Atlantic Canadians are bracing for a winter hurricane expected to bring fierce winds and storm surges along with a heavy wallop of snow and rain.
Officials are scrambling to prepare for a "weather bomb" with airlines warning flights may be cancelled, power utilities mobilizing crews from as far away as Quebec and residents advised they may be in the dark for days.
"It's not exaggerating to call it a winter hurricane or a snow hurricane," said David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment Canada. "We're talking about a mighty blow."
As much of the rest of the country has been in wia deep freeze, the monster storm, which will batter Nova Scotia starting Thursday morning, is also expected to pummel Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland with heavy snow and winds. The system is forecast to pack hurricane-force wind gusts of up to 140 kilometres an hour in Cape Breton and 180 kms/h in one area of Newfoundland.
Nova Scotia Power said it has prepared the largest prestorm mobilization of resources in its history. The utility has called in extra technicians from as far away as Quebec to help restore power lines downed by falling trees and poles.
"When we look at the magnitude of the winds and the duration for how long the event is expected to occur, there's just no getting around it that we are facing some serious damage to the power system and that means outages for customers," said Karen Hutt, president and chief executive of Nova Scotia Power.
Environment Canada issued winter storm warnings for the entire Maritimes and, depending on the region, is forecasting heavy snowfall, high winds, significant rainfall and storm surges as well as ice pellets, freezing rain, blowing snow and coastal flooding. Nova Scotia is forecast to receive between 15 to 30 centimetres of snow while New Brunswick is on track for between 25 and 40. Prince Edward Island is expected to get up to 25 centimetres of snow. The storm is expected to hit Newfoundland on Thursday night, with snowfall of between 15 to 25 centimetres in some regions and wind gusts of up to 180 km/h in Channel-Port aux Basques on the province's southwestern tip.
"It will just have [the region] in its hand and be pummelling it. Everything in the lexicon of weather misery will be there," Mr. Phillips said.
Meteorologists are calling the storm a weather bomb, or bombogenesis, which is a powerful system where warm air moving northward is suddenly undercut by very cold air, which causes the storm to strengthen explosively and quickly – with extreme winds – because of a rapid drop in barometric pressure in its centre. This system originated in Florida and resulted in snow in Tallahassee on Wednesday.
The storm comes on the heels of a Christmas Day system that pummelled Nova Scotia with high winds and a mix of snow, freezing rain and rain, causing widespread power outages.
The Nova Scotia government's Emergency Management Office reopened its provincial operations centre on Wednesday evening and said representatives from key partner agencies are co-ordinating storm-response efforts around the clock.
Officials advised residents to stock up on water, non-perishable food and flashlights with batteries and to secure garbage bins and lawn furniture. "Remember that you need to be ready to take care of yourself and your family for 72 hours," the agency warned over Twitter.
Ms. Hutt warned of "extended outages" that may extend into early next week. More than 1,000 personnel have been marshalled to respond to the storm, including technicians staged throughout the province. However, she said it could take hours until it is safe for crews to go up in buckets to restore service, noting they typically wait until winds are less than 80 kilometres an hour.
The utility, along with cities and towns, was readying comfort centres for residents who lose power to get warm and recharge their devices.
NB Power also said it had secured additional crews to respond to outages while other utilities said they were monitoring weather conditions.
In Cape Breton, officials said emergency responders remain on standby. "Continuous risk assessments are conducted throughout the event," John Dilny, manager of emergency management for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, said in a statement.
In Halifax, workers locked the gates of the Public Gardens, a downtown park, as a precautionary measure to protect the public in case of falling trees and icy pathways. Crews are on standby to remove snow as quickly as possible, said Brendan Elliott, a spokesman for the municipality. "We are a well-oiled machine in relation to being ready for these types of storms," he said.
Air Canada and WestJet warned that flights may be delayed or cancelled as a result of the storm and relaxed their rules for rebooking travel.