News Local

Snow blankets Orillia

By Roberta Bell, Orillia Packet & Times

Cars inch down West Street Friday morning as the snow comes down steadily. 

Cars inch down West Street Friday morning as the snow comes down steadily. ROBERTA BELL - THE PACKET & TIMES


Georgina Friend tackled her first Canadian snowfall Friday morning.

“By the time I’d got halfway through the drive, the first part was laying again,” Friend, a native of England, said with a laugh.

By 4:30 p.m., she’d shovelled the lane of her Michelle Drive residence three times.

“It was quite hard on the arms, but it was soft snow compared to British snow,” she said.

The 30-year-old international student, enrolled in the therapeutic recreation program at Georgian College Orillia, is hosting company from her homeland this weekend.

“They’re going to be blown away,” she said.

While it’s not the first time Friend has seen heavy snowfall — she’s skied in Europe before — it’s the first time she’s lived in it.

“This amount of snow within the past 24 hours is just crazy,” she said.

The white stuff came down steadily across southern Ontario all day Friday.

Pat and John Montreuil left their Orillia apartment building around 9 a.m. When they arrived home two hours later, so much snow had fallen in the parking lot, they couldn’t get their Chevy Cobalt back in.

“We’re Canadians. This is our weather,” Pat said with a good-natured smile as she stared out the window of the West Street Tim Hortons waiting for the parking lot to be plowed. “You’ve just got to go with it.”

While Environment Canada called for 10 to 15 centimetres in Orillia, by noon, David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, estimated between 13 and 18 centimetres had already fallen.

The snowstorm, which started in the United States, began blanketing the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) with light snow Thursday afternoon.

“The northern edge of that snow shield just sort of touches onto areas like Orillia and Peterborough,” Phillips said.

“Toronto’s been getting the heavy snow.”

By midday Friday, OPP Const. Dave Woodward of the Highway Traffic Division said police logged more than 600 single-vehicle and fender-bender collisions from Barrie into the GTA, but no roads had been closed.

“When you look at the traffic, everybody stayed home, so that’s a lot of accidents considering the volume,” he said.

Shortly after 3 p.m., police were dealing with a jack-knifed tractor-trailer on Highway 400 and three cars in the ditch slightly to the north of it.

“Now the roads are getting slippery,” Woodward said, looking at the computer screen in his cruiser. “I’ve never seen that many (accidents) on it at one time.”

North to Orillia, Sgt. Peter Leon of Central Region OPP said police logged about 27 collisions.

Other than a snowplow that slipped into the ditch during morning rush hour — and was quickly extricated by a tow truck — the midday traffic wasn’t too bad.

“People are listening to the advice they’ve been given. They’re driving well under the posted speed and maintaining the safe distance between cars,” he said.

Orillia OPP had only dealt with a handful of collisions by 4 p.m. Friday.

“When it gets this bad, a lot of people drive more responsibly or stay off the roads altogether,” Const. Jim Edwards said, noting only three minor accidents, none of which resulted in injuries, had been reported.

But with the snow-covered roads and blustering winds, “you’re going to have areas where it might be whiteouts,” he said

School buses were cancelled across the county and attendance at Orillia-area elementary and secondary schools was reduced to about 15% to 20% of what it normally is, said Melanie Rumley of the Simcoe County District School Board.

The main roads are OK, said David Lewis, who drove to Orillia from his Ramara Township home for work in his four-wheel-drive truck.

It’s the side roads that are problematic, he said.

While Orillia and neighbouring municipalities had snow plows out in full force, “it’s coming down so fast, it’s hard for them to keep up,” Lewis said.

The one-day snowfall is not “record-breaking” by Orillia standards, Phillips said.

“Snowfall totals are better than last year, but they’re still down,” he said, noting the norm by now is about 188 centimetres and Orillia has only had about three-quarters of that.

The weather is supposed to lighten up — literally — for the Orillia Winter Carnival on the weekend.

“Tomorrow is going to be a glorious day, with the sunshine walking out there on Lake Couchiching. It will just be like a winter paradise,” Phillips said.

“(Friday) is the ugly stuff, the messy stuff, and then it’s going to be replaced by two gorgeous days,” he said, adding there’s a high of zero for Sunday.

Twitter: @roberta__bell

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