Travellers across the country are scrambling to escape a cascade of disruptions triggered by heavy snow that paralyzed Vancouver’s airport this week, as fresh winter storms bear down on southern B.C. and Ontario.
The weather system of frigid cold in British Columbia could lift by Christmas Eve, but not before delivering another blast of snow Thursday night to YVR.
Officials there are still dealing with cancellations, delays and congestion, while Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is also bracing for an incoming storm.
The threat of another round of weather chaos now hangs over travellers struggling to return to loved ones in time for Christmas.
Maryanna Watts of Ancaster, Ont., has been trying to make her way to her daughter Kate in Squamish, B.C., for two days.
She spoke on the phone from Winnipeg’s airport, where she and her family unexpectedly found themselves Thursday, long after their direct flight from Toronto to Vancouver was cancelled.
“I’ve never been caught in this kind of situation in all my years of travelling,” she said.
Watts had woken Tuesday morning to a notification that her flight from Toronto to Vancouver was delayed, then cancelled.
The family was eventually assigned a new route with a stop in Ottawa, but as they were putting on their baggage tags in Toronto, they received a notification that the Ottawa-Vancouver leg was cancelled too.
After an hour and a half on hold with Air Canada, they were offered rerouting through Mexico City with a one-night layover, or the flight via Winnipeg, which they accepted.
“We understand the weather, we live in Canada, we’ve been through all this weather before. But it’s the lack of support when you need to talk to somebody … The communication has been really bad.”
Hoping to head in the opposite direction was Toronto resident Emily Levict, returning from a trip to Australia with her brother and a friend. The group was stuck in Vancouver after their flight home Thursday was cancelled.
Struggling to find a way back to Toronto, the siblings are now booked on separate flights.
But Levict was not confident as she queued to find out more details about the rescheduling.
“Maybe we will make Christmas Day, but we will definitely miss Christmas Eve,” she said.
In the meantime, more bad weather is heading for Ontario.
Rain starting Thursday night in Toronto will shift to flurries as a cold front moves in, said Peter Kimbell, an Ontario-based warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada.
The front will rapidly push the mercury below freezing and bring strong southwesterly winds, creating messy conditions for Christmas travel. Roads will be icy and blowing snow will cause poor visibility, Kimbell said.
Just two to four centimetres of snow is projected in Toronto, but the strong winds will be the key factor for travellers throughout southern Ontario, he said.
Ottawa is expecting potential accumulation of 15 centimetres of snow Thursday night before precipitation shifts to “slush” and freezing temperatures return later Friday, Kimbell said.
The same projections apply for Montreal, he said.
Cold temperatures, strong winds and flurries are expected to continue Saturday, gradually decreasing in intensity before easing further on Monday, he said.
An update from Vancouver International Airport said conditions had improved slightly as flights were “steadily arriving and departing” Thursday, but officials were still advising travellers to check with their airline for the latest flight information.
The airport was also maintaining its halt to all incoming international arrivals until Friday morning so it could clear the congestion on the tarmac.
Officials at YVR said they’re doing everything they can to prepare for more severe weather starting late Thursday, including an estimated 10 centimetres of snow.
That could be followed by freezing rain and then, as icy temperatures ease, 10 or more millimetres of rain on Saturday.
Environment Canada predicts temperatures at the airport will spike to 8 C on Saturday, after dipping to -12.9 C on Wednesday.
“Passengers should expect delays and cancellations as a result of the incoming weather system,” airport officials said in their latest statement.
Louie Madlang had slept three nights on the floor at Vancouver’s airport as he tried to get home to Lloydminster, Sask., where his teenage son was waiting.
He had been stuck at the airport since arriving Monday on a flight from the Philippines, when his connection was cancelled.
Madlang, travelling with his wife and his adult nephew’s young family, said he’s now hoping to get a flight to Edmonton on Christmas Eve, then drive several hours home.
“We can’t shower and we tried to book the nearby hotels and they are all booked. We slept on floors or sometimes walked around in the airport for hours until (we) felt tired. As adults, we can handle that, but the most difficult is the kids,” said Madlang.
Difficulties linked to Tuesday’s storm remain an issue at Victoria International Airport as a post from the International Civil Aviation Organization said two runways were still closed due to snow.
Hundreds of Air Canada and WestJet flights have been grounded since Sunday because of the conditions.
The latest update from WestJet says nearly 80 flights had so far been cancelled Thursday, and the incoming weather in Metro Vancouver is expected to result in more cancellations. A further 83 flights that had been scheduled for Friday have been cancelled, a number the airline says will likely increase.
A statement from Air Canada said just over 88 per cent of planned flights went ahead Wednesday. With more severe weather in the forecast, affecting airports across Canada, the airline said it has a “flexible rebooking policy” in place, offering passengers the option to reschedule or receive a travel voucher.
The winter storm forecast for Ontario also prompted the postponement of the Ottawa Senators’ game Friday night against the Detroit Red Wings.
Anthony LeBlanc, the Senators’ president of business operations, said in a statement the safety of “players, fans, staff and those working at the arena is our first priority.”
The game has been rescheduled to Monday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. ET.
The Toronto District School Board said on social media that all of its schools and those of the Catholic board will be closed Friday due to a forecast of “blowing snow, damaging winds, poor visibility and flash freezing.”
All four publicly funded school boards in Ottawa will also be closed Friday due to the extreme weather forecast.
— By Nono Shen, Brenna Owen and Amy Smart in Vancouver, with files from Cindy Tran in Ottawa