Every province and territory in Canada issued an emergency weather warning on Saturday, as winter storms left thousands without power, grounded hundreds of flights and caused the pileup of dozens of cars on a highway in Ontario.
Even Canadians accustomed to the cold and the vagaries of Arctic weather systems found themselves contending with a lengthy list of extreme conditions that in addition to heavy snow and hypothermia-inducing temperatures, also included storm surges, ice fog, strong winds and so-called ice bombs.
“Across Canada, there were 425 weather warnings,” an almost unprecedented number, said David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, the national meteorological agency.
“There were thousands of power outages and the impact was everywhere on the busiest travel time of the year,” Mr. Phillips said. Wind chill readings, he said, dipped to -50 degrees Celsius, about -58 degrees Fahrenheit. Such cold, he added, “freezes flesh in minutes.”
The weather across Canada is part of the same system afflicting much of the United States, which has disrupted Christmas travel and celebrations and plunged cities across the country into record cold. The United States on Saturday recorded at least a dozen deaths and at one point, more than 1.5 million households were without power.
In Canada, more than 500,000 households remained without power as of Saturday morning, according to poweroutage.com, an online data collector. Eastern Canada, particularly Quebec, has been the hardest hit, accounting for almost 70 percent of outages. In Sept-Rivières, a sparsely populated region in Quebec, nearly every customer was without power.
“It’s not over yet,” said Philippe Archambault, a spokesman for Hydro-Québec, the public utility that manages electricity across the province. “We still have very strong winds along with really heavy snow.”
“Right now, we still have around 300,000 people without electricity due to the storm that hit Quebec in the last two days,” he said, adding that more than 500 teams were working to restore power. “We are working around the clock.”
Heavy snow in Ontario caused slick roads and whiteout conditions that on Friday led to a 60-vehicle pileup on a highway from London to Sarnia.
Photographs showed the twisted wreckage of cars and trucks along Highway 402. No deaths were reported, but the Ontario Provincial Police closed the highway to traffic on Friday and in a Twitter post warned drivers “not to travel unless necessary.”
On the west coast, bus and ferry service was suspended in Vancouver and two major bridges in British Columbia were closed as freezing rain and ice made them unsafe.
The authorities in British Columbia shut the Port Mann and Alex Fraser bridges because of the threat of “ice bombs,” masses of ice that accumulate on the bridge’s cables and can fall on cars.
“We have transitioned this morning into freezing rain, and our concern right now is there is traces of ice accumulating on the cable stays, the cable on the bridges themselves,” Ashok Bhatti of the province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure told CTV News.
Hundreds of air travelers had their Christmas plans upended as flights across Canada, including at the busiest airports, were canceled. Multiple flights from Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto were grounded, and WestJet, one of the country’s leading providers, preemptively canceled flights at airports in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
Amid the severe weather, 54 flights out of Toronto Pearson Airport, the busiest in Canada, had already been canceled early Saturday, with scores more delayed, according to the airport’s departure board.