OHS Canada Magazine

Emergency declared in Cape Breton as snowstorm leaves much of Nova Scotia paralyzed

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February 5, 2024
By The Canadian Press

Health & Safety Cape Breton Extreme Weather nova scotia Snow

Pedestrians make their way through blowing snow as a winter storm continues to batter Halifax on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

A local state of emergency remained in effect in parts of Cape Breton on Monday morning, as Nova Scotia dug out from one of the heaviest snowfalls in 20 years.

On Sunday afternoon, as a stalled low-pressure system continued to dump snow on the island for a second day, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality urged people to stay at home.

“Do not travel,” the municipality said in an online post. “Roadways are being cleared for emergency response and travel of essential workers. The process is slow and plows require several passes to deal with the significant accumulation.”

Images posted on social media showed huge snowdrifts atop homes and outbuildings, buried and abandoned vehicles strewn across major highways, and homeowners using shovels to carve tunnel-like paths to move around their properties.

The Eskasoni First Nation, about 40 kilometres southwest of Sydney, declared a local state of emergency early Monday. The band issued a statement saying it was expecting up to 150 centimetres of snow by the end of the day.


“Eskasoni First Nation has exhausted all resources, with snow removal-capable vehicles within the community becoming stuck or otherwise unable to continue operations,” the band said in an online post.

More than 80 cm of snow were recorded in eastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, but strong winds since Friday sculpted massive drifts that will take days to clear.

Unofficial records showed up to 150 cm had fallen in Sydney, the largest community in Cape Breton. In the Halifax area, between 40 and 50 cm fell since Friday afternoon, but 83 cm was reported at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Scores of flights were cancelled or delayed at the region’s busiest airport, and more than 7,000 power outages were reported across the province Monday morning.

Schools were closed, and government offices delayed opening or closed for the day, except in the western municipalities, where the snowfall was much lighter.

Strong winds over the weekend made it difficult to measure the snowfall, said Ian Hubbard, a Halifax-based meteorologist with Environment Canada.

Northeast of the Halifax region, for example, communities in Pictou County reported between 50 and 100 cm of snow.

Hubbard said the centre of the storm parked itself off Nova Scotia’s east coast on Friday afternoon and it barely budged until Monday morning, when it started to break apart.

“It did stall,” Hubbard said in an interview. “It was able to continually tap into moisture and produce a lot of snow.”

In Prince Edward Island, a provincial byelection slated for Monday was postponed until Tuesday. Tim Garrity, CEO of Elections P.E.I., issued a statement saying the storm’s track shifted westward overnight, causing dangerous driving conditions across the Island.

“We want voters to exercise their right to vote, but in a safe manner,” Garrity said.

It was almost 20 years ago that a more powerful snowstorm slammed into the region, dumping up to 95 cm of snow in and around the Halifax area. That storm, known as White Juan, came five months after hurricane Juan made landfall near Halifax, churning out damaging gusts at 140 kilometres per hour.

On Friday, Nova Scotia’s most famous groundhog, Shubenacadie Sam, emerged on a cloudy Groundhog Day, which prompted his handlers to proclaim springlike weather would soon arrive. A light snowfall started later that day and it continued all weekend.

On Monday, temperatures rose close to the freezing point or just above as the storm system moved farther offshore. Hubbard said fair weather was in the forecast for the rest of the week, though bands of snow were still moving through northern Nova Scotia on Monday morning.


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