MONTREAL - Authorities found themselves relying on snowmobiles and snowshoes to respond to some emergency calls as a historic hibernal blanket smothered a 1,200-kilometre stretch of Eastern Canada on Thursday.
The snowstorm squashed plans to travel by air and land.
There were hundreds of flights cancelled and rampant delays — first at airports around Toronto and then, as the storm barrelled eastward, in Ottawa, Montreal, Fredericton and Halifax.
Montreal was walloped with record-setting strength.
The city had expected a storm but nothing like the swirling tempest that forced Environment Canada to drastically revise its forecast over the course of the day.
At least 45 centimetres had fallen on Montreal by day's end, and 50 cm on its south-shore suburb, eclipsing the previous one-day recorded high of 43 centimetres set in March 1971, according to Environment Canada.
There were scores of road accidents.
One involved a pileup of at least 15 vehicles on a highway east of Montreal, near St. Cuthbert. Quebec provincial police also said many vehicles had skidded into snowy ditches in different parts of the province.
Still, police there were counting their blessings late Thursday.
The same storm had killed at least 16 people in the United States this week. Montreal's previous record blizzard in 1971 killed 17. But there was cause for optimism, as of Thursday evening, that Eastern Canada would be spared a similar human toll this time.
"There were no serious injuries," police Sgt. Martine Asselin said, speaking Thursday evening of the numerous Quebec road accidents. "We're lucky."
Because of the multi-car pileup, a stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway was shut down near Montreal, with provincial police using snowmobiles to access the closed portion of Highway 40.
There were other examples of authorities resorting to rare, even rustic, solutions.
For example, Hydro-Quebec used some old-fashioned travel techniques to reach customers who had lost power in a previous storm, days earlier.
"We're talking snowmobiles and snowshoes," said Hydro-Quebec spokeswoman Sophie Lamoureux.
She said 99 per cent of the customers who had lost power last week had their service restored, with the exceptions being customers in hard-to-reach outlying areas. Meanwhile, new outages were being reported with Thursday's storm.
In Laval, Que., next to Montreal, the bus service was shut down. Police vehicles there were being sent to the shop to help equip them for the fluffy obstacle course.
Several patrol cars in the suburb were outfitted with chains.
A police spokeswoman, however, sought to allay any public concerns about law enforcement being paralyzed.
"We're not overflowing with 911 calls. People wisely listened to the warning to stay home," said Nathalie Lorrain of the Laval police.
"It's really (being done) in the goal of limiting emergencies. We ourselves are having a hard time getting around."
The storm arrived in Canada after having already pounded the midsection of the U.S., dumping a record snowfall in Arkansas and lashing the Northeast with high winds, snow and sleet.
The weather, which was blamed for at least 16 deaths in the U.S., knocked out power to thousands of utility customers, primarily in Arkansas.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed out of U.S. airports and, on Thursday, numerous departures were also cancelled at Canadian airports.
In Montreal, over a span of several hours Thursday afternoon, a majority of flights were either subjected to lengthy delays or cancelled entirely. A similar pattern was repeated in different Canadian cities as the storm spread east.
Travellers were urged to call ahead to check on their flight status before heading to the airports.
Southern Ontario was spared the worst of the storm.
Toronto received about 10 centimetres of snow into Thursday morning while the Niagara region and Hamilton area received 15 to 20 cm.
Still, Ontario Provincial Police said they were busy responding to numerous reports of vehicle accidents from Windsor all the way to the Greater Toronto Area.
They said most calls had been for minor fender-benders and one-vehicle collisions, except for one potentially serious incident in London on Wednesday.
West Region Sgt. Dave Rektor said an officer had his parked police cruiser rear-ended on Highway 401 around 5:30 p.m. when he went to assist another motorist who had driven into a ditch.
The officer was not injured because he was out of the car at the time, but the cruiser was extensively damaged.
In New Brunswick, blowing snow began falling midday Thursday in the southwest and eastern regions, with about 25 cm or more expected.
Parts of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island also lay in the storm's path, where winter storm watches or rainfall warnings had already been posted.
Environment Canada had said the Montreal region could receive up to 30 cm of snow accompanied by widespread blowing snow — but that was before the storm hit the area harder than expected.
The tally was upgraded Thursday morning.
The city's previous record storm, in 1971, saw 47 cm of snowfall during a period of more than one day. That was aggravated by 110 km-per-hour winds, more than twice as powerful as what the city experienced Thursday.
Environment Canada recalls that the winds in that 1971 storm snapped power lines, causing people to go without electricity for up to 10 days.
Other regions of the country have, on occasion, seen far greater snowfall.
According to Environment Canada, Victoria received 80 cm within 24 hours in 1996; Toronto got 48 cm on Dec. 11, 1944; southern Alberta had 175 cm over a two-week period in 1967; and Toronto famously called in the army after receiving 118 cm over two weeks in 1999.
But the greatest single-day snowfall record in Canada, according to the federal agency? Tahtsa Lake, B.C., which received 145 cm of snow on Feb. 11, 1999.
Environment Canada notes that even that generous heaping pales in comparison with the mind-boggling 192 cm dumped on Silver Lake, Colo., on April 15, 1921 — nearly four times what Montreal received Thursday.
— With files from The Associated Press
Earlier on HuffPost:
Michael Stilson of Windber, Pa., shovels wet-heavy snow along Graham Ave. in Windber, Somerset County, Monday, April 23, 2012.(AP)
JACKSON TOWNSHIP, PA
Snow blankets the trees and a road in Jackson Township, Pa., Monday, April 23, 2012. A spring nor'easter packing soaking rain and high winds churned up the Northeast Monday morning, unleashing a burst of winter and up to a foot of snow in higher elevations inland, closing some schools and sparking concerns of power outages. (AP Photo)
Two girls sit on sculptures amid the snow at Glenshee on April 4, 2012 in Glenshee, Scotland. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
A rainbow appears as water splashes a local walking on the Sebastopol sea-front on March 3, 2012. (GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinians walk during a snow storm in the West Bank city of Hebron as wintry weather swept through the region on March 2, 2012. (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Palle-Jooseppi, a male brown bear of Ranua Zoo, begins to wake up after winter hibernation in Ranua on February 23, 2012. (KAISA SIREN/AFP/Getty Images)
Rushing Dasher ridden by Natalie Friberg (c) leads the field in to the second turn during the Grand Prix Prestige race at the White Turf horse racing meeting held on the frozen Lake St Moritz on February 19, 2012 in St Moritz, Switzerland. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Golfers practice at the driving range Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 in Concord, N.H. The range opened early this year because of a mild winter. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
A man races his six-dog sled during the winter carnival on Jan. 28. (photo THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot)
Sea smoke hugs the Kitimat, BC, harbour on Jan 19, 2012, surrounding the tug Smit Cecil and obscuring an empty barge anchored off the dock. Warmer fresh water from the Kitimat River is caught between the ocean water in the harbour and the frigid air, creating the sea smoke which is then caught by the wind. Kitimat was experiencing -23 C air temperature on this day, a windchill of -38 as arctic air kept much of Canada in the first deep freeze of the winter. (The Canadian Press Images/Robin Rowland)
Patrick O'Hara enjoys a walk through Springbank Park in London's west end with his daughter Quinn and grandson Aidan. (photo: The Canadian Press Images/Mark Spowart)
David Ferguson attempts to stay warm on his walk home from work -27C weather (with the wind chill it felt like -40C) in Saskatoon, Wednesday, January 18, 2012. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards)
Lucy Venegas, a soccer referee from Mexico in the city for the CONCACAF women's Olympic qualifying tournament, catches snowflakes in her mouth in downtown Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday January 18, 2012. Cold weather has enveloped the lower mainland with Vancouverites dealing with temperatures 10 degrees below normal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
A cyclist is framed by icicles hanging from Christmas lights on a tree in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday January 18, 2012. Cold weather has enveloped the lower mainland with Vancouverites dealing with temperatures 10 degrees below normal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
A horse-drawn carriage makes its way down a street in Old Montreal during snowfall Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012. CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson.
Pedestrians brave the blustery winter weather as a storm system hits Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick.
Joe Graham works to clear snow from the front of his family's business in Dubuque, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012. AP PHOTO.
A motorist clears snow from their vehicle in Halifax on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011. A blast of wintry weather descended on the Maritimes causing numerous accidents, closing schools and delaying flights.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Karen Kelly shovels a walkway as snow removal crews clean up on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 23, 2011, after the first snowfall of the season brought upwards of 10 cm of snow to the nation's capital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
A woman cleans snow from her car in Montreal, Wednesday, November 23, 2011 as the first heavy snowfall of winter hits Montreal and surrounding areas. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson makes his way along Wellington Street during a snowfall in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 23, 2011. The first snowfall of the season brought upwards of 10 cm of snow to the Nations capital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
Beijingers walk through the first snowfall of the year at a section of the rebuilt city wall in Beijing on December 2, 2011. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Shoppers walk past large piles of snow in Samara's Leningradskaya Street on November 10, 2011 in Samara, Russia. Samara is one of thirteen proposed host cities as Russia prepares to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup. (Photo by Harry Engels/Getty Images)
A horse stands in the intense wind and snow Monday, Dec., 5, 2011 near his corral off of Highway 70 in Las Cruces, N.M. Snowfall started to blanket the City of the Crosses at about 11 a.m. and steadily continued throughout the day. (AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Shari V. Hill)
Traffic backs up behind snow plows clearing a street in Denver on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. As much as seven inches of snow is in the forecast for the Mile High City on Thursday. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
Ruth Chauff, of New Orleans, laughs after making a small snowman near Point Park on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011., after snow fell across the Chattanooga, Tenn., area. She made a snowman with her daughter April Fontenot, not seen. (AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press, Jake Daniels)
Snow covers Narikala, an ancient fortress dominating Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia on Monday, Nov. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)
Leaves and snow rest on the ground after a winter storm October 30, 2011 in Hartsville, Pennsylvania. Thousands in Pennsylvania and Delaware were left without power from the early winter storm that left up to 10 inches of snow in parts of the states. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN, TENN.
An early snow covers tackling dummies at Signal Mountain High School football practice field, in Signal Mountain, Tenn., early Tuesday morning, Nov. 29, 2011. The snowfall is considered early for the region. (AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press, Dan Henry)
Paul Worsowicz watches his putt during the traditional 29th annual Thanksgiving Day golf tournament Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011 in Concord, N.H. More than 100 players showed up at sunrise to play nine holes in the snow covered course.(AP Photo/Jim Cole)
EAST MONTPELIER, VT.
A flock of wild turkeys walk through a snow-covered field Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011 in East Montpelier, Vt. Snow mixed with sleet and freezing rain is knocking out power to thousands of Vermonters and making the morning commute a slippery one.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)