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The Globe and Mail

Spring storm hammers Atlantic Canada with severe winds, snow

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

PAUL DARROW/The Globe and Mail

In the Cape Breton highlands, where severe winds known as les suetes were howling off the mountains, Rankin MacDonald was having trouble seeing the highway a football field away from his house – it was a total whiteout.

"Boy, it's humming now, I'll tell you," Mr. MacDonald said, snuggled into his home in East Lake Ainslie on the western side of the island and expecting to be there for a couple of days at least.

"Once the snow comes, you can't get out," he said about his lane that was blocked with drifts about a metre to two metres high. He and his partner, Cindy O'Neill, brought in extra food and wood to heat the house if the power went out. It was likely they'd have to wait for the plow to come – a problem, as Mr. MacDonald is the editor of the local newspaper, the Inverness Oran. The weekly was to be out Wednesday, but the plant in Pictou that prints it shut down for the storm.

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That was the story across the Atlantic region, where an early spring storm that was attracting nicknames including "bombogenesis" and "Juanabe" (after the devastating White Juan storm of 2004) brought strong winds and dumped snow and ice pellets everywhere. The storm that started early Wednesday morning along Nova Scotia's south shore quickly made its way across the province and into Prince Edward Island, which was expected to get 40 centimetres of snow before it's over.

In much of Canada, it hasn't been spring-like either. Although it's been balmy in British Columbia, temperatures in Ontario, for example, were below normal – Toronto has had its coldest winter in 20 years. According to Environment Canada, what has already been a long, difficult winter for most Canadians is expected to continue for another couple of weeks.

On Wednesday, most of Nova Scotia closed down. Flights in and out of Halifax Stanfield International Airport were cancelled, mail delivery stopped, the liquor stores closed, kids stayed home from school, universities shut down and so did the city buses in Halifax. Even the Nova Scotia Casino stopped doing business in the afternoon. The high winds were causing power outages across the province, and along the Acadian Shore and parts of the Annapolis Valley power was not expected to be restored until Thursday morning.

The Trans-Canada was closed from Truro to Moncton – about 172 kilometres, the RCMP said. About 450 snowplows and salt trucks were working around the clock. Barbara Baillie, executive director, maintenance and operations, Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, said one of her supervisors told her some highways were "still passable if you're foolish enough to be out there." Her department also tied down all seven provincial ferries, which cross lakes, rivers and ocean bays, for the first time anyone could recall.

At Dalhousie University, "we are locked in at school," said Stephen Stone, an MA student. Although the campus was closed, he and two colleagues were working on a project and "only have a few slices of bread and peanut butter to last us since everything is shut down [in downtown Halifax]." Meanwhile, they were charging their phones and laptops in case the power went out.

Halifax lawyer Jane O'Neill was working from home, able to make calls to people in other parts of the country at their offices on this spring day – and she was supervising her three girls, who didn't have school Wednesday and went outside to play in the snow.

In Mr. MacDonald's area, the winds were the real issue – blowing as hard as 160 kilmotres an hour – as they were along the Atlantic coast, where there were concerns about storm surges that could cause damage to fishing wharves and other infrastructure.

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Given that the storm was to continue overnight, officials were worried about the damage they would wake up to. But the storm, especially the wind, was expected to die down Thursday afternoon, and by the weekend temperatures in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were forecast to be as high as 10 C.

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