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Montrealers take snow in stride as storm smashes 1971 record

Two bystanders help a Montreal ambulance driver get his stuck vehicle out of a snow bank in Montreal on Dec. 27, 2012.

Francois Havill/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The last time it snowed this much in Montreal, 17 people died, the Canadiens took the drastic step of cancelling a game and Environment Canada dubbed it the city's Storm of the Century.

As Montreal's all-time record for snowfall, set in 1971, was broken on Thursday with at least 45 centimetres on the ground by evening, Quebeckers seemed to take the storm in stride, with no deaths reported and a few minor injuries, mainly in car accidents. Environment Canada, which keeps snowfall records back to 1942, predicted up to five more centimetres of snow would fall in Montreal overnight.

A storm that killed at least 15 people in the United States and was blamed for the death of a man shovelling snow in Toronto caused widespread travel disruption across the east.

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While Quebec and Ontario residents were digging out, David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, had his eye on the Atlantic provinces as the storm headed east through Maine.

New Brunswick was expected to be hammered by a dangerous mix of snow, ice pellets, rain, wind and fog, while Nova Scotia and Newfoundland were bracing for strong winds on Friday, potentially gusting between 90 km/h and 120 km/h in Nova Scotia and up to 140 km/h along the west coast of Newfoundland. The Atlantic coast was in store for some rough waves.

"The Maritimes are dealing with a little tougher situation because it's almost everything but the kitchen sink being thrown at them," Mr. Phillips said.

In Montreal, Trudeau Airport closed for 30 minutes to allow snow-clearing crews to catch up. Most flights had already been cancelled or postponed through the afternoon as visibility was reduced to nothing with gusting winds.

Several highways also closed due to multi-vehicle fender-benders and the Montreal suburb of Laval gave up on running transit buses. In Montreal, cars were abandoned on busy city streets and a dead calm descended. The city said it would not even try to begin snow removal until Friday morning.

"Things are going well in the city, but it's going to take some time to clean things up," said Jacques-Alain Lavallée, a spokesman for the city of Montreal. "We want to wait for the snow to stop falling before we start picking it up."

Quebec's power grid appeared to be holding under the weight of the snow that fell on Thursday, with only a few hundred power outages, mainly due to wind, reported around the province. A week ago, a major fall of wet, heavy snow north of Montreal knocked out power to 110,000 customers. Most of that damage has been repaired.

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Thursday's snowfall, in contrast, was dry, fluffy and much more easily shovelled as temperatures held steady around -5.

With a report from The Canadian Press

BY THE NUMBERS

  • 1: The number of deaths in Canada attributed to the winter storm as of Thursday evening. A man in his 70s collapsed shovelling snow in Toronto.
  • 43.2: Montreal’s previous snowfall record, in centimetres, set in 1971 and broken during Thursday’s storm.
  • 1: Number of Montreal Canadiens home games ever postponed by weather. Outside of labour disruptions, the only postponement of a home game was during the record-breaking storm of 1971. (The only road cancellation was in 1919 in Seattle, when both teams were struck by an influenza outbreak. Canadiens player Joe Hall died.)
  • 50: The maximum number of centimetres of snow expected in New Brunswick through Friday. The single-day record for snowfall in Fredericton is 49 centimetres.
  • 148: The number of flights to and from Montreal’s Trudeau airport by 6 p.m., according to flightaware.com.
  • 270: The number of minor crashes reported by the Ontario Provincial Police in the London area alone since Boxing Day.
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About the Authors
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

National news reporter

Renata joined The Globe and Mail's Toronto newsroom in March of 2011. Raised in the Greater Toronto Area, Renata spent nine years reporting in Alberta for the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal, covering crime, environment and political affairs. More

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