Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Multi-day storm puts wintry grip on Guysborough County, Eastern Shore

More than 100 centimetres reported in some areas

  • February 7 2024
  • By Corey LeBlanc    

GUYSBOROUGH – Since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Those lyrics from the 1945 tune “Let It Snow,” one covered over the years by famous crooners – such as Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra – may have come to mind for many Nova Scotians over the weekend as they experienced a multi-day wintry blast that lasted, depending on where you live, from midday Friday until late Monday evening.

Northeastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton bore the brunt of the seasonal storm that sparked memories of White Juan in 2004 and another multi-day blizzard – one packing much stronger winds – that blasted a similar geography of the province in 1992.

This most recent entry in the weather record book by Mother Nature includes several communities with snow accumulation counts of more than 100 centimetres, including Spanish Ship Bay in the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s (105 cms). Reports in the Sydney area of Cape Breton have reached more than 150 centimetres.

Sheet Harbour snowfall figures ranged between 45 and 50 centimetres. Totals for Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) communities averaged 90 to 100 centimetres, according to municipal emergency management coordinator Shawn Andrews, with Canso – due its coastal location – likely receiving even more snow.

The issue as the clean-up continues is that – unlike the aforementioned tune indicates – people do have places to go; the problem is – because of the volume of snow and the time-consuming process to remove it – the clean-up will take several days. It is not only an issue for people looking to get out, but also those trying to get in, such as power crews attempting to gain access to carry out repairs.

In an interview with The Journal late Tuesday morning (Feb. 6), Andrews said there remained 300 customers of Nova Scotia Power (NSP) without service in MODG. He noted that restoration for them was expected by “the end of the day.” If that didn’t happen, there would be a warming center open in the New Harbour area to provide an option for those still without power.

When it comes to roads, Andrews explained that the main arteries have been cleared – at least on a limited basis – but most secondary and gravel roads remain inaccessible. With the amount of snow that had fallen, he said that “heavier” equipment has been required to carry out the work.

“They have been doing a phenomenal job,” Andrews said of the municipal public works staff and their provincial counterparts, who have been working non-stop since during the storm and its aftermath.

As the clean-up continues, when it comes to hearing concerns from residents, Andrews said they are increasingly focused on being able to access emergency services, such as an ambulance or fire truck, if needed.

“As quickly as possible,” Andrews offered as the goal of returning things to ‘normal,’ while noting there remains plenty of work to do.

For example, with roads, not only do the secondary and gravel ones need attention, but the main arteries also required further widening and clearing. He noted the need for motorists to continue to be careful, including at intersections, where snow has been piled up and visibility is affected.

Andrews also noted that, in the next few days, the provincial fire marshal’s office is expected to announce guidelines for snow removal from rooftops.

“Continue to look out for your neighbours, and give them a helping hand if you can,” he said.

Doug Patterson, CAO of the District of St. Mary’s echoed the sentiment, as the dig out continued in that municipality.

“We don’t see the repercussions of the weather as being over. This is an ongoing issue with continued risks and challenges for some area residents. We are still monitoring the situation and public needs,” he told The Journal in a Feb. 6 email.

He noted that the “unusually large” snowfall meant that there were residents still not plowed out.

“We have started to hear some concerns about delays in road plowing keeping residents at home, or that some residents are having difficulty coping with the snow load. We are working to coordinate with Nova Scotia Emergency Management Office (NSEMO) for support of residents who are having difficulty.”

Patterson said that the municipality had not activated any warming centres as of Tuesday afternoon.

“During a weather event the best solution for people is to shelter in place because of hazards of leaving home during the storm. Comfort stations are usually opened after it is safe to travel to provide people with warmth, electricity, water, etc.”

He added, “In the case of this weekend’s winter storm, local power outages were limited and most power failures were repaired before public travel became practical. We are still monitoring the situation.”

In a press conference on Monday afternoon (Feb. 5), provincial officials reported – despite traffic being at a standstill across a big chunk of the province – that EHS personnel continued to answer hundreds of calls during the stormy days.

“We have had more than our fair share,” Premier Tim Houston said in his opening remarks of the snowfall.

He added, “It will take time but we will dig out.”

Houston also advised people to “be careful” shovelling the heavy, wet snow that has accumulated.

He noted that provincial crews have been working around the clock since the storm hit. To help handle the volume of work required, he explained that equipment and personnel were being brought in from other provinces. The federal government has also been asked for assistance, including snow removal equipment from the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

“No stone is being left unturned,” Houston offered.

Mark Peachey – chief engineer for Nova Scotia Public Works – indicated that more than 400 pieces of equipment and 1,000 workers had been mobilized, which he noted is the most since White Juan swept across the province.

“We have a big job in front of us,” he said.

Peachey added that 100-series highways, the first that are plowed, were open as of Monday afternoon. Trunks and routes, which he described as “in relatively decent shape,” and other high-traffic roads, are next on the priority list, followed by gravel roads.

Early on, he explained, snow removal was slowed by equipment breakdowns created by the “sheer volume of snow” that operators were dealing with in recent days.

“It has taken its toll,” Peachey noted.

Snow removal on affected roads was projected to be a multi-day task.

Houston, who represents Pictou East in the provincial legislature, noted that he and his colleagues were hearing from residents of neighbouring Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough counties that rural roads remained “impassable.”

“There is so much snow,” Janice Christie told The Journal on Monday afternoon from Sheet Harbour.

She credited snow removal crews for their work.

“They have been going full out,” Christie added.

In Canso, Ray White described “deep snow drifts.”

He added, “It is heavy snow to shovel,” echoing a common feeling of those reflecting on their shovelling experiences.

Like Christie, White praised plow operators who were able to clear most roads on Sunday and Monday “under difficult conditions.”

Although the storm led to a variety of multi-day closures, including businesses, schools and government offices, it also necessitated a long-awaited opening.

The new extreme weather emergency shelter located in Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Monastery, which is a cooperative effort of Antigonish-based A Roof Over Your Head Society (AROYHS) and Our Lady of Grace Monastery Foundation, with financial and other supports from the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services (DCS), opened on Friday (Feb. 2) as the storm began to last the region.

It was scheduled to provide shelter and meals to those in need until noon on Tuesday (Feb. 6).

With the high amount of snow, not to mention the winds that caused drifting conditions, it has been challenging to nail down final amounts. Volunteers across the province are often the resource for accumulation numbers. While most tallies are recorded with the traditional measuring stick, some people were innovative in trying to keep track, including Steve Giles – owner of Sober Island Brewing Company in Sheet Harbour.

“It started on Saturday when we noticed how high the snow on the rail was getting, so I snapped a picture to post online, but it was difficult to show how high it was without something to reference,” he told The Journal in an email interview, noting that he took a beer out of the fridge to provide that perspective.

It sparked an online conversation regarding how many stacked cans would be needed to measure the continuing snowfall.

“The next morning (Sunday) when I came in, we had even more people asking what it was at now, so I started stacking cans to take another picture. I called it the official Sober Island Brewing Deck Rail snow tracker. We called the units beers’ deep,” he explained.

“We even asked how that would convert to storm chips; it turns out five beers equalled three bags of Covered Bridge Storm Chips.”

Giles said the posts started getting shares from as far afield as Ontario and parts of the United States.

“I never thought it would take off. I was just passing time myself by trying to come up with a creative post.”