02/10/2013 11:38 EST | Updated 04/12/2013 05:12 EDT

Blizzard that buried Maritimes and central Canada blasts into Newfoundland

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - A weekend blast of wintry weather brought high winds and heavy snow to Newfoundland Sunday after whipping through Ontario and the Maritimes. Meanwhile, rising temperatures on the West Coast had some Canadians thinking of spring.

Environment Canada meteorologist Jeremy March said central Newfoundland was hit with 33 centimetres of snow over the weekend, and was expecting up to another 20 cm as snow continued to blow in.

St. John's received 23 cm of snow, some of which started to melt later in the day as warmer air and fog rolled in. March said the area was expected to get more snow and freezing rain as the storm pushed through.

Wind gusts of more than 100 kilometres an hour were expected to pummel the country's easternmost province after ripping through parts of the Maritimes Saturday.

March said Nova Scotia got some of the worst winds, with many places seeing winds upward of 140 kilometres per hour. A spot just east of Yarmouth in the province's west was hit by extreme gusts that reached 164 km/h, which count as category 2 hurricane winds, March noted.

The system is a hybrid of a storm that dumped 20 to 40 cm of snow in southern Ontario on Friday and a low pressure system that raged up the U.S. eastern seaboard, March said.

"The two in combination became a really intense low (system) just off the coast of Massachusetts ... that did a lot of damage across the New England states. Eventually it pushed a ton of snow and wind across the Maritimes and now it's in Newfoundland," he said.

Two weather systems joining forces is far from rare in the winter, March said.

"Living in Eastern Canada, we're always prone to getting these big storms."

Several morning flights were cancelled at St. John’s International Airport. About a dozen flights throughout the day were called off at Halifax International Airport, while a number of flights arriving at Toronto's Pearson International Airport from St. John's, Halifax and Moncton, N.B., on Sunday morning were cancelled.

March says the Newfoundland blizzard should be the last gasp for the hybrid storm.

Blowing snow was still whipping through some Maritime streets Sunday, causing whiteout driving conditions on Prince Edward Island roads, the RCMP said.

Access to that province over the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick was restricted due to high winds. Motorcycles and high-sided vehicles including trucks, tractor trailers, recreational vehicles and buses were turned away Sunday afternoon.

In Nova Scotia, slippery conditions on the Trans-Canada Highway led to six collisions in barely about one hour, the Mounties said.

Nova Scotia Power said more than 20,000 customers were without electricity at one point on Saturday, but by early Sunday morning all but a handful had been re-connected.

In southern Ontario, the weekend of clear skies that followed Friday's snow dump was expected to be followed by a new system bringing warmer temperatures and rain — potentially freezing rain in some central areas — later Sunday.

The "mixed bag" of precipitation will arrive in the province's east on Monday, March said.

"In the middle of winter you can expect anything," he said.

Friday's fierce storm left two people dead from vehicle collisions in Ontario, while two elderly people died in separate incidents while shovelling snow in southwestern Ontario.

In Toronto, which saw roughly 30 cm of snow, there was chaos at Pearson airport with numerous flight disruptions, creating a ripple effect across the country.

Air Canada warned Sunday it was still "recovering" from a backlog of delays and cancellations caused by the storm. More than 40 flights were cancelled Sunday, while many other trips were delayed.

The airport's Park'N Fly issued an apology and refunds after lengthy wait times for travellers trying to retrieve their cars.

Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising disruption occurred with a Sunwing Vacation flight full of vacationers bound for Panama and Costa Rica.

The airplane sat on the runway at Pearson for more than 12 hours Friday, grounded by delays linked to the weather. After spending a few more hours waiting in a terminal the passengers finally departed late Friday.

Sunwing spokesman Daryl McWilliams said Sunday that under the circumstances, it's not surprising the airport "wasn't working normally" during the storm.

"But you couldn't blame the airport for that... it was a chaotic situation," he said.

McWilliams said the passengers have been understanding, noting the airline gave them travel vouchers to make up for the unusually long wait.

A Pearson spokeswoman said part of the reason for the delay was a computer glitch that disrupted de-icing operations at the airport.

It was a different story on Canada's west coast.

In Vancouver, temperatures were at 5 degrees Celsius and creeping towards spring-like conditiosn that appeared likely to soon begin coaxing the first buds.

At mid-day, bright sunlight was reflecting off glass apartment buildings in the downtown core as groups of friends wearing toques matched with sunglasses and open jackets strolled down the street.

Many people were preparing to spend some time outdoors on Monday for the province's first-ever Family Day holiday, with plans such as bicycling, rollerblading and walking the seawall path around Stanley Park.

But the city and provincial capital of Victoria, on Vancouver Island, were both expecting drizzle for much of the coming week even as the temperatures were forecast to continue to rise.