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Three people struggle through high winds and snow as they cross Hollis street in downtown Halifax.  March 26, 2014. (Paul Darrow for the Globe and Mail)

Three people struggle through high winds and snow as they cross Hollis street in downtown Halifax.  March 26, 2014.

(Paul Darrow for the Globe and Mail)

Strong wind, snow shuts down parts of Atlantic Canada Add to ...

Nova Scotia is closed down today as it braces for a severe spring storm that has already started to bring strong winds and as much as 40 centimetres of snow to some parts of the province.

Most flights in and out of the Halifax Stanfield International Airport are cancelled; schools and universities are closed, as are provincial government offices across most of the province. Banks, credit unions and other businesses are shut down, including Dartmouth’s Mic Mac Mall. Even the iconic Chickenburger in Bedford is shuttered for the day. Some fisherman are tying up their boats after having come into shore early to avoid the storm.

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Strong winds are causing the biggest concern along Nova Scotia’s south shore as winds combined with the tides can cause storm surges and damage to local wharves and other infrastructure.

In Shelburne, a small town on the province’s southern tip, the storm started around 6 a.m. - and the wind gusts are now up to 100 km/hr.

“The winds and high tides will undoubtedly have storm surge issues for us,” says Kirk Cox, the chief administrative officer of Shelburne. He is expecting damage to wharves and infrastructure in the downtown area.

The snow, he says, is not “intense” - just a few centimetres is falling ever hour. “But it’s hard to tell because the wind isn’t really letting it land … there are drifts at places.” But power in the municipality has gone out twice for a short time, he reports.

“Won't be long now before power goes out,” says Mr. Cox.

Across the province, winds appear to be the biggest issue.

Sean Irvine, director of provincial operations with the Emergency Management Office, told reporters Wednesday morning that not only are there concerns about storm surges along the south shore but also later in the day along the Northumberland Strait. That’s because the winds will be picking up at high tide.

“The icing conditions up there do make it a bit unpredictable as to what the impacts will be,” says Mr. Irvine. There will be ice that will be pushed ashore that could complicate issues.”

He said on the south shore, the storm surge is not “quite in sync with the high tide” so there might not be as much damage.

“But we are still monitoring that and advising people to be cautious,” he said.

Halifax City Council cancelled Wednesday’s meeting to table a budget that includes how much to spend on next year’s snow removal.

“This is Canada. Snow happens,” said Mayor Mike Savage, as he rescheduled the meeting for next week and prepared his city for the storm.

“We have our snow-clearing folks ready. They have a strategy in place for this,” said the mayor, who this year dedicated $20-million of his city’s $830-million budget for snow clearing. He figures he’s going to exceed that, but he’s not sure yet by how much.

Mr. Savage urged people to stay home and off the roads if possible. Haligonians listened as traffic on the roads and highways is reported to be much lighter than usual.

If it gets really bad and if we have to have an emergency then we’ll have it, but at this point in time it’s a moderately late-season storm that looks like it’s going to be worse than usual,” Mr. Savage said. “… The good news is it will be followed by warmer weather.”

The storm is expected to move quickly from Yarmouth on Nova Scotia’s south shore to Halifax and up to Cape Breton, said Environment Canada meteorologist Tracey Talbot. “By mid– to late morning we will be getting a lot of blowing snow, low visibilities, blizzard-like conditions and that’s going to be pretty much throughout the entire province,” she said, adding the storm will also head to Prince Edward Island, as well as eastern and southeastern New Brunswick. Later in the day and into Thursday it will be in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Ms. Talbot was forecasting between 30 to 40 centimetres of snow in some parts of the region. For example, PEI, which has already been hit hard this winter – it is 20 per cent over its average snowfall – is expected to get more than 40 cm.

Nova Scotia Power, meanwhile, has between 100 and 105 line crews ready in the event of power outages. The combination of heavy snow and high winds is a concern for the power company, which is having crews fan out across the province to various depots so they can be deployed quickly, reducing travel time to trouble spots. Storm surges – waves over seven metres – are expected Wednesday along the Atlantic coast from Shelburne to Guysborough. If they occur at high tide, there could be flooding and infrastructure damage.

There is a wind warning for the region. In Cape Breton, a wind phenomenon called les suetes is to bring wind gusts of 160 km/h through the Cape Breton highlands, while the notorious Wreckhouse winds of western Newfoundland are expected to reach 180 km/h.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM), which includes Sydney, has budgeted for 15 storms. But the area is pushing 25 storms now, and CBRM has overshot its $2-million snow removal budget by $1-million so far.

CTV Atlantic’s meteorologist Cindy Day said she received calls and e-mails from people who make their living plowing roads or delivering furnace oil. “They, too, have had it,” Ms. Day said. “They don’t care if they make more money … they just want to see it end.”

Still, the storm is not unusual for this time of year. Ms. Day noted that the record snowfall in Halifax for a day in March is 30 centimetres. That happened in 1984. On May 10, 1972, Halifax got 27 centimetres of snow. And last year, 60 centimetres of snow fell on Newfoundland and Labrador on the May 24th weekend.

Anticipating the latest storm, Mr. Savage said, “people should as much as possible … stay home and stay off the roads and our guys will get their job done.”

Follow on Twitter: @janetaber1

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