What a difference a year makes. Last winter, as the GTA basked in above normal temperatures right through to the tail end of January, many were asking ‘where did winter go?’
This year, those same people were wondering ‘when will winter go away?’ The answer, at least according to the calendar, is this Thursday at 1:48am, when spring finally makes its long awaited appearance.
That doesn’t mean we’re out of the bad weather woods yet – just that we’ve turned the corner and you can see the good stuff from here. So how bad has this winter actually been? In addition to being a near record setter and costing the city more than $46 million, it’s been one of the longest and most brutal in recent memory.
With 185 centimetres down so far since December 22 nd, we’re just a few flakes off the all time record of 207.4 set back in 1938-39.
So will spring be any better? Not right away. According to CityNews Meteorologist Michael Kuss, the La Nina effect could keep blowing storms our way at least into early to mid-April. That means cooler than normal temperatures and yes, more snow. In fact, the coming month averages about 6 centimetres of snow, so don’t put that shovel away just yet.
But with more sun and longer days, the good news is the snow won’t stick around quite as long. And by the end of the month, things are expected to improve, with low double digits temperatures more the norm.
Here’s a look back at the season we all thought might never end.
We should have known something was up. We got plenty of snow in November, when it was technically still fall. It was a warning sign of things to come, although no one knew it at the time. A huge storm hit Ontario and the GTA on December 16th, with at least 25 centimetres on the ground. There was a week to go before the official start of winter.
It was the first day after the official start of winter, and it was a surprise – we got pelted not with flakes but with liquid. The GTA was in the middle of a rare warm spell, and homeowners packed away their shovels and took out their umbrellas. Winds gusting from 70-100 kilometres an hour blew through the region, and many of those rain-deflecting devices turned inside out. But those snow scoops would be needed soon – the mild temperatures of 8C disappeared the next day, leaving icy surfaces everywhere.
‘Twas the day before Christmas and the temperatures plunged to a level even Santa Claus would have shivered in. It turned all that rain from the day before into ice and roads and sidewalks into skating rinks on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
They gathered for Citytv’s Annual New Year’s Eve Bash at City Hall and they stood in the beginning of a blinding snowstorm to ring in 2008. It was an ominous weather start to the New Year and it was a sign of things to come.
The OPP dealt with nearly 200 crashes in the first 12 hours of 2008, and that’s with very few cars on the road because of the holiday. It wasn’t just the snow but the bitterly cold temperatures that accompanied them that made matters much worse, leading to the first extreme cold weather alert of the year, with wind chills near -26. It would stay that way for days.
After nearly a week of shivering in the cold and snow, the weather roller coaster shifted again, this time in the other direction. The city went from one extreme to the other, hitting 15C and causing some to come outside dressed in just shorts and T-shirts. It was the warmest Jan. 7th on record, beating the measly 6.5C reached in 1998. But like all good things, it would soon to come to a bitter end, with rain followed by more cold.
When winter came back, it seemed anxious to let everyone know about its return. The GTA was gripped by a wind storm that left downed power lines, garbage blowing everywhere and trees crashing down on cars. At one point gusts hit 107 kilometres an hour at Pearson International Airport and left two planes turned over at Buttonville.
But perhaps the biggest fallout of all came at one of the city’s busiest places. The wind blew some giant letters down off the CIBC Tower at King and Bay, forcing officials to close both roads to traffic and pedestrians for a day. They finally reopened 24 hours later.
After a brief respite with livable temperatures, the bottom dropped back out of the thermometer, plunging the GTA into the deep freeze. Roads turned into rinks and there were two jack-knifed tractor trailers on two different highways, both weather related. Temperatures that had been relatively balmy just two days before were down to -10C – and falling. Another extreme cold alert would follow.
The sudden cold snap also caused a huge water main break at St. Clair and Yonge, forcing officials to close most of the roadway for hours. The freeze and the H20 caused the pavement to buckle, resulting in traffic chaos at one of the heaviest travelled spots in the city.
The icy conditions played havoc up north, as more than 100 cars were involved in a series of chain reaction crashes along or near Highway 400. At least 50 people were rushed to hospital, but all amazingly emerged unscathed. The same couldn’t be said for their cars.
It had been a while since the last big snowfall, but when just 4 centimetres fell for the first time since New Year’s Day, motorists weren’t ready. There were scores of accidents as drivers failed to adjust to the suddenly slippery roads. And more was coming.
Things were worse out of town. Snow squalls and storms between Woodstock and Cambridge resulted in a massive 40-50 vehicle pile-up in white-out conditions along the 401. Overall, there were nearly 500 accidents in just under 24 hours, and the OPP was forced to close a stretch of the highway until the worst was over.
The high winds were back with a vengeance, as bone chilling cold returned. Gusts to 90 kilometres an hour made it feel more like -25 at times. More trees came down and at Yonge and Eglinton, The Canadian Tire office tower was forced to close after the bitter breezes shattered the windows, leaving glass shards all over the street.
Things were equally troublesome outside the city, after a tractor trailer with no payload inside it toppled in the wind on the Burlington Skyway.
A new month brings a preview of what’s to come. As the GTA enters the dead of winter, Mother Nature makes it clear we’re going to be suffering for a while. February roared in with a huge snowstorm that lead to a fatal accident among the more than 560 mishaps reported, and complicated a double murder investigation after a shooting at a Danforth Road high rise.
For the more innocent in the crowd, it was a dream come true. Many schools were closed because of the weather, leading to nearly every kid’s favourite phrase – a snow day, the first one in Toronto public schools in years.
It is the beginning of an all too familiar pattern that will have locals tearing out their hair and shoveling non-stop over the next few weeks – a snow storm about every three days.
Wiarton Willie doesn’t see his shadow on Groundhog Day and predicts an early end to winter. He couldn’t have been more off the mark.
Just days after Ontario’s most famous rodent issues his prediction, the province gets hit with its worst snowstorm yet. As much as 30 centimetres fell over a 24-hour period, the biggest one-day fall of flakes in three decades.
It left a major mess on the roads and sidewalks, causing over 640 collisions – what the OPP termed ‘a crash a minute’ – and forcing exhausted snowplow crews back on the streets to get rid of as much of it as possible.
The storm was so big that some places were literally left paralyzed. Almost every road in Dufferin County was closed, after the region got hit with an astounding 55 centimetres of snow from the single storm.
Forecasters were calling it the coldest day of the year – and considering the year, that’s saying something. An Arctic front moved into the GTA, leaving temperatures sinking to almost -30C in places and no one outside for long, leading to the fourth extreme cold weather alert of the year.
This was the one that had winter weary GTA residents screaming ‘enough, already!’ Less than a week after a record breaking one day dumping, another one hit us hard. Residents were shoveling out from 15-20 cm of snow, and the one question on everyone’s mind beyond ‘when is it going to stop?’ was this one: ‘where are we going to put it all?’
As it turned out, even the city didn’t have an immediate answer, with many homeowners located on side streets complaining the plows had simply forgotten about them, leaving hundreds stranded.
And for some who couldn’t get their cars out, even the Better Way wasn’t. GO Trains and buses experienced their usual storm related slowdowns and the Scarborough SRT was shut down because snow buried the rails that sent power to the trains.
But we had it easy. At least we had plows. In Kawartha Lakes, a strike by CUPE workers meant there were no city plows operating, and they were buried in so much snow, some kids didn’t go to school for days because there was no way for them to get there.
Toronto was in crisis. There were so many flakes, so few places to put them all and so many exhausted plow operators, City Hall brought out an expensive emergency plan. Trucks would offer a ‘friendly tow’ to cars parked on side streets, so crews could clear away the mountainous messes and then bring the autos back to where they were. The cost for all this back-and-forth: $20 million.
It’s the first Family Day weekend and while many are trying to figure out if they have the day off, Old Man Winter leaves for his own respite, leading to a big melt of all that had already fallen, and prompting warnings about flooding with forecasts of heavy rain. Icy roads as temperatures fluctuate also cause problems for those looking to get away for the holiday weekend.
The rain moves out and the cold moves back, leaving sidewalks almost impassable and pedestrians walking dangerously on the narrowed roads. The wind chill: -14.
The Leap Year month ends the way it started – with more snow. An Alberta Clipper races through the GTA, causing more accidents – including a terrible fatal collision that left two dead at Weston and Sheppard.
It was just one of many accidents that took drivers by sudden surprise.
The weird weather continues, but instead of more winter, it’s more like spring. A sudden mild spell causes temperatures to soar to 8C and brings much of the GTA outdoors.
Just two days after some people had taken off their heavy coats, another huge dump comes down, leaving motorists struggling to get around and shovellers straining their backs – again – to clear it away.
But some loved every minute of it, with daredevil surfers heading out into Lake Ontario to brave the chilly waves that came with the surge.
Oddly, the calm after the storm was noticeable. The GTA went from an Arctic-like fortress to brilliant sunshine in just a matter of hours and in some places, the fresh snow melted.
But the absolute worst was still to come.
It’s the start of March Break but there is to be no break from winter. A vicious storm moves in on a Friday afternoon and decides to stay the weekend.
This amazing blast lasts 36 hours and goes virtually non-stop, paralyzing the city, and leaving thousands of would-be vacationers stranded at Pearson International Airport. The lucky ones got away before it arrived in the morning. For the rest, it was a long night – and for some, those nights lasted up to three days.
The storm began Friday afternoon and didn’t stop until early morning Sunday. The GTA received between 20-40 cm, with areas in Niagara and Ottawa getting 50.
There were more than 700 accidents during this one, mostly involving cars spinning out or hitting guard rails on the highways. And things were just as bad in town, where 6 foot high snow banks made seeing around them a hazard for drivers on city streets.
Exactly a week after the monster storm, Mother Nature makes up to us, as temperatures finally – some would say almost mercifully – warm up to 7C. It’s not exactly a heat wave, but most don’t care, as they emerge to bask in the start of a two-day warm-up, amid fears of a big melt and a big flood. Fortunately, neither came to pass.