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Winter storm warning issued as Toronto braces for major ‘weather bomb’


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Winter storm warning issued as Toronto braces for major ‘weather bomb’

It’s the calm before the storm, literally.

Blizzardlike conditions are expected to hit Toronto by Friday, threatening to throw winter travel plans and planned gatherings with family and friends into disarray.

At 11:11 a.m. Thursday, Environment Canada issued a winter storm warning for Toronto.

Meteorologist Gerald Cheng said he expects rain to start overnight on Thursday with a high of 4 C. Temperatures will plummet on Friday and in the morning, rain will turn into snow. Winds are expected to gust up to 90 kilometres per hour in the GTA.

“That’s really when things go bad,” Cheng said. “Gusts combined with the snow could cause blowing snow in the afternoon and that’s going to reduce the visibility.”

Earlier this week, Environment Canada put out a statement asking Ontarians to reconsider their travel plans.

“Consider altering plans through the holiday weekend as travel conditions may become dangerous,” Environment Canada’s statement warned. “Extensive utility outages are possible.”

Toronto is not alone. On Environment and Climate Change Canada’s map of public weather alerts Thursday morning, most of Ontario was lit up red with warnings for winter weather.

The agency added that on Lake Ontario, waves could build as high as six metres on Friday afternoon.

Cheng said most of Eastern Canada would see the same weather system cause significant winter storms. Niagara and parts of Atlantic Canada could see winds up to 120 kilometres per hour.

Cheng called the system a “weather bomb,” a term used when atmospheric pressure drops more 24 millibars in 24 hours, causing significant weather.

“It’s a rapidly intensifying system,” Cheng said. “That’s the key, when it’s quickly intensifying, it’s able to generate some very strong winds and that’s what we concerned about.”

According to Cheng, Toronto will see atmospheric pressure drop about 33 millibars between Thursday evening and Friday evening.

Vincent Sferrazza, director of operations and maintenance with the City of Toronto, gave an early morning press conference on Thursday.

“This is going to one of the most challenging and tricky storms that we’ve ever had to deal with,” Sferrazza said.

Equipment is being deployed to strategic locations around Toronto to minimize the time it takes to get to their locations.

Salting will begin once the snow begins to stick.

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“Because it’s going to be freezing rain and ice pellets we will be activating all the equipment on all of the infrastructure,” Sferrazza said. That includes local roads, sidewalks, bus stops and expressways.

They receive all the services and treatments within a few hours, Sferrazza said. Ice and wind will be particularly challenging.

In a Tweet, Mayor John Tory said warming centres will open Thursday night, at the Scarborough Civic Centre, Metro Hall and the Mitchell Field Community Centre. Access to the warming centres will available on a walk-in basis.

Earlier in the day, Toronto city councillors Gord Perks, Alejandra Bravo and Ausma Malik emailed a statement to the Star saying they had asked the city to open warming centres on Thursday ahead of the storm.

“With cold weather and freezing rain arriving today, we have a duty in our city to protect one another,” the councillors wrote.

Forestry crews are prepared to respond in the event of high winds causing branches or trees to fall.

In an alert on their website, Hydro One said crews were “gearing up” for the holiday storm. The company asks Ontarians to report outages by texting 92887 or by calling 1-800-434-1235.

In a press release and a tweet, the Toronto Zoo said it will be closed on Friday in the face of severe weather, “for the safety and wellbeing of the animals, staff, volunteers and guests.”

Pearson airport cautioned that weather could impact travel and warned travellers to check their flight status before leaving.

“Winter weather forecasted for tomorrow may impact operations at Toronto Pearson. Please check your flight status with your airline before leaving for the airport,” the airport tweeted.

Earlier this week, Vancouver was hit by a heavy snow, essentially paralyzing the city and shutting down the airport.

The airport halted all incoming international arrivals until Friday morning so congestion on the tarmac could be cleared.

Hundreds of Air Canada and WestJet flights have been grounded since Sunday and other affected airports include those in Victoria and Calgary.

Cheng said the safest time to travel before the holidays would be before the storm hits Thursday evening.

“The time to prepare for the storm is now,” Cheng said. “This is the window of opportunity to get what you need for the holidays.”

With files from The Canadian Press

Isaac Phan Nay is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Reach him via email: iphannay@thestar.ca

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