Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wintry mess pounds Eastern Canada

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MONTREAL -- A powerful mix of snow, ice pellets and freezing rain was descending on Eastern Canada on Saturday, causing flight delays and highway accidents on one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.

Environment Canada issued weather warnings for an area stretching from southern Ontario to Prince Edward Island.

Already, difficult conditions may have played a role in three deaths in three separate highway accidents in Quebec on Saturday, along with a fourth in Ontario.

Freezing rain began falling in the early hours of Saturday morning in parts of Quebec and Ontario, with more forecast to arrive by late evening.

The conditions caused dozens of cancellations and delays through midnight Saturday at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport and Toronto's Pearson International and Billy Bishop airports.

Katarina Komesarovic, from London, Ont., was trying to stay optimistic that her Saturday-night flight from Toronto to Timmins in northeastern Ontario wouldn't be cancelled and throw a wrench into her Christmas plans.

"It would be the first year that I have not returned in the nine years that I've been away from home, so it would be a big deal -- especially for my parents. But I'm hoping... that we do make the flight tonight and I will be able to see them for the holidays," she said Saturday afternoon as she was boarding a shuttle bus for Bishop.

But forecasters predicted the worst was yet to come.

Environment Canada said a "major ice storm" was expected across a large swath of southern Ontario late Saturday as part of a "potent" system from the southern United States.

Talk of a heavy dose of freezing rain even had some people on social media recalling the infamous ice storm of 1998, though meteorologists said this weekend's system was unlikely to compare.

In that earlier storm, parts of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes were battered by three successive waves of freezing rain without interruption, leaving millions without power -- in some cases for more than a month.

This time around, the forecast was for two waves of freezing rain with a break in between, the first hitting eastern Ontario and southern Quebec early Saturday morning, said Mitch Meredith, a meteorologist with Environment Canada.

Even if the current storm doesn't stack up to the 1998 version, Meredith said it should be taken seriously.

He said it will gradually make its way eastward, causing flight delays and poor driving conditions through Sunday.

"We're thinking that things could get a little worse tonight as the cold air is entrenched," he said.

"Slowly as the ice builds up, the impact will increase."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2013 A6

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