News Local

Snowy smackdown 0

By Ian McInroy, Barrie Examiner

February-like weather conditions across much of the county again Tuesday caused provincial police to shut down some area highways, forcing motorists to make other arrangements or hunker down somewhere warm.

And more snow is in the forecast for today.

Barrie managed to evade the worst of the relentless streamers off Georgian Bay that once again pummeled areas to the west of the city with huge accumulations. Many motorists had to find alternate routes to their destinations, or - like Kim Thompson of Wasaga Beach - just stay put.

"I've lived here for five years and this is probably the worst winter so far. The snowbanks on some of the roads are eight or 10 feet tall," she said, adding while she normally makes the snowy trek into her job at the Barrie SPCA, road closures determined that wasn't going to happen on Tuesday.

Using a work-connected laptop made more sense than heading out.

"I couldn't go anywhere. It's the blowing snow coming across the fields. It's just not worth it trying to go in (to work)," Thompson said. "I've become a hard-core winter driver since living out here. The drivers in Barrie have it easy."

Treacherous driving conditions forced the closure of County Road 92 between Wasaga Beach and Elmvale, and County Road 26 between Horseshoe Valley Road and Stayner, according to Const. Peter Leon, a spokesperson with central region OPP.

Other area roads were also closed.

"The compacting of the snow makes many of the roads very slippery in places. There are a lot of open areas and the winds are whipping across," he said. "The visibility is way worse today. Barrie has been lucky up until now, but all it takes is a little change in wind direction."

There were no reports of any serious injuries from minor collisions, Leon added.

"For the most part, motorists are driving properly for the conditions and obeying road closures," he said. "But there are still some who feel the need to drive around road barriers. That puts the tow truck operators and the police officers who respond to any incidents at risk."

Offending motorists can be charged and fined $110 under the Highway Traffic Act.

"There is a strong likelihood their insurance won't cover any damage that occurs on a closed highway," Leon said.

Motorists should expect the worst when driving this time of year and pack essentials into their vehicle in case the worst happens.

"Make arrangements. People need to be prepared to listen to warnings that are offered," he said.

"Roads in and out of Collingwood have been closed down all day and they're still closed," Leon said Tuesday evening, adding that even in town, some streets were impassible.

"The snow is up to the windows and we don't know where to put the snow (we're shovelling)," said Laurel Lane, who has lived in the bayside town for more than 30 years.

"This is exceptional. We're walking on the roads because they're having trouble clearing the sidewalks," she said. "When they do clear them, it's like walking through a tunnel."

Collingwood was inundated with even more snow on Tuesday and severe driving conditions in the area forced the operators of Blue Mountain Ski Resort to close for the day as a safety precaution.

"It takes a lot of snow to close a ski resort," said Geoff Coulson, of Environment Canada. "The upside is that once they get through this, they'll have a lot of fresh snow and amazing conditions."

Low-level winds on Wednesday will move the band of snow that's been walloping the area from Collingwood down to Alliston and Beeton to the east, hitting the west side of Barrie and to the south and west into Innisfil.

"Once those bands of snow lock in, they have the ability to generate large amounts of snow in a short time," Coulson said.

About 34,000 students across the county had another snow day Tuesday, the fifth day in two weeks in some areas, said Cathy Allen, manager of transportation for the Simcoe County Student Transportation Consortium.

On Dec. 6 and 7 there was a full cancellation across all four weather zones in the county, followed by cancellations in the central and west divisions on Dec. 8.

On Dec. 13, the west zone buses were cancelled and on Tuesday, buses in all four zones were kept off the road.

"Safety is paramount to us deciding if buses will run," Allen said. "We had a mild winter last year. There was only one cancellation and it was restricted to the north zone. But we've have five cancellations already this year. Who knows what the weather will bring us in January."

The consortium has operators on county roads beginning in the wee hours of the morning reporting on conditions. They are back in the office by 5:30 a.m. to check radar and to talk to road superintendents from area municipalities.

"Then there is a conference to make a decisions about where cancellations will take place," she said. "We deal with challenges. The weather can come up on us at any time."

Coulson said Mother Nature is setting up the area for a white Dec. 25.

"It would take a pretty big warmup not to have a white Christmas. There's just so much snow," he said.

Motorists can visit the Ministry of Transportation website at www.mto.gov.on.ca to get the latest road closures.

imcinroy@thebarrieexaminer.com


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