From Atlantic to Pacific, gee, the weather’s just horrific – Canada

There’s no place like home for the holidays, but in large swaths of Canada and the U.S., getting there could be tricky amid a spate of weather warnings.

A storm and extreme cold in Western Canada has grounded hundreds of flights in Vancouver, Victoria and Calgary, and Environment Canada is saying to avoid any travel, if possible, in large portions of Ontario and Quebec as a winter storm approaches.

The Environment Canada warning map is lit up like a Christmas tree, full of reds and yellows, with only Manitoba completely free of warnings, watches or special weather statements. In the U.S., the same weather systems are expected to cause power outages and travel chaos.

All told, millions of people in both countries may have their travel or celebration plans affected during the holiday weekend. 

More snow on the way for already-hobbled B.C.

In B.C., travel has already been disrupted by a heavy snowfall that arrived earlier this week, including disruptions to B.C. Ferries and at Vancouver International Airport, where dozens of international flights have been affected by a backlog. Some passengers were on the tarmac for 12 hours, and the backlog had ripple effects on other flights across the country.

Calgarian Angie Ostojic said Wednesday that she and her family were trapped at the Vancouver airport, instead of on their way to the Philippines.

“There’s no plan B, because we cannot move,” she said. “We can’t go anywhere. They cannot fly us back. And we only have two weeks — supposed to — in the Philippines.”

A woman with glasses seated on the floor adjusts her yellow scarf.
Calgarian Angie Ostojic is pictured in front of multiple bags of luggage at Vancouver International Airport on Wednesday, where she was stranded, trying to get to the Philippines. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Some passengers have complained it’s nearly impossible to reach anyone with the airlines.

Matt Leger, who was stranded at the Vancouver airport attempting to get to Tampa, Fla. — and who was still stuck in Seattle on Thursday morning —  told CBC News Network he had a hard time trying to reach Air Canada.

“When I got off the plane in Seattle, I wasn’t able to talk to any representative from Air Canada — either in person or on the phone. So I was just sort of left in limbo, not knowing when my next flight will be.”

WATCH | Leger describes how the storm disrupted his holiday travel: 

Stranded Canadian describes how storm disrupted his holiday travel

Matt Leger says his trip to Tampa, Fla., has been in limbo since Monday because of the snowstorm in B.C. He was stranded in Seattle after first being stuck in Vancouver for four days.

Eventually he reached someone with the airline, who told him he’d either need to wait until Christmas or fly to Orlando, about a 135-kilometre drive from Tampa. “My dad’s going to have to come pick me up,” he said.

Officials say it will take at least another day for the airport to return to normal, but Mother Nature is piling on: Environment Canada says a “significant winter storm” is expected for B.C.’s south coast on Thursday night, with heavy winds and snow for Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley.

A tail with Air Canada's red Maple Leaf livery peeks out from behind snow that takes up most of the frame. None of the rest of the plane is visible.
The tail of an Air Canada plane is seen behind a pile of snow at Vancouver International Airport on Wednesday. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Consider postponing gatherings until Boxing Day, Ontarians told

In Ontario, the weather agency has placed most of the province under a warning or watch ahead of a major winter storm expected Friday and into the holiday weekend.

Steven Flisfeder, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said damaging winds, possible flash-freezes and blizzard-like conditions will make for difficult driving. 

If you plan to travel for holiday get-togethers, aim to arrive before the worst of the storm or try to postpone gatherings to Sunday, he said.

A graphic timeline shows the progression of a snow storm that's expected to hit the Greater Toronto Area.
Environment Canada posted to Twitter this breakdown of the storm forecast for the Greater Toronto Area. (Environment Canada/Twitter)

Until then, “take this time ahead of the storm to prepare for the conditions that will be coming,” Flisfeder said. “It’s always best to be prepared, so that you don’t have to scramble when the storm actually approaches.”

In Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa, the agency is calling for up to 15 centimetres of snow by Friday and possible 90 km/h wind gusts. In other parts of southern Ontario, overnight rain combined with plummeting temperatures into Friday could result in flash-freezing conditions.

Starting Friday, Environment Canada says a “crippling blizzard” could hit parts of southwestern Ontario, including Niagara and Owen Sound, bringing wind gusts up to 120 km/h and 15 to 30 centimetres of snow by Sunday.

C-c-c-cold elsewhere

In other parts of Canada, the hits just keep on coming:

  • Extreme cold warnings in Yukon, with zero-visibility ice fog in some locations.
  • Extreme cold warnings in every corner of Alberta, and parts of N.W.T. and Saskatchewan.
  • Special weather statements for all of the Atlantic Provinces, varying slightly by location, but warning of precipitation, high winds and storm surge on Friday and Saturday.

Any snowbirds who were hoping to outrun winter this Christmas are also out of luck. The sub-zero temperatures affecting Canada are also expected to stretch deep into the U.S.; places with names like Inland Citrus, Fla., and Sweetwater, Texas, are being warned of freezing temperatures.

WATCH | ‘Once in a generation’ storm cripples Christmas travel across the U.S.:

‘Once in a generation’ storm cripples Christmas travel across the U.S.

A powerful winter storm is making its way through the U.S. and Canada, bringing with it severe snow and freezing temperatures. The storm has already disrupted travel for many ahead of the holidays.

The U.S. National Weather Service is warning the winter storm will bring “potentially crippling impacts” to the central and eastern U.S., with record-breaking cold and “life-threatening wind chill” over the Great Plains and the eastern half of the country on Friday.

There are wind-chill warnings in 30 states.

The storm hitting the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and Interior Northeast regions will “lead to dangerous, to at times impossible, land and air travel leading up to the holiday weekend,” a statement from the service said.

The building is mostly not visible in the dark, with only the top of the building and a flag brightly lit. The snowflakes are out of focus and appear as white circles.
Snow falls at the Old Capitol Building in Iowa City, Iowa on Wednesday, when a blizzard warning was in effect. (Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen/The Associated Press)

CBC weather coverage across the country:

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