Freezing rain hits southern Ontario, closing schools and snarling traffic

Sarah Diniz scrapes ice from the windshield of her car on Wednesday morning February 6, 2019 in Brantford, Ontario. The City of Brantford declared a Significant Weather Event, schools were closed and driving conditions were a concern as the region was hit with freezing rain. Brian Thompson/Brantford Expositor/Postmedia Network

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An ice storm working its way across southern Ontario shuttered schools and snarled traffic on Wednesday, but Environment Canada said the weather wasn’t expected to be as severe as similar events in the recent past.

Warning preparedness meteorologist Peter Kimbell said the agency has issued freezing rain warnings for a large swath of the province, covering the Greater Toronto Area, extending west to Lake Huron and south to Lake Erie. Precipitation is expected north of those areas as well, though Kimbell said it will be more likely to take the form of ice pellets and snow.

Ice accumulation will likely range between five and 15 millimetres in impacted areas, Kimbell said, largely falling short of maximums of 30 millimetres set during ice storms that blanketed eastern Ontario in 1998 and the Toronto region in 2013.

“It’s certainly significant,” Kimbell said, citing the impact on schools and transportation. “But it’s not in the same category as the bigger ice storms that we’ve seen before.”

Kimbell said impacted regions would likely experience the worst of the storm throughout Wednesday morning and early afternoon, with the freezing rain expected to taper off to drizzle later in the day.

Hydro issues are possible in areas where ice buildup topples tree branches or otherwise impacts power lines, but Kimbell said relatively low winds should limit the number of potential outages.

The effects of the storm should be further mitigated on Thursday, he said, when sub-zero temperatures climb above the freezing mark for much of the impacted area and help melt some of the accumulated ice.

Many school boards and some post-secondary institutions cancelled classes and bus routes due to the slippery road conditions.

The University of Toronto, Ryerson University, all Humber College campuses, Seneca College and the University of Guelph’s Humber campus cancelled classes for the day.

The Peel District School Board, Waterloo Region and Waterloo Catholic District School Boards, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and Halton District School Board were among those that closed schools and suspended bus service for the day.

Hamilton-Wentworth spokesman Shawn McKillop said board policy dictates that except in rare circumstances, no classes are in session when buses are cancelled during “severe weather events.”

Such calls, he said, are made by the director of education after “spotters” drive pre-determined inclement weather routes and report their findings on road conditions, visibility and precipitation accumulation before 5:45 a.m.

That approach is not in place across the province. Boards in Toronto and York Region, for instance, opted to keep schools open but cancelled bus service.

Toronto District School Board spokesman Ryan Bird said officials have no set criteria in place when deciding which services to maintain in severe weather, adding every situation is approached case-by-case.

He said all closures have the potential to make life challenging for parents and caregivers regardless of what services are impacted.

“Should all schools be closed, it causes significant hardship for many families,” he said. “For a number of families, there are no other options readily available for their children.”

Christina Choo-Hum of the York Region District School Board said keeping schools in session is meant to protect students.

“Decisions are made in the best interest of student safety, which includes making every effort to keep schools open for students,” she said. “As always, parents have the final say over whether or not their children should attend school when we’re experiencing challenging weather conditions.”

The Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, based in Belleville, Ont., dismissed classes early and reached out to parents starting mid-day to come collect their children.

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