People and Places

Ottawa gets reacquainted with winter

Mel and Emma LaFloor, shown in photo above, weren’t the only ones trying to dig out after Tuesday’s winter wallop. Across the city, Ottawans grappled with a return to snow.


Ottawa residents awoke Tuesday to a winter wonderland — with teeth.

Environment Canada issued a winter storm warning for Ottawa and other parts of Ontario on Monday predicting “hazardous” winter conditions, with a total of 20 to 30 centimetres of snow. Snow bucketed down during the night, with winds between 30 and 50 kilometres per hour. An additional 10 to 20 centimetres are expected Tuesday.

Temperatures were in minus double-digits, with the wind chill pushing the thermometer below minus 20 degrees.

Although many Ottawa residents lamented the lack of snow during Christmas, responses were mixed to the city’s first big dump of powder.

Travellers will be most affected, by road and by air. The MacKenzie King Bridge was closed to buses earlier Tuesday due to the snow, according to OC Transpo, while other buses and vehicles were often stuck spinning their wheels due to the snow accumulation.

The Ottawa airport warned commuters in a tweet to check flights with their carrier before flying, due to the storm here and in Toronto. Personnel were working hard to keep the airport as snow-free as possible.

A list of departures and arrivals on the website signalled cancellations and delays in red and orange text to places like Moncton, Halifax and Toronto.

Krista Kealey, a representative for the Ottawa Airport Authority, said two dozen departures and 19 arrivals have been cancelled. A handful of delays will also affect flights throughout the day, but they’re working to resolve them.

“It’s been very quiet in the terminal. We work really hard with our carrier partners to advise people in advance, at the very least giving them the information that we can.”

Passengers need to contact their carriers before coming to the airport, so that they can rebook or adjust their travel plans accordingly.

Kealey said Wednesday’s flights may still be affected by the storm, even if it tapers off here, as it moves from west to east.

“It’s hard to say, because once the airline aviation system gets disrupted, it can take a bit of time to get it to a normal state,” she said. “Hopefully it will be short-lived and things will be back to normal for tomorrow.”

Reported road collisions in the city have been lower than expected.

Cst. Chuck Benoit, spokesman for the Ottawa police, said that as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning 13 collisions were reported. This is an extremely low number for a storm of this size, he said.

“Usually we have an average of 50 in a 24 hour span on a regular day, although in a winter storm, you’re looking at doubling or tripling numbers.”

He said the numbers will probably increase as the day goes on, but because it’s still the holiday season, fewer people are on the roads.

“We are asking drivers to take their time,” said Benoit. “Give some space between vehicles, and don’t rush towards intersections, because that’s where a lot of collisions are taking place.”

He said drivers need to remember that braking distances are much shorter during winter conditions.

An overnight parking ban will be in effect from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. to allow the city to plow the streets.

And snow clearing companies that had suffered from a lack of snow this season suddenly found themselves very busy.

This was the first big storm to test the city’s much-lauded Where is my Plow? application, which uses GPS to provide real-time estimates for snow clearing of residential streets. City councillors such as Tim Tierney and Eli El-Chantiry had taken to Twitter Monday night to promote the app ahead of the promised storm. However, complaints about the commonly received response — “There are no plowing operations at this time. Please check again later” — flooded Twitter.

The City of Ottawa acknowledged the problem, posting on its website that it was  “currently experiencing intermittent technical difficulties with this web application.” A representative for the city was not immediately available for comment but a tweet on Tuesday afternoon suggested the problem had been resolved.

Environment Canada says snow should taper off later Tuesday, but advises people to be cautious of blowing and accumulated snow on highways, walkways, city streets, and parking lots, and the possibility of zero visibility at times.