Toronto, March 8, 2008. The storm might blow the city over its record for a season’s snowfall.
"It’s a huge event. … I can’t emphasize enough that it’s a mammoth storm," Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips said yesterday at the height of the Blizzard of ’08, a two-day lashing that included everything winter has to offer – gusting winds, below-freezing temperatures, sleet and snow, so much snow that scores of streets and area highways were reduced to single lanes of snow-clogged traffic for much of the day.
"I think what will happen is people will start cheering for their record," Phillips predicted, "because, if there’s any comfort in a winter of misery, it’s in at least having something to talk about in the warm days, to brag to your grandchildren, `I remember the winter of 2007-08.’"
White-outs. One accident, on average, somewhere in the GTA every two minutes. Flooded streets in Hamilton after a water main broke. Hundreds of delayed flights at Pearson International Airport on one of the busiest days of the year as March Break travellers headed for the sun and surf of warmer climes.
But there’s a flipside to all that misery. The best tobogganing in years. Bragging rights, as we’re on the verge of smashing the 207.4 centimetre record snowfall for a Toronto winter, set in 1938-39. The simple joy of a hot chocolate after shovelling out the neighbour’s driveway. Cross-country skiing that won’t stop. A walk in the park.
"I love this day because it really puts you in touch with nature," said Anthony Garbuio as he hiked through High Park yesterday with his Labrador-terrier Leila. "You are out, feeling the majesty of nature."
And just in case you missed it yesterday, there’s more of the same in store for today – blowing and drifting snow and a 40 km/h wind that will make it feel like, oh, about —20C, and then a slight warming trend that will bring us to 5C by Thursday.
The weekend storm, spawned amid tornadoes in Florida earlier in the week, swept up the eastern seaboard packing freezing rain, ice and sleet ahead of the snow, creating white-outs in Arkansas and heavy rains in Georgia and South Carolina.
As it swept up the Ohio Valley the weather system dropped more than 50 centimetres of snow in some regions, closing airports, highways, even delaying trains.
We had our own problems with delayed trains here – the TTC cancelled its Scarborough LRT line between McCowan and Kennedy after snow began interfering with the electrically powered system.
Pearson remained open, although thousands of stranded passengers might argue otherwise, and most area roads remained passable, if accident-clogged.
Police spent Friday and yesterday pleading with motorists to stay off the roads, but there were enough of us with "must-make" trips to create traffic chaos.
Naomi Da Silva, 22, had her own "must-make" trip, coming in from Mississauga with friends to take in last night’s Leafs-Devils game at the Air Canada Centre.
The drive in took more than an hour – more than twice as long as usual, she said.
No serious accidents or injuries have been reported, although Ontario Provincial Police officers expressed concerns over two missing snowmobilers – one missing on Lake Simcoe, another missing on a lake near Orillia.
Police said they expect to record more than 1,000 accidents – most of them fender-benders – by the time they finished tallying the damage from the last two days.
On the highways, Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Bruce Pritchard said, there’s a single colour – white.
"All I can tell you is I’m looking out the window now and I can’t see a thing," Pritchard said as he spoke from his office on Memorial Ave. in Orillia. "Normally I can see Highway 12 from here, only two miles away – and it’s all white."
The same colour scheme took over Toronto, where, by 4 p.m. yesterday, winds whipping through the downtown area sent horizontal waves of snow flying off the tops of buildings and onto the streets below.
Pedestrians tucked their heads deep inside the hoods of their jackets as they slipped and slid, bracing themselves against the force of the biting wind as they braved snowdrifts and the snowy salty slush thrown up by cars.
In the south building of the Toronto Convention Centre, sisters Renu Don-Liyanage, 33, and Dimple, 32, watched night descend on the snow-covered city through floor-to-ceiling windows.
What is their advice for winter? "I would say make sure you keep your fitness up," said the younger of the two, who apparently is in charge of shovelling at their Toronto home. "Snow is not just fluffy white stuff, it’s heavy."
Back out on King St. W. a quartet of out-of-towners scoffed at the suggestion this was all a hardship.
"People treat winter like it’s a trauma," said Kelly Wells, 34.
Wells, who moved to Saskatoon seven years ago, said her new hometown has had some six weeks of —20C temperatures. And that’s before the wind-chill is factored in.
Companion Aaron Beattie, 36, also from Saskatoon, took a winter veteran’s perspective when asked how to deal with the winter blahs.
"People have got to get out and do stuff," he said. "Otherwise it’s a really long season, especially in our case."
Visiting Montréal residents Agata Michalska and Ryan St. Cartier, both 28, also had some advice for effete Torontonians.
"Be prepared. Have proper snow tires," said Michalska, sipping apple cider at a Second Cup.
"You have to give yourself extra time if you are going someplace," said St. Cartier.
"You can’t be on someone’s case if they are going at their own pace," he said.
And speaking of pace, Toronto is well on the way to smashing that snowfall record set 69 years ago. With the most recent 25 centimetres of snow – to 8 p.m. – Environment Canada’s Phillips said, "we’re going to be close. It’ll just take a couple of flurries to do it."
207.4: 1938-39 snowfall in centimetres
195.2: 2007-08 snowfall in centimetres, as of 8:30 p.m. last night
12.2: Centimetres of snow between us and the record