OTTAWA: A huge snowstorm blanketed eastern Canada on Wednesday, (Feb 13) closing schools, grounding hundreds of flights and forcing many workers to stay home as tens of thousands of plows toiled to clear roads.
Big white fluffy snowflakes began falling on Tuesday afternoon, with more than 30 centimetres accumulated on the ground by the next morning and more on the way, according to weather forecasts.
Wind gusts up to 70 kilometres per hour were also expected in the evening, blowing snow and severely reducing visibility from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal to the Atlantic coast provinces.
A winter storm warning was in place for much of the region and travel was not advised.
Nearly 250 flights were cancelled in Montreal since Tuesday, while travellers described disruptions at the country's biggest airport in Toronto, where flight cancellations topped 400, as a nightmare.
In Ottawa, residents sweated under toques and heavy parkas trying to dig out. The odd commuter on skis was spotted headed to work. Others wore snowshoes.
Public broadcaster CBC Radio started reporting the near-record dump in height of dog breeds - from a Beagle to a Great Dane, and invited kids to call in to share their "snow day" stories after scheduled guests cancelled.
Ice sculptures for the city's annual Winterlude festival, meanwhile, were wrapped to protect them from snow, ice pellets, possible freezing rain and strong winds.
In Toronto, administrators took the rare step of closing all schools and authorities reported more than 60 road accidents and a few power outages, while in Montreal, kids turned icy stairs outside their homes into toboggan runs.
'LIKE A DREAM'
According to meteorologists, the late winter storm was caused by a "Colorado low," forming in the US state and picking up moisture and warmth from the Gulf of Mexico before heading north.
Environment Canada weatherman Simon Legault noted that Montreal was expected to get a whopping 40 centimetres of snow over two days, or one-fifth of the amount that would normally fall on the city all winter.
"It's been a sawtooth winter," he said, describing big and frequent swings in temperatures from -40 Celsius to above freezing, and the reverse, in a matter of hours.
"There's been a lot more snow than usual too," he added.
For winter sports enthusiasts, it was a heyday.
"Lots of snow!" the National Capital Commission (NCC) said on its website, announcing large numbers of cross-country and backcountry skiers hitting trails in Gatineau Park, near Ottawa.
The Rideau Canal skateway - the longest in the world - was also open but ice conditions were listed as only "fair due to light snow cover." Officials warned skaters to watch for cracks and rough ice hidden beneath the snow.
And Quebec's Mont Tremblant ski resort said business was brisk, with many people taking advantage of school and office closures to hit the slopes.
"It's my first winter," Sami Seddiki, who moved to Montreal from France six months ago, told AFP. "I find it exotic. It's like a dream."