Top ten weather stories for 2008: story seven

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7. Winter's Last Hurrah

Map of Canada highlighting regions affected by one last major winter storm before spring 2008

For residents in Eastern Canada, the coming of March and spring's immediacy was never more welcome. It had been a long winter with near-record snowfall, deep snow drifts, scores of roof collapses and several fatalities. But the season's greatest wallop was still to come. During the "getaway" weekend of March 8 and 9, a massive winter storm dumped as much as 50 cm of snow across Eastern Canada, leaving approximately 200,000 storm-ravaged Canadians in the dark from Windsor, Ontario to Wabush, Labrador.

The size and duration of the storm were impressive. The massive blizzard dumped gobs of snow and piled monstrous drifts across six provinces. While most hit-and-run storms seldom last longer than 12 hours, this one raged an impressive 40 hours, leaving more time for snow piling and drifting. Almost all of southern Ontario and Quebec received between 25 and 35 cm of snow, accompanied by winds as high as 133 km/h. The heaviest snows fell in the Ottawa Valley and in the Niagara region, where 52 cm collected and blew into two-metre drifts, dwarfing vehicles on highways and blinding and trapping motorists inside. Frequent whiteout conditions led to hundreds of crashes on windswept highways. There were so many accidents in Ontario that police no longer attended crash sites and asked motorists to fill out their own collision reports. In the Greater Toronto Area alone, the 400-series highways saw 1,700 accidents, most of them involving spinouts and cars driving into ditches. To add insult to injury, winter's biggest blast landed on one of the busiest weekends of the year – the start of March Break. The storm led to the grounding or delay of more than 300 flights at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, which became a makeshift shelter for hundreds of stranded passengers.

Nearly as many flights were cancelled in Montreal. In the province, the storm brought 40-cm dumps of snow to Trois-Rivières, Mont Joli and Quebec City. Montreal itself got less snow but more misery, with several hours of snow mixed with freezing rain and ice pellets, and powerful winds as strong as 140 km/h. In Quebec City, the "big one" had a bigger impact because of a preview storm just three days earlier. On March 4 and 5, 33.4 cm of snow fell on the Quebec capital. Compounding the mess were strong winds that felled trees and cut power. Flights were cancelled and schools were closed. Before the week was over, winter's last hurrah dumped another 40 cm. A veteran Environment Canada forecaster called the March 8 blast in Quebec the fiercest he had ever seen. In a winter of "Paul Bunyon" snowfalls and with no place left to put the snow, the last one – with its -20 wind chill, zero visibility in blowing snow and sustained winds of 63 km/h – had to be the most memorable storm in a winter of storms.

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