‘Very intense’ storm shuts schools, offices across Atlantic Canada

HALIFAX — A powerful storm pummelled Atlantic Canada on Thursday, shutting down everything from schools to bridges with an intense mix of high winds, rain and snow.

“This is definitely a very serious and very intense winter system,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Ian Hubbard.

Social media images showed one Halifax house with its roof gone, and another building that had partially collapsed.

While parts of Nova Scotia were whipped by wind and rains amid temperatures well above freezing, New Brunswickers faced heavy snow that made it impossible to see across the street.

“If you are in your home and don’t need to travel, don’t travel,” said Greg MacCallum, director of New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization, who called it a “serious storm.”

Environment Canada warned high waves combined with storm surges could cause damage along the coast in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island later in the evening, and that flooding was also likely in those areas.

The forecaster warned that people should not attempt to travel across flooded roads because shallow, fast-moving water can sweep a vehicle away.

The agency issued warnings for everything from wind and rain to blizzards and storm surges along much of the Atlantic coast.

“It’s the whole spectrum of weather with this system — you pick a weather and it’s forecast somewhere in Atlantic Canada, it seems,” said Hubbard.

The federal agency had issued a range of winter storm warnings and watches for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, saying the low-pressure system would bring fierce winds that could gust up to about 130 kilometres an hour and snowfall amounts of up to 40 centimetres.

Nova Scotia was expected to see up to 50 millimetres of rain, possibly causing localized flooding.

By Thursday afternoon, many lights were out across Nova Scotia. About 48,000 utility customers were without power as of about 4:30 p.m., many along the Atlantic coast.

In downtown Halifax, the wind started to howl early in the afternoon, sending sheets of rain sideways, stinging pedestrians as they headed home early from work.

Sandra Simons, who lives across the harbour in Dartmouth, was running to catch the last ferry of the day. The service was cancelled early at 2:30 p.m. as the harbour was churned into a roiling mass of white caps and heavy swell.

“It’s lovely,” said Simons. “I like the wind, I like the waves, but it’s hard walking. Still, the wind is really bad here. The ferry behind us is the last one going across, so I’m just running for that.”

Breanne Barry was also on her way home to Dartmouth, but she missed the last ferry.

“It’s crazy — the wind is getting really bad,” said Barry, as she grabbed the fur-lined collar of her parka as it was whipped by the wind. “I’m just happy that we haven’t got any snow. I just want everyone to stay safe and stay off the road.”

Halifax also pulled its buses off the road at 4 p.m., closed the city’s Public Gardens and shut one of two harbour bridges because of the winds.

The severe weather prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to urge Atlantic Canadians to be vigilant.

“To everyone in Atlantic Canada — stay safe, stay indoors, and stay updated on the latest,” he said on Twitter, linking to the Environment Canada website.

All of New Brunswick was under a winter storm warning and the central and northern parts of the province were expected to see roughly 40 centimetres of snow, along with wind gusts of up to 90 km/h in some areas.

MacCallum said NB Power added extra crews and pre-positioned them in areas of the province where outages were likely to occur. The utility was reporting about 1,400 outages as of about 4 p.m.

MacCallum also warned about the dangers of carbon monoxide, and said people should have carbon monoxide detectors in their homes.

“If not, be aware of the threat and avoid doing things like cooking over open flames, using generators near the house or in a garage. These things produce carbon monoxide gas and it will kill people,” he said.

Two people died and others were hospitalized during an ice storm that hit the province in January of last year.

MacCallum said EMO is working with the Red Cross to identify warming centres and shelters in the event people are left without power for an extended time.

P.E.I. was expected to be hit by fierce winds and up to 25 centimetres of snow before it changes to rain in the evening.

Hubbard also warned that high tide was expected to coincide with the greatest surge in the evening.

“That’s a very serious side of the storm,” he said of the system that was drawing its strength from the combination of warm and cold air.

Nova Scotia Power said it had more than 1,000 people at the ready in what is its biggest-ever pre-storm mobilization of personnel and resources.

More than 50 departures and arrivals were cancelled Halifax Stanfield International Airport. Marine Atlantic also cancelled sailings between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, while Bay Ferries shelved its crossings between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

School boards in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. didn’t wait for the storm to arrive, with most schools and some universities closing well before the weather set in. Many government offices, schools and businesses also shut down for the day.

Hubbard said the storm was expected to continue its northerly trek, with the centre of the low over the Gulf of St. Lawrence early Friday and packing strong winds that could see blizzard conditions in much of Labrador.

In the U.S., the storm dumped as much as 18 inches of snow from the Carolinas to Maine and unleashing hurricane-force winds.

Forecasters expected the system to be followed immediately by a blast of face-stringing cold air that could break records in more than two dozen cities, with wind chills falling to minus 40 in some places this weekend.

Three people were killed in North Carolina after their vehicles ran off snow-covered roads, authorities said.

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