Weathering the storm

Weather can significantly impact how Toronto Pearson operates, which may affect runway configuration or results in significant flight delays or cancelations. Although rare, severe weather has resulted in airport property damage and personal injury. Delays in the flight schedule because of weather can cause a ripple effect that affects air travel, nation-wide. Forecasting, monitoring, planning, prevention, and in-the-moment response can minimize the impact and keep everyone working safely when storms hit.

Tracking severe weather

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) uses a weather forecasting service to prepare and plan for the effects of weather continuously, and monitors watches and warnings from Environment Canada. The day-of operational teams also use various online weather tools that support the aviation industry, such as CoSPA (Consolidated Storm Prediction for Aviation) by MIT and HubWx by the Meteorological Service of Canada.

Although a weather system in another area may not directly impact Toronto Pearson, it can affect flights from YYZ to the affected airports, as is often the case with areas that are prone to hurricanes and tropical storms. Operational staff monitor and plan for impacts based on these systems.


HubWx showing YYZ forecast for September 13-15; thunderstorms, fog, high winds and warm temperatures are forecast over 48 hours

Preparing for the worst

When an upcoming weather system has the potential to negatively impact the airport, the GTAA will begin planning to ensure:

  • Availability of resources before, during, and after the event, including staffing, equipment readiness and inventory and supplies
  • Contingencies or activities depending on the specific conditions, such as airside service road closures, traffic management initiatives (TMI), switching to alternative electrical power source, and ensuring drains are free of debris if flooding is expected
  • Collaboration and communications to airport partners to confirm their severe weather plans
  • Communication to the public and passengers about impending weather

Reacting in the moment

Once the weather arrives, operational teams implement the severe weather plans, and continue to adjust as the weather changes or as operations deteriorate or improve.

Communication is key to successfully mitigating the impact and providing stakeholders with information. The Airport Duty Manager will issue Everbridge notifications to the airport community providing updates on weather conditions, and host calls with key external stakeholders to collaborate on the weather response strategy.

As conditions rapidly change and the impact to the operation increases, additional contingency plans may be implemented. When capacity is reduced and more flights have gate holds, the Aircraft Staging and Parking Plan is implemented where all arriving flights will be staged at predetermined locations on the airfield until a gate is made available. To prevent gridlock on the airfield, NAV CANADA may implement an Arrival Traffic Management Initiative (A-TMI) such as a ground stop or ground delay program (GDP) to meter flights into Toronto Pearson which ensures the health and safety of our airport employees and passengers.

Weather also impacts terminal operations, and there are contingency plans to ensure the health, safety and comfort of passengers. Public announcements are made to inform passengers of weather conditions and whether they can expect delays in baggage delivery or flights. Airport shops and restaurants remain open beyond their regular hours to provide options for delayed passengers.

The GTAA works closely with airlines to ensure they can meet the requirements of the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR or “passenger bill of rights”) and prioritizing critical flights for departures or stands.

How you can help

  • Be aware of your surroundings; weather can change without warning
  • Pay attention to advisories and share information with affected staff
  • Ensure you have a severe weather plan
  • Report hazards to the Airport Operations Control (AOC):
    • Emergencies: Airport Emergency Line at 416-776-3033
    • Urgent but non-emergency: 416-776-3055
    • Snow/ice removal requests: 416-776-SNOW (7669)
    • Operating challenges, including inadequate staffing levels and equipment malfunctions: Airport Duty Manager at 416-776-1104
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the weather when outdoors
  • Drive according to weather conditions
  • In the winter, give way to equipment that are in the process of removing snow or treating surfaces
  • Stow or secure loose equipment and ensure parking brakes are engaged
  • Take shelter from severe or hazardous weather, including Lightning Warning System (LWS) strobes

Toronto Pearson has seen its fair share of severe weather in the past decade, such as the heavy rainfall of July 8, 2013, where the Greater Toronto Area saw a month’s worth of rainfall in just over three hours, and the wintry blast of the “polar vortex” of January 2014. It is difficult to forecast severe weather, but planning, communications and taking precautions help us be able to better weather the storm informing our passengers, airport operators and employees consistently.

Ponding on the airfield on July 8, 2013