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TORONTO/OTTAWA (Reuters) - Eastern Canada closed in on record snowfall levels this weekend, after a late-season storm dumped up to half a meter (20 inches) of snow on a region that has already been battered by a series of winter storms.
Toronto was among the first hit late on Friday as the storm pushed up from the U.S. Midwest. By Sunday, about 30 cm (12 inches) of snow had accumulated, leading to hundreds of traffic accidents, scores of flight cancellations and buried any expectations of spring.
It also left the country's biggest city only about 21 cm (8 inches) shy of its 69-year-old annual snowfall record.
"People are demanding a recount, they want to break the record," said David Phillips, Environment Canada's chief climatologist.
"It was a monster storm where you had the lake-effect component, the winds were wild, and there were two waves of it," he said in an interview.
Montreal took on about 42 cm (16 inches) of snow over the weekend, leaving it about 23 cm shy of its record, set in the winter of 1970-71.
But Ottawa felt the most pain: The nation's capital just about completely shut down after more than 50 cm (20 inches) of snow fell, canceling flights, trains, buses and many activities.
About 407 cm (13.4 feet) of snow has fallen in the city so far this year, which approaches its seemingly invincible record of 445 cm, also set in 1970-71.
Nearing the record has produced a sharp though good-natured divide between those winter-weary souls who say enough already, and those who want to have something to tell their grandchildren.
"Bring it on! Be brave," said Marc Moreau, smoking outside an Ottawa office building in a group where snow was the only topic of conversation.
"Second is good enough for me," disagreed his friend John Carmichael, hoping, probably in vain, that this past weekend will have seen the last snowfall.
Even if Ottawa's plows were out 24 hours a day, there was nowhere to put the white stuff in some cases. Some major streets were reduced by a lane in each direction -- even on Monday morning, a day after the storm had stopped -- because of huge snowbanks.
With snow easily piled up to 1.5 meters (5 feet) fire officials were warning residents to keep their furnace vents clear to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
The city is bracing for more snow on Thursday and several days of snow in the second half of March.
"Ottawa is really just three Alberta Clippers or one Colorado Hooker away from getting the big record," Phillips said, referring to common winter storms in central and eastern parts of Canada and the United States.
The climatologist noted that although Canada has seen a lot of precipitation this winter, it is still slightly warmer than average. This is because the storms have originated from down in the United States, not the much colder and dryer Arctic regions, Phillips said.
Meanwhile, on Canada's west coast, Spring flowers have been in bloom for weeks. The temperature in Vancouver was 10 Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) over the weekend, and much the same was expected on Monday.
Additional reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; editing by Rob Wilson