High winds knocked out power in thousands of homes in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. Friday night as people in Atlantic Canada began feeling the wrath of Fiona.
By 10 p.m., more than 14,000 homes and businesses in Nova Scotia had been plunged into darkness. Most of the outages were reported in the central part of the province, mainly in the communities of Sackville, Truro and Stellarton.
In Prince Edward Island more than 1,000 homes and businesses had lost power as the wind picked up across the region.
Earlier in the day, people across Atlantic Canada stocked up on last-minute essentials and storm-proofed their properties ahead of the arrival of Fiona, which forecasters said will hit the region as a “very powerful” post-tropical storm.
Shortly after 11 a.m. Friday, Nova Scotia issued an emergency alert warning of “damaging winds, heavy rain, and dangerous storm surge.”
“Stay indoors. Avoid the coastline and rivers,” it said. “Charge devices and have enough supplies for at least 72 hours. Listen for further updates from officials.”
— ECCC Canadian Hurricane Centre (@ECCC_CHC) September 23, 2022
As of late Friday, Hurricane Fiona was about 350 kilometres to the south of Halifax, with maximum sustained winds of nearly 200 km/h, moving northeast at 46 km/h, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
During a news conference in the afternoon, Bob Robichaud, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said it’s important for people to not just focus on the track of the storm, noting that “severe impacts will be felt far beyond the centre.”
“It’s very powerful,” Robichaud said.
“At the present time, it’s still a major hurricane, and it’s only 900 kilometres away from us, and it’s getting bigger. So all that momentum is tracked within the storm so it’s very difficult for something like that to wind down as it’s approaching.”
Robichaud used the word “historic” multiple times while describing Fiona. He said the storm will be comparable in size to what Nova Scotia saw during Hurricane Dorian in 2019, but more powerful.
“Where it fits in the history books, we’ll have to make that determination after the fact, but it is going to be certainly a historic, extreme event for Atlantic Canada,” he said.
According to the Canadian Hurricane Centre, Hurricane Fiona is expected to move northward across Nova Scotia waters Friday night, passing through Cape Breton Saturday morning, then reaching the Quebec lower north shore and southeastern Labrador early Sunday.
“Severe winds and rainfall will have major impacts for eastern Prince Edward Island, eastern Nova Scotia, southern and eastern New Brunswick, western Newfoundland, eastern Quebec, and southeastern Labrador,” the Canadian Hurricane Centre said.
“There will also be large waves, especially for the Atlantic coasts of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and eastern portions of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Finally, there is a high likelihood of storm surge for parts of Nova Scotia, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and western Newfoundland.”
Most of the affected regions will experience hurricane-force winds beginning late Friday continuing into Saturday.
“Similar cyclones of this nature have produced structural damage to buildings. Construction sites may be particularly vulnerable,” the statement said.
“Wind impacts will be enhanced by foliage on the trees, potentially causing prolonged and widespread utility outages.”
Fiona is expected to transition to a “very powerful” post-tropical storm near Sable Island Friday night, before making landfall over eastern mainland Nova Scotia or western Cape Breton Saturday morning.
Dave Buis, vice-commodore of the Northern Yacht Club in North Sydney, N.S., said he is worried about the storm, which is expected to slam the island of Cape Breton.
“Oh definitely, I think this is going to be a bad one,” Buis said in a telephone interview. “Hopefully it will slow up when it hits the cooler water, but it doesn’t sound like it’s going to.” He said he removed his seven-metre sailboat from the water on Thursday.
On the eastern part of the island in the small Acadian community of Petit-de-Grat, N.S., fishermen were also busy dry-docking their boats, or attempting to lash them tightly to the wharf.
Lobster fisherman Kyle Boudreau said major storm damage is hard for a coastal community to absorb. “This is our livelihood. Our boats get smashed, our traps gets smashed ? it’s stuff you don’t have to start your season next year,” he said.
Meanwhile, stores in Halifax sold out of propane gas cylinders used for camping stoves. Shelves in the camping department of a local Canadian Tire store that normally carried the small green canisters were completely bare.
But Halifax resident and plumber Chad Shiers advised that people in search of a small fuel tank could use plumbing propane.
“There’s more ways to get what you need,” he said Friday after buying a blue propane torch. “If I have fire I can eat. As long as they have what I need, I’m not going to panic.”
Robichaud warned people across the region not to be complacent just because they aren’t near the centre of the storm’s track. “The impacts are going to be felt way beyond where the centre of the storm actually goes,” he said.
Road washouts possible
The Canadian Hurricane Centre said in addition to the wind, there will be “very significant” rainfall, especially north and west of Fiona’s track, where heavy rain could lead to flooding.
The heaviest rainfall is likely to hit eastern Nova Scotia, southwestern Newfoundland, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence region.
“Forecast guidance is suggesting widespread amounts of 100 to 200 mm, but closer to the path of Fiona, more than 200 mm is likely,” the statement said.
“Some districts have received large quantities of rain recently, and excessive runoff may exacerbate the flooding potential. Road washouts are also possible.”
Rainfall warnings have been issued for most of Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and southeastern New Brunswick.
The storm will also drum up “rough and pounding surf,” especially for parts of Nova Scotia, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland.
Parts of Nova Scotia could see waves up to 10 metres Friday night, while Newfoundland and eastern portions of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Cabot Strait could see waves in excess of 12 metres.
The western Gulf, meanwhile, could see waves up to eight metres, “which will probably cause significant erosion for north facing beaches of Prince Edward Island.” Iles-de-la-Madeleine will also see some coastal erosion from waves, it said.
“Coastal flooding will also be a threat for parts of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island including the Northumberland Strait, the Gulf of St. Lawrence region including Iles-de-la-Madeleine and eastern New Brunswick, and southwest Newfoundland,” the Canadian Hurricane Centre said.
“The highest risk for coastal flooding will be a combination of storm surge with large waves moving onshore. There may also be some coastal flooding for the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Quebec Lower North Shore.”
For most areas, the highest water levels will be near high tide some time on Saturday morning.
Storm surge warnings have been issued for most of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, southwestern Newfoundland, eastern Nova Scotia and the east coast of New Brunswick.
Storm prep and emergency shelters
During a news conference Friday afternoon with provincial and municipal officials, Jason Mew, the director of the incident management division with the Nova Scotia Emergency Management Office, stressed that the province will see “really significant impacts” from Fiona.
“We’re definitely going to get hit hard,” he said.
The Emergency Management Office is asking people to prepare for the storm and possible extended outages by doing the following:
- Having enough food and water for 72 hours;
- Monitoring local media for updates;
- Securing gates, doors and windows;
- Moving yard furniture and securing trash cans, hanging plants and anything that can be picked up by wind;
- Checking radio batteries;
- Filling vehicles with gas and parking them away from trees;
- Keeping pets inside;
- Moving any kind of watercraft to high ground;
- Ensuring personal and family safety;
- Checking on neighbours;
- Not leaving candles unattended.
Mew said the office has been in contact with the Canadian Armed Forces, but has not yet officially requested assistance.
“It’s something we’ll be looking at closely once the impacts hit Nova Scotia,” he said.
Matt Drover, the storm lead with Nova Scotia Power, said the utility expects to see outages but it’s not yet known what the extent will be, or how long people might be in the dark.
“We’re expecting a significant storm, and that’s what we’re preparing for,” he said.
Nova Scotia Power has more than 500,000 poles throughout the province. Drover said the company will have 800 people in the field and hundreds more behind the scenes to help with power restoration.
As well, Nova Scotia Power has reached out to partners in Ontario, Quebec, Maine and other Atlantic provinces, and there are other contractors available if they need to be brought in, he said.
During the news conference, Christina Lamey, a spokesperson for Cape Breton Regional Municipality, said the municipality plans to open up Centre 200 in Sydney Friday night for residents who feel unsafe to stay home, such as those in the storm surge zone.
She said the homeless shelter in downtown Sydney will also be open for unhoused people who need to shelter.
Halifax is also opening a number of evacuation centres starting at 8 p.m. Friday for those who need to evacuate or feel unsafe in their homes:
- Canada Games Centre, 26 Thomas Raddall Drive, Halifax;
- Acadia Centre, 636 Sackville Drive, Lower Sackville;
- St Margaret’s Centre, 12 Westwood Boulevard, Upper Tantallon;
- Musquodoboit Harbour Community Centre, 7900 Highway 7, Musquodoboit Harbour.
As well, the municipality has partnered with the province to open up the East Dartmouth Community Centre as an emergency shelter for those experiencing homelessness, with staffing provided by 902 Man Up. The shelter will open at 4 p.m. Friday.
Another shelter will be opened in Sackville at the St. Elizabeth Seton Church, with Beacon House as the service provider.
Erica Fleck, assistant chief of emergency management with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, added that Ground Search and Rescue crews will be out Friday night to check up on local encampments and transport unhoused people to the shelters.
Fleck also said comfort centres will set up around the municipality after the storm passes, for people to do things like get food, charge their phones and get more information. More details will be available once the situation is assessed.
-With files from the Canadian Press