A major winter storm is bearing down on Quebec just in time for the holidays, resulting in widespread power outages, road collisions, school closures and travel delays.
Hydro-Québec reported nearly 350,000 customers in the dark across the province as of 3:30 p.m. Friday, amid widespread electrical failures. By 8 p.m., that number had declined slightly, hovering just above the 340,000 mark.
The Outaouais, Laurentians and Quebec City regions are the hardest hit and the public utility is working to restore electricity as quickly as possible.
“Due to the weather forecast for today and tomorrow, the number of customers without power could continue to increase,” Hydro-Québec said on its website.
During a press conference late Friday afternoon, executive vice-president of Hydro-Québec Éric Filion indicated that it was difficult to say when power would be restored, specifying that it aims to “reconnect the majority of clients by Sunday evening.”
He added, however, that “unfortunately” some customers will not have power until Monday or Tuesday.
Environment Canada has issued a mix of warnings for much of the southern half of the province. Many areas are expected to receive a messy cocktail of heavy snow, rain and strong winds, while some areas could see freezing rain.
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“If you absolutely have to hit the road, be sure to adapt your driving and be careful,” Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault wrote on Twitter.
Some regions will get whacked by snow, including the Laurentians and Lanaudière which could see up to 70 centimetres by Christmas Eve day.
Quebec City residents are dealing with “hazardous” conditions and the possibility of storm surges as the weather agency advises postponing non-essential travel. The city’s police department said there have been at least five collisions on local streets, leaving three people injured. Authorities have dealt with more than 600 calls about dangerous structures and over 230 pertaining to electrical hazards, with many traffic lights out.
Quebec City police spokesperson Sandra Dion said 911 operators were flooded with calls, having received close to 3,000 by 8:00 p.m. The daily average is less than a 1,000 calls per day.
Meanwhile, Montreal’s snowfall was followed by a flash freeze and wind warnings. Environment Canada warns “ponding water, slush, and any falling precipitation will freeze as the temperature drops” throughout the day and surfaces could become icy.
Winds are expected to reach up to 90 kilometres per hour in the city starting in the late afternoon, too.
“Loose objects may be tossed by the wind and cause injury or damage. High winds may toss loose objects or cause tree branches to break,” the weather agency said.
Flights cancelled, schools closed
The storm forced many school boards across the province to cancel class for the day, including most Montreal-area school boards. It would have been the last day of school before the winter holidays.
When it comes to travelling, officials are asking those who get behind the wheel or head out in the storm to exercise caution. In Montreal, the mayor said the city had nearly finished snow-removal operations from last week’s storm, but was prepared for another round of winter weather.
“This storm could make travel difficult. Be careful,” Valérie Plante wrote.
Those hopping on a plane should check their flight’s status before heading to Montreal or Quebec City airports. Many departures and arrivals are delayed or cancelled.
As of 3:30 p.m. on Friday, 77 arrivals and 76 departures out of 473 scheduled flights at Montreal’s Trudeau airport were cancelled for the day by airlines.
A spokesperson for the airport specified in an email to Global News that its operations were not affected.
“YUL is currently 100 per cent operational,” the statement reads. “The majority of the flight cancellations are due to weather conditions in the United States and other Canadian provinces.”
Eric Forest said cancellations in other airports have repercussions like the domino effect.
“An arrival that is cancelled and doesn’t land at YUL also means it can’t depart from YUL for another destination,” he said.
Orléans Express, the province’s intercity bus service, also called off many trips due to the storm.
— with files from The Canadian Press