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Updated: Wed, 26 Mar 2014 09:04:42 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Maritime storm: Spring blizzard bears down on East Coast

The roads in parts of Nova Scotia are snow covered and getting slick. Carolyn Ray/CBC

The roads in parts of Nova Scotia are snow covered and getting slick. Carolyn Ray/CBC

Maritimers are hunkering down this morning as they await a fierce spring blizzard that is forecast to dump more than 30 centimetres of snow in some parts of the region, with storm surges that could damage coastal properties.

Preparations for the storm began early, with airports in the region cancelling dozens of flights in anticipation of whiteout conditions forecast by meteorologists.

The airport authority in Halifax estimates as much as 12 centimetres of snow an hour could fall at the height of the storm — an amount of snow that not even the airport's heavy-duty snow clearing equipment can keep up with.

Thursday is expected to be busy at the airport, as airlines try to rebook travellers whose flights were cancelled today.

"Through much of the day, the visibility is going to be the biggest concern with prolonged whiteout conditions," said CBC meteorologist Kalin Mitchell.

"Many should expect to see the worst of the blizzard conditions beginning near noon and running into the early evening."

Nearly all other forms of transportation are also being affected. Marine Atlantic has cancelled all of its ferry crossings between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland on Wednesday and Thursday due to high winds and sea conditions.

Maritime Bus, the region's interprovincial bus service, has cancelled all of its runs for Wednesday with the exception of the Halifax airport route, which is scheduled to continue for now.

Transportation officials in all three Maritime provinces urged drivers to stay off the roads whenever possible.

Wind gusts, storm surge

The storm is expected to begin between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. in southwestern Nova Scotia and spread across the province by noon.

By the early afternoon, wind gusts of between 80 and 110 kilometres per hour will be "widespread" across Nova Scotia, said Mitchell.

The snow will begin in the mid to late morning in southern New Brunswick and in eastern P.E.I. By the afternoon, the snow will spread to all corners of both provinces, he said.

"The south and southeast of New Brunswick, as well as western P.E.I., could see snowfall accumulations of 30 to 50 centimetres," said Mitchell.

"In eastern P.E.I., some mixing in of rain is expected late in the day on Wednesday and may keep snowfall amounts slightly lower, but not by much."

Environment Canada said the possibility of damage is real because a storm surge will bring rising waters along the coastlines of Nova Scotia and northeastern New Brunswick — in some cases 50 to 80 centimetres higher than normal, with strong waves driving the sea into shore.

"That is definitely something we have to keep an eye on, especially if it coincides with high tides," said Tracey Talbot, a forecaster with Environment Canada.

"With the storm surge we're expecting, we could see some flooding and some local infrastructure damage."

Boats remain in harbour

Fishermen near Sambro heard the warnings and headed into port Tuesday ahead of the storm.

The crew of the halibut boat On a Mission weren't taking any chances.

Tyler Henneberry says they used five lines to tie the vessel up instead of the usual three.

“You've got to make sure your boat is secured to the wharf,” he said. "We come in a couple of days ago, because it was getting real bad, so we're just playing it safe."

The area was hit hard by Hurricane Juan in 2003, and it's something the fishermen won't soon forget. This time they've filled their boats' fuel tanks to add extra weight.

"Most of the time, in a storm like this, we'd be out, but this is one of the times we're in,” said crew member Wes Henneberry.

“We have some extra chains that we put on the boat because of the storm surge that's going to come up here really high. Here where we're standing will probably be under water by midday."

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