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Record snowfall as Ottawa sees close to 50 cm during major blizzard

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A record-breaking snowstorm brought Ottawa to a standstill Monday, closing schools, vaccination clinics and COVID-19 testing sites, cancelling garbage and recycling collection and disrupting air and vehicle travel.

The Ottawa Airport had officially seen 47 cm as of 5 p.m., according to Environment Canada, eclipsing the record snowfall for Jan. 17 of 11.7 cm, set in 1972. Twelve centimetres fell in a single hour between 8 and 9 a.m.

"We haven't seen anything (like this) this year. In the worst-case scenario, we could probably get as much snow today as you've had all winter so far," said Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips on CTV Morning Live.

Environment Canada issued a blizzard warning for Ottawa, after earlier issuing a winter storm warning. The weather agency called for 25 to 40 cm of snow, with some areas seeing up to 50 cm of snow.

The blizzard warning was changed back to a winter storm warning at around 1:30 p.m. Monday, when accumulation began to slow down.

The winter storm warning ended just after 7 p.m.

"Snow still possibly heavy at times," the warning said. "Local blowing snow due to wind gusts of up to 60 km/h which will significantly reduce visibilities."

The city has warned snowplows won't begin clearing residential streets until at least 7 p.m. Monday, and it could take two days to clear all residential streets. Ottawa mayor Jim Watson told Newstalk 580 CFRA that the cleanup could cost up to $5 million.

"Every street can't be plowed first," Mayor Jim Watson told CTV Morning Live on Monday. "People will tweet me all day saying my street isn't plowed. Unfortunately, we have to prioritize."

Ottawa police told Newstalk 580 CFRA that they had responded to 24 collisions between 5 and 11 a.m., including one involving two OC Transpo buses.

Over the last ten days, the Ottawa region has been faced with extreme cold and now extreme amounts of snow. During this period, C.A.A. North & East president and CEO Jeff Walker says operators have been flooded with more than 10,000 calls.

“At 8:30 a.m., there was 300 calls in the queue so it’s busy and we’re doing about 120 calls per hour,” said Walker, adding that on Hwy 416, between Ottawa and Kemptville, there were more than 60 cars in the ditch.

Responding to every situation can take time he said.

“What we do on a day like today is triage so those people in the ditch we got to get to them first it’s cold out there it’s dangerous out there so we get to them first and then we get to people in their homes and driveways.”

C.A.A recommends a roadside safety kit with essentials that includes booster cables, gloves, a reflector and flashlight. It’s also important to have a small shovel and blanket to keep warm if your vehicle stalls or becomes stuck on gehe road.

The OPP closed a stretch of Highway 7 between because of poor visibility and road conditions. Several vehicles had ended up in the ditch, police said on Twitter

At least two fatal crashes were reported in eastern Ontario.

The city of Ottawa has issued a 24-hour parking ban, from 7 p.m. Monday to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 vaccination clinics are closed, and the city has cancelled garbage, recycling and green bin recycling collection for the day. COVID-19 testing sites closed down early due to the storm.

"It's a quick hitter," Phillips said, noting the snow will be heavy in the morning and end by 9 p.m.  "Later tonight, it will be a memory and we'll just be cleaning it over the next day or two."

Phillips says the last significant snowfall in Ottawa was in 2016, when 50 cm of snow fell.

The Environment Canada senior climatologist says the reason for the 20 to 40 cm of snow forecasted is because "any kind of wiggle or wobble" with the system will create different conditions.

"Maybe it will come a little further west and we'll see the 40 (cm), so that's why there's a huge range," said Phillips. "It has its own personality and character, and as it comes through our area it's not going to follow, necessarily, a straight line."

Ottawa had only received 5 cm of snow in January, after 38.6 cm of snow in December.

OTTAWA AIRPORT

As of 1:45 p.m., 26 departures had been cancelled at the Ottawa International Airport.

Several flights were also delayed.

The Ottawa International Airport and Air Canada have advised travellers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.

OTTAWA FORECAST

Environment Canada says snow should end Monday night, but a chance of flurries will linger into the evening and overnight, with a low of minus 16 C and a wind chill of minus 20.

The sky should clear in the morning, leading to a sunny Tuesday. High minus 14 C with a wind chill near minus 24. 

More snow is in the forecast Tuesday night and through the day Wednesday. High minus 2 C.

Thursday's outlook is sunny with a high of minus 18 C.

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Matt Skube, Stefan Keyes and Tyler Fleming, and Newstalk 580 CFRA's Kristy Cameron.

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