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Updated: Wed, 26 Mar 2014 10:20:57 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Maritime storm: Spring blizzard paralyses Nova Scotia

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 hunkered down today as a fierce spring blizzard threatening to bring as much as 50centimetres of snow gets ready to deliver its punch.

The storm is also expected to cause ocean storm surges that could damage coastal properties.

"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."

Sean Irvine, the director of provincial operations for EMO Nova Scotia, is on watch.​

"I think the worst case scenario is that we end up with people out on the road getting trapped by heavy snow, as we saw on the Cobequid Pass a number of years ago, which precludes snowplows from being able to get through to clear the road, because there are cars in the way," he said.

"And of course you need to get through, because people are actually stranded."

Irvine said winds and rain could cause icy conditions, proving difficult for first responders.

Travel woes

The province has all but ground to a halt.

Halifax Transit says it will suspend its buses at 11 a.m. AT.

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.

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.

The accumulating list of cancellations across the province is a relief for Irvine.

"They understand that this is probably going to be potentially the biggest storm of the year …, and they know they need to take it seriously. The last, past experiences have showed us we do have to take these warnings seriously, so we're pretty satisfied," he said.

"Stay home. Keep yourself warm and safe, and be prepared for the worst and hope for the best."

Wind gusts, storm surge

The storm started just before 7 a.m. in southwestern Nova Scotia and is spreading across the province.

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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