Torontonians were snowed in Sunday as a massive storm blanketed the GTA causing hundreds of cancellations, countless delays and a fatal tragedy on the road.

The storm was expected to taper off overnight, leaving as much as 30 centimetres of snow in some areas. The clean-up costs were estimated at $5 million.

Road conditions were expected to improve Monday morning.

Peter Noehammer, Director of Transportation Services for Toronto, told CTV News city staff would work round the clock to ensure major roads and highways would be clear in time for the morning rush hour.

However side streets would probably not be cleared until Monday night, he said.

"We ask people to be patient," he said. "We will get to your street. It takes us about 18 hours to clear all of the local roads in Toronto."

At one point Sunday afternoon, the Canadian Automobile Association said tow truck drivers would need about two hours to respond to stranded motorists.

"I'm so busy I won't even answer the phone," one tow truck driver told CTV Toronto.

However, a spokesperson for the company told The Canadian Press they have received only 12,000 calls -- half the emergency calls they usually receive on a Sunday -- mostly because people heeded the winter storm warnings and stayed home.

Road crews were out Saturday night clearing the snow on major expressways and arterial roads but driving conditions remained treacherous throughout the day.

A mother of two was killed in the London, Ont. area when she reportedly pulled over under an overpass and got out of her car to clean her windshield wipers. She died when a snow plow clipped the back of her van, pinning her against the bridge. She suffered major head injuries and died at the scene.

Two passengers in the car, who are said to be related to the woman, were sent to hospital for shock.

Environment Canada's winter warning continued Sunday for southern Ontario. It warned the region would receive a near record amount of snow.

Between 20 and 30 centimetres of snow are expected to fall in the GTA but some areas of the province are expected to receive between 40 and 50 centimetres. Gusts of wind reaching 70 km/h will make weather conditions even more difficult.

Some in Toronto reported thunder and lightning in the area.

"A crippling major winter storm with heavy snow and blowing snow as well as some ice pellets is moving in right on schedule this morning," said a statement posted on the government agency's website.

"A massive winter storm has begun over southern Ontario and the stage is set for this dangerous storm to kick into high gear over the entire forecast district today with near record snowfall amounts."

Storm strands travellers

The Ontario Provincial Police warned motorists to stay home as roads were blanketed with snow and freezing rain. Drivers who had to go out were warned to use extreme caution, reduce their speed, and give themselves plenty of extra time to arrive to their destination.

The OPP responded to hundreds of accident calls since about 6 a.m. A few of them have been serious, including the fatal London-area accident. Police have closed off a section of Highway 401 at Dorchester Road while they investigate the incident.

Ramps leading to the highway were especially slippery as most of them were not plowed. Travelling uphill on any city road was a dangerous challenge for drivers.

Around Toronto, cars had a hard time getting up the hill at Bathurst Street and Davenport Road mostly because of the sheet of ice underneath the snow.

A spokesperson with the city's Emergency Medical Services said while there have been accidents on Toronto roads, none have been serious. Traffic has been light and those who have ventured out have been driving with caution.

The biggest problem has been people slipping on ice that wasn't cleared away during the last storm and is now covered with snow.

The TTC shut down the Scarborough LRT, from Kennedy subway station to the Scarborough Town Centre, because of the snow. Shuttle busses helped transport stranded commuters.

The massive storm has crippled air travel too. About 25 per cent of flights coming in and out of Pearson International Airport were cancelled. Travellers are warned to call ahead to check on the status of their flight. So many people have been checking the website that it crashed several times throughout the day.

"We're going to be looking at reduced operations due to snow clearing and de-icing,'' Toby Lennox of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority said Saturday.

"There will be delays, there will be cancellations.''

 VIA Rail trains were operating normally though some were experiencing delays. Several Go Transit trains were running late Sunday as well. Some community organizations cancelled their programming for the day.

The storm, which originated in Texas, was just west of Cleveland, Ohio at 9 a.m. ET and is moving to the northeast, David Phillips told CTV Newsnet on Sunday.

Forecasters predicted the storm would end over the Windsor area in the evening but would continue during the night in southern Ontario and into Monday morning in the eastern region of the province.

Weather warnings have been issued for Ontario, southern Quebec and all of the Atlantic Provinces.

On Saturday night, Toronto geared up for the storm with 600 snow plows, 200 salt trucks, 300 sidewalk plows and 1700 staff members on standby.

Laura Cooke, a spokesperson from Ontario's Hydro One, told Saturday emergency preparations are in place with crews and helicopters on standby to repair any power outages that may occur because of the storm. Outages were reported in Oakville and Peterborough.

Winter officially starts next Saturday.

"Just because you have this one storm doesn't mean we're into the winter from hell, but my gosh, it's certainly started that way," Phillips said.

List of closures

  • York University 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. exams
  • GTHL hockey games
  • Christmas pageant at the Grace Christian Reform Church and Olivet New Church
  • Christmas party at the Bob Rumbell Centre for the Deaf
  • S.S.E. classes at Woburn Collegiate in Scarborough
  • The Nutcracker rehearsal at Cardinal Carter Academy
  • The Festival of Carols at Grace Church-on-the-Hill in Toronto scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
  • Halton Down Syndrome Association Christmas Party
  • Chess and Math Association's chess tournament at Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School
  • Applebee College's Christmas community skate in Oakville
  • Handi-van service
  • All of Porter Airlines' Sunday flights
  • Mooredale Youth Orchestra at Rosedale Heights scheduled for 3 p.m. cancelled
  • All services at Salvation Army Churches
  • Toronto United Menonite Church services and activities
  • All services at Unionville Alliance Church in Markham
  • All classes at the downtown Toronto Jewish Community School
  • Sunday classes at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto in Scarborough
  • All religious classes at the International Muslims Organization at 65 Rexdale Blvd.
  • Classes at Yeshivat or Chaim Hebrew School near downsview
  • Horseback riding lessons at Meadowclarke stables in Misissauga
  • International language classes at St. Herbert in Mississauga
  • Services at Dawes Road Gospel Church

With reports from CTV correspondents Janice Golding and John Musselman