Quebec storm: More than 345,000 customers without electricity

With a major storm sweeping through Quebec on Friday, more than a quarter of a million households are without electricity as flash freeze and wind warnings are in effect in some areas.

As of 9:30 pm, nearly 343,000 Hydro-Quebec customers were in the dark, with about 15,000 in Montreal.

The hardest hit regions are Quebec City with about 92,000 outages, Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean with 48,000 and the Monteregie with 35,000.

“Due to the weather forecast for today and tomorrow, the number of customers without power could continue to increase,” Hydro-Quebec said in a notice to customers.

“Our crews are working to restore service as quickly as possible.”

In an afternoon news conference, Hydro-Québec executive vice-president Éric Filion said it would be difficult to provide customers with a recovery time, adding that Hydro-Québec aims to “reconnect the majority of customers by Sunday evening”

Some customers will not have power until Monday or Tuesday, though he added.

“It is important to mention that the weather event is still ongoing, so new outages are occurring and we are obviously working as quickly as possible, but always with a concern for the safety of our employees, but also for the public,” explained the vice-president of Hydro-Québec.

On Friday, 1,100 workers were on the ground across the province.

FLASH FREEZE, WIND WARNINGS

Environment Canada issued a flash freeze warning for the Montreal area as Friday’s above-normal temperature is now dropping rapidly, which could lead to water and slush turning into slick ice on some roadways.

“Surfaces such as highways, roads, walkways and parking lots may become icy and slippery. Travel may be hazardous due to sudden changes in the weather. Be prepared to adjust your driving with changing road conditions,” the weather agency warned.

A wind warning is also in effect as gusts in the area are expected to reach 90 km/h. The wind can be strong enough to toss loose objects around and snap tree branches.

Watches and warnings in southern Quebec. (Lori Graham/CTV News)

By the noon hour, in Quebec City, wind speeds approached 100 km/h. Some residents in the region lost their car shelters, commonly referred to as Tempos, due to the high winds, which prompted local police to urge people to secure the structures.

In many parts of Quebec, the snow that started late Thursday night switched over to rain by Friday morning. About 8 centimeters of snow fell in Montreal by 10 am Friday, while other parts of Quebec saw 30 centimetres, including the Laurentians, Lanaudières, and Mauricie.

Several schools in the Greater Montreal Area proactively announced closures Thursday ahead of the storm’s arrival, which had been tracked days prior.

“We may only see one of these storms every five or 10 years,” Environment Canada meteorologist Mitch Meredith told The Canadian Press. “I’ve only seen a couple of storms like this in the last 20 years.”

Montreal reached a high of 6 C, but the colder air brought it down to below zero by the early evening.

The temperature is expected to drop later in the day Friday. (Lori Graham/CTV News)

TOUGH ROAD CONDITIONS

Drivers are being urged to use caution as surfaces will be slick and hard to navigate with the rain-snow mix.

As the sun set and temperatures dropped, Transport Quebec issued a tweet warning drivers about icy roads.

“With temperatures dropping below 0, the risk of ice sheets forming on the road is greater. If you must travel, be extra careful and keep your distance,” it read.

Transport Quebec reported numerous road accidents and a multitude of broken down vehicles on highways in the metropolitan area on Friday.

Sarah Bensadoun, a spokesperson for Quebec’s transport ministry, told CTV News that drivers can expect to see crews clearing the roads up to 24 to 48 hours after the precipitation falls to prevent slippery conditions.

“The number one recommendation would be to delay or cancel any kind of commute because the weather conditions are changing,” as are the road conditions, she added. “It is not safe at all.”

Transport Quebec is advising people to download the Quebec 511 application to stay informed of current events on the road network.

RECORD-BREAKING WATER IN QUEBEC CITY

Record high water levels were observed at the Environment Canada Vieux-Quebec weather station, reaching 7.157 metres, breaking the 1931 level of 7.1 m.

Water levels, strong winds and waves caused many overflows, the weather agency noted. Storm surge warnings were dropped by 8:30 pm

Late Thursday morning, Quebec City’s Public Security said it had received more than “330 calls for dangerous structures” and “more than 100 calls for electrical hazards.”

Due to the high number of 911 calls, Quebec City Public Safety is asking residents to call 911 only in case of emergency and to use 311 for non-emergency situations.

Several traffic lights are also no longer working on the territory.

Bensadoun said by mid-morning there was no access between Quebec City and Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean due to road closures in the area.

FLIGHT DELAYS, CANCELLATIONS

Late Thursday, WestJet proactively canceled flights at airports in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia due to the storm.

The cancellations applied to airports in Toronto, as well in Ottawa, London, Montreal, and Waterloo.

Meanwhile, dozens of departing flights at the Montreal International Airport were delayed or canceled Friday morning.

Air Canada said Friday that it had canceled “a number of flights” in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, including all its flights out of Toronto’s downtown island airport, citing the storm, reduced airport capacity and operational constraints.

Passengers watch the flight status board at Montreal-Trudeau airport during a powerful winter storm on Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. (CTV News)

— With files from CTV News Montreal’s Rob Lurie and The Canadian Press

This is a developing story that will be updated.