February 6, 2019 5:18 pm
Updated: February 6, 2019 5:37 pm

Cancellations, closures and collisions: Freezing rain makes presence felt in London region

A system of freezing rain Wednesday brought with it a slew of school closures, collisions, and flight cancellations.

The Canadian Press File/Paul Chiasson
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If you don’t need to go anywhere, stay home.

That’s been the main message from emergency personnel and city officials after a blast of freezing rain Wednesday morning turned area roads and sidewalks into sheets of ice just in time for the rush hour.

Freezing rain continued on and off throughout the day across the region, with many ice-covered surfaces turning to slush as the temperature rose slightly and hovered around freezing.

A freezing rain warning in place for London and Middlesex since Tuesday was dropped shortly after 3 p.m. by Environment Canada and replaced with a freezing drizzle advisory. It said freezing drizzle was expected into Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

The advisory added that in the wake of the system, strong westerly winds with gusts in the 60 to 80 km/h range may be possible.

“Freezing drizzle advisories are issued when drizzle falling in sub-zero temperatures is expected to freeze on contact, and over time create icy surfaces,” the advisory said.

The treacherous driving conditions prompted the cancellation of all school transportation in the London area and later resulted in Thames Valley District and London District Catholic school boards closing schools and administrative offices for the day.

Schools in the local French Catholic School Board were also closed due to the weather, as were Montessori Academy of London locations.

Early on, both Western University and Fanshawe College announced their campuses would remain open and classes would continue as expected, despite the conditions.

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However, just before the noon hour, Western University reversed course, announcing all classes and on-campus events scheduled for students, faculty, and staff would be cancelled for the day as of 12:30 p.m.

“Western services were in place for the morning commute, unfortunately, conditions have not improved as we’d hoped, and we’re not in a situation to maintain the walkways specifically to the level that we want,” said Western spokesperson Keith Marnoch.

“The reality was that people were able to get to campus, for the most part, this morning. When they can’t, there’s accommodations that can be made in different ways. But just from a safety point of view, and a maintenance point of view, the rain’s made it very difficult.”

Fanshawe, meantime, remained defiant, announcing in a tweet just before 1 p.m. that its London campuses would remain open and classes would continue to operate. Students were asked to contact their instructors if they could not make it to class.

READ MORE: Weather shuts down Kitchener-Waterloo schools, public programs and facilities

Speaking with 980 CFPL just before 2:30 p.m., John Parsons, the city’s division manager of transportation and roadside operations, said crew members had been working since before the storm started.

“We had a chance to do some pre-treatment of bridges as early as 2 a.m., so as the system moved in, that agent started to work break through the ice pack,” he said.

Parsons said while things were starting to improve on main roads, the storm was still lingering, and the temperature would dip back below freezing.

“There’s still going to be icy patches and on some of the sidewalks,” Parsons said of the Wednesday afternoon drive. “If you don’t need to be out, I wouldn’t go out. Postpone any non-essential travel until conditions improve.”

“We are finding that some of the conditions are starting to refreeze, and that’s why we always caution drivers that if you’re out, drive to the conditions.”

That message was also being echoed by local and provincial police, who, along with other emergency crews, were tending to a slew of collisions.

READ MORE: Coldest air in over a decade hits Saskatoon with -50 wind chills

Between 4 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., provincial police said officers had tended to 17 collisions on OPP-patrolled roads in the West Region-area alone, six involving tractor trailers. Several more vehicles were reported in the ditch.

One collision on Hwy. 402 forced provincial police to close the highway’s westbound lanes around 2 p.m. between Kerwood and Nauvoo roads to remove a tractor-trailer from a ditch. It later reopened.

Another collision on the westbound 401 involving three tractor-trailers resulted in the centre lane of the highway being blocked near Woodstock. It was cleared by 1:30 p.m.

Operations at the London International Airport were also hampered by the weather with flight cancellations and delays dominating the arrivals and departures board.

“For the safety of passengers and aircraft, flights are experiencing cancellations due to weather conditions at higher altitudes,” the airport said in a tweet just before 1 p.m. “Our AOS are continuing runway operations to ensure runways are clear.”

Dozens of cancellations and delays were also reported at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

The website FlightRadar24 said more than 100 flights had been cancelled at Pearson, with the average departure delay clocking in at around 50 minutes early in the afternoon. Similar data was not available for London.

On top of that, Canada Post announced it had halted mail delivery for areas in southern Ontario including the Greater Toronto Area “as the weather conditions have made it unsafe.”

The statement did not identify which cities outside of the GTA are affected.

READ MORE: Canada Post halts mail delivery in southern Ontario over ‘unsafe’ weather

For the remainder of Wednesday, Environment Canada said London could expect freezing rain until the late afternoon at which point things would turn to rain and/or drizzle.

Despite the mercury staying at or just above freezing, forecasters said a risk of freezing rain would remain into the evening and overnight hours.

Thursday’s forecast called for periods of rain with a high of 4 C, and a mix of sun and cloud with a 60 per cent chance of flurries, high of -5 C, on Friday.

The normal high for this time of year is -2 C.

With files from Jess Brady, Jacquelyn LeBel, Liny Lamberink

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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