TORONTO - The storm bearing down on Ontario may not be a genuine winter behemoth, but it is shaping up to be the most substantial snowfall most Ontarians have seen in more than four years, Environment Canada said Thursday.

Senior climatologist David Phillips said the storm — set to start making its mark on southern Ontario late Thursday — will leave a large swath of the province painted white by Friday evening.

The storm is expected to hit parts of Quebec by Friday before moving onto New Brunswick and Nova Scotia over the rest of the weekend, dumping up to 30 centimetres of snow as it goes.

Toronto residents can expect up to 15 centimetres of snow, while regions as far west as London and as far east as Kingston may see upwards of 30 centimetres.

Such quantities are not all that remarkable in and of themselves, but Phillips said they may feel that way due to their novelty.

Toronto hasn't seen a snowfall exceeding 15 centimetres since Dec. 19, 2008, he said, adding the precipitation from the current system represents nearly half the total snowfall for all of last year.

"In the scheme of things it's not a record, but in terms of what we've seen in the relatively near past, it is a big one," Phillips said in a telephone interview.

The storm's novelty sent many Toronto residents flocking to Twitter.

Local businesses promoted everything from hot soups to reduced snow hotel rates. Students expressed their hopes that tests would be cancelled, but the Toronto District School Board said no decisions on closures would be made until the morning.

Some residents tweeted they would skip work Friday to avoid treacherous driving and pedestrian conditions, but the majority of the social media chatter focused on mocking the city's reputation for premature winter panic.

"Toronto needs to relax... it's SNOW, not the end of the world," wrote one user.

"Tell your Toronto friends to suck it up and deal with snow without whining, just like the rest of Canada does," wrote another.

Ontario residents will be contending with what Phillips described as a "one-day wonder" complete with winds gusting to at least 60 kilometres an hour. As they begin cleaning up, however, Canadians in provinces further east will be gearing up for their own encounter with the storm.

Chris Scott, director of meteorology at the Weather Network, said the storm is caused by a merger between a low pressure system tracking up the midwestern United States and a massive storm currently causing havoc along the eastern seaboard.

The U.S. National Weather Service is predicting heavy precipitation for Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York, adding areas around Boston may find themselves digging out from under more than half a metre of snow by Saturday.

Scott urged Canadians to look to their southern neighbours to keep the storm in perspective.

"That's a paralyzing storm compared to what Ontario is seeing," he said. "With so many people not on the roads tomorrow, if you have to get somewhere and you've got a great vehicle, chances are you probably can. Someone in Massachusetts won't be getting anywhere Friday and Saturday with this system."

Flights in the U.S. are already being cancelled in anticipation of the storm. Air Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Phillips said residents of the Prairie and Western provinces can simply sit back and enjoy the show unfolding on the opposite coast — no severe weather warnings are currently projected west of Ontario.

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