile, Nova Scotia will bear the brunt of two weather systems and may see up to 60 cm of snow by Thursday morning.
Environment Canada has issued winter storm warnings for southern Ontario and snowfall warnings for southern New Brunswick and all of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
A corridor extending from northern Niagara to Sarnia and encompassing the Hamilton and London areas is under a blizzard warning, while Windsor may see ice pellets and freezing rain.
Dave Phillips, a senior climatologist for Environment Canada, predicted the storm will be the worst one that Ontario has seen in three years.
Gusting winds and blowing snow will obscure visibility and make travel dangerous, said Phillips.
“The storm is on track and nothing is going to diminish it,” said Phillips.
“It’s a dangerous storm, it’s huge, it’s going to have a major impact. What makes it worse is the heavy amounts of snow, something we haven’t seen in a long while.”
The winter wallop is expected to slam the Toronto area with 20 to 30 cm of snow, while areas near the lower Great Lakes may receive up to 40 cm by Wednesday afternoon.
It will then continue its path northeast and will be south of Nova Scotia by Wednesday night.
The storm is the first one of the season for southern Ontario, a region that has received very little snow so far this winter, said Phillips.
Several schools, including Centennial College in Toronto, have closed in advance of the weather event, and Phillips predicted that Wednesday will be a snow day at most southern Ontario schools.
He recommends that those who can work from home should avoid venturing outside, if possible.
Flights have been cancelled from Pearson International Airport to destinations in the U.S. Midwest and northeastern states.
Porter Airlines, which operates out of Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto islands, is advising passengers to check on flights in advance.
Meanwhile, Ontario Provincial Police urge drivers to check the weather before leaving home and to avoid unnecessary travel.
Police warn that road conditions could change abruptly and recommend that any drivers stranded on highways should stay in their cars and call a tow truck or 911.
“Stay focused on your driving, stay off of the cellphones, keep two hands on the steering wheel, slow down and keep a nice safe distance,” said Sgt. Dave Woodford.
If needed, police will be setting up collision reporting centres in areas where multiple crashes occur and will be towing vehicles to the centres.
“We find that way we can do a lot more in less time,” said Woodford.
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation has readied more than 350 snowplows, salt trucks and sanders to clear the roads.
Via Rail is gearing up for a surge in business, and is adding extra capacity to accommodate the increased demand for travel in the Ontario-Quebec corridor.
Many Toronto residents said Tuesday night that they will not be heeding Environment Canada’s recommendation that they stay home on Wednesday.
James Cox, 36, works in the automotive industry and said he was planning to take public transit on Wednesday morning — provided that it’s running.
“At my workplace, they say it’s business as usual tomorrow. If you’re not going to come in, call in and you can take it as a sick day or one of your holidays,” said Cox.
“We don’t get it off just because it’s bad weather.”
Dana Guy, 34, a manager at the Bistro Bar on King St., anticipated a quiet day at work.
“There’s a really good chance a lot of people in the downtown core will stay away and try to work from home,” said Guy, who lives close enough to walk to work.
“I imagine that some people will have some trouble getting here on time. You always sort of anticipate that with weather, but I think it will be fine.”
Kimbell said the storm, which is caused by a “battle between cold air and warm air” will bring some snowfall to southern Newfoundland on Thursday before it heads over the Atlantic Ocean.