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The Globe and Mail

Atlantic Canada braces for spring blizzard

A major snowstorm in Toronto, Ontario caused poor driving conditions on Friday, February 8, 2012

Roger Hallett/The Globe and Mail

It's spring at last and Halifax City Council was ready to table a budget that includes how much to spend on next year's snow removal. Only one problem: The Wednesday meeting was cancelled because of a huge snowstorm bearing down on the entire Atlantic region.

"This is Canada. Snow happens," said Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, as he rescheduled the meeting for next week and prepared his city for a storm on Wednesday that is supposed to bring wind gusts of up to 100 kilometres an hour and dump 20 to 25 centimetres of snow.

"We have our snow-clearing folks ready. They have a strategy in place for this," said the mayor, who this year budgeted $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.

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"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 to begin around dawn and move quickly from Yarmouth on Nova Scotia's south shore to Halifax and up to Cape Breton, says 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 is 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 centimetres.

At Halifax Stanfield International Airport, spokesman Peter Spurway said passengers should expected significant disruptions and advised them to stay in close touch with their airlines on Wednesday.

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 Cape Breton – a wind phenomenon called "les suetes" is to bring wind gusts of 160 km/h through the Cape Breton highlands and into the Wreckhouse area of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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.

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CTV Atlantic's meteorologist Cindy Day says she's 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 notes 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."

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