Much of country facing bitter cold, rain, wind or snow as winter packs a punch

TORONTO – Some braced for blizzards, others dealt with precarious flash freezes, and still more faced bone-chilling temperatures — and then there were those who endured power outages dating back to earlier bitter weather.

A mixed bag of nasty conditions led Environment Canada to issue warnings for vast swaths of the country on Monday, when many headed back to work for the first time since the holiday break.

“It’s almost like the total meteorological lexicon of everything miserable in terms of winter is found somewhere in Canada,” said senior climatologist David Phillips.

The sheer amount of varying warnings was considered somewhat unusual even by the national weather agency that put them out.

Phillips listed some of the misery.

“From wind chill to winter storm warnings to flash freezes to freezing rain to heavy rain to strong winds; snow squalls also.”

The winter wallop created extra headaches for many resuming their weekday commutes on the first Monday of 2014.

Some flights travelling into or out of Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax and St. John’s, N.L., were also cancelled or delayed. And freezing rain across Eastern Canada forced nearly 800 plane passengers to be diverted to Fredericton early Monday, putting a strain on the city’s airport.

“Nature’s making it more difficult for us to get back to a regular normal life,” said Phillips. “The timing is unfortunate.”

Southern Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba experienced some of the most bitter cold, where communities long-used to chilly conditions were lashed by frigid gusts which prompted a series of wind chill warnings.

“We’re seeing wind chills that are into the minus 50, which would freeze flesh in less than five minutes,” said Phillips, who warned residents to bundle up.

Meanwhile, communities in northern and southern Ontario were warned of flash freezes, wind chills and even snow squalls in some areas.

The latest blast of winter came just a week after a wicked ice storm left hundreds of thousands without power in parts of Central and Eastern Canada.

“In Ontario we’re seeing a whole plethora of weather warnings,” said Phillips. “In some communities they’ve got four to choose from, it’s like pick your poison.”

Toronto and Windsor, Ont., — which were expecting wind chills from -35 C to -40 C into Tuesday — were among some communities which issued extreme cold weather alerts while urging those who were homeless to seek shelter.

It was a slightly different story in Quebec, where somewhat warmer temperatures meant Environment Canada issued rainfall and freezing rain warnings for southern parts of the province, although communities further north faced blizzard warnings.

Freezing rain left more than 24,000 Quebec customers without power on Monday afternoon, with the Mauricie region in central Quebec hit hardest.

Authorities in Ontario and Quebec urged caution on icy roads and slushy sidewalks and warned motorists to take care in communities that were expecting blowing snow and whiteout conditions.

In Atlantic Canada, freezing rain and rainfall warnings were issued for much of New Brunswick, eastern Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and parts of Newfoundland.

Those warnings added to the problems being faced by thousands in Newfoundland, who were experiencing their fourth day of power outages brought on by a combination of cold weather, a terminal station fire and a power plant that went offline.

A mass of cold Arctic air, combined with a warmer weather system that had come up from the U.S., had led to much of the recent variety of inclement conditions, said Philips.

Environment Canada warned, however, that the milder temperatures in the eastern part of the country would be short lived.

“The cold polar arctic air will now flood the eastern part of the country and will almost freeze everything instantly,” he warned. “That’s why we have these flash freezes. It’s going to be a messy situation.”

Some communities, including Toronto, Halifax, Montreal and Quebec City, were expected to see a drastic drop in temperatures by Tuesday.

Those seeking some relief from winter’s wrath were urged to look forward to the weekend.

“Just wait it out,” said Phillips. “By the end of this week, we’ll be into a January thaw in the east and while not thawing in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, instead of having highs of -25, we’ll have highs of -4.”