Southern Ontario hit by storm with snow, freezing rain and ice pellets

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Southern Ontario hit by storm with snow, freezing rain and ice pellets
Workers try to move an industrial freezer over the metro tracks near the Government Center Plaza tracks as the snow picked up in downtown Minneapolis, Saturday, April 14, 2018. The National Weather Service predicts 9 to 15 inches of snow across a large swath of southern Minnesota including the Twin Cities before it's all over. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via AP)

TORONTO:  Environment Canada says the ice storm pelting parts of southern Ontario could be “historic,” potentially downing trees and power lines and leading to widespread power outages.

The forecast left much of the region scrambling to prepare; Hydro One had extra crews on standby, some universities cancelled weekend exams and airports warned travellers to check their flights online before heading out.

Environment Canada said freezing rain, ice pellets and snow are affecting areas stretching from Windsor, Ont., up to the Muskoka region and east to Ottawa.

The weather agency also issued a wind warning for gusts up to 90 km/h in the Hamilton area for Sunday morning, which could cause damage to buildings, toss loose objects and break tree branches.

The weather left roads slippery, at a time of year when many people had already removed their winter tires.

Provincial Police Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said there had been more than 200 collisions on the highways in the Greater Toronto Area by Saturday afternoon.

“We’ve got cars in the ditches, we’ve got cars on the concrete wall, we’ve got cars facing the wrong way,” he said. “We’ve got problems all over the place.”

“Some people may think that it’s just wet roads, not realizing that it’s freezing rain coming down,” Schmidt added.

Peter Kimbell, a meteorologist with the weather agency, said some communities in southwestern Ontario near Sarnia and Lake Erie could get up to 40 millimetres of freezing rain _ more than the 30 millimetres that hit Toronto in 2013, leaving parts of Ontario without power for days.

“It’s a lot of freezing rain, no question about it,” said Kimbell. “It certainly has the potential to cause a significant impact for sure.”

The sloppy weather is expected to continue into Sunday until temperatures rise to above freezing sometime in the afternoon.

Toronto is expected to only receive 15 millimetres of freezing rain, while Kimbell said areas like Hamilton could receive between 20 and 30 millimetres by Sunday.

Toronto’s Pearson Airport advised passengers to check their flight status before leaving, with hundreds of flight cancellations and delays being reported by Saturday afternoon.

Hydro One said it has crews ready to respond to outages 24/7, and additional resources are on standby this weekend. By early Saturday afternoon, about 8,000 people were without power.

Meanwhile, various universities _ including Ryerson, Waterloo, McMaster and Wilfrid Laurier _ opted to delay weekend exams due to the weather.

Drivers were urged to take extra care, as gusty winds and broken tree limbs could add to the danger on icy roads.

Toronto’s conservation authority also warned that the inclement weather could cause flooding in some parts of the city.

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority said the high amount of precipitation in the area means rivers could rise by Sunday night and into Monday morning.

“It is difficult to determine the extent of flooding possible, so TRCA advises the public to stay alert to changing conditions,” read a statement on the organization’s website.