The historic blizzard that slammed Canada’s easternmost province is headed for Greenland — but it left snow-buried neighborhoods, a slew of power outages and shattered records in its wake.
St. John’s superseded its record for the most snow in 24 hours, recording 30 inches, as the storm hit Newfoundland and Labrador on Friday. A state of emergency continued in the provincial capital and elsewhere through Sunday as most businesses were ordered closed and few beyond emergency vehicles were allowed on the roads. Snow drifts rose 12 to 15 feet high on some highways, officials said. The Canadian armed forces were called in to help clear the deluge.
“Newfoundlanders are going to be talking about this for a very, very long time,” said Ashley Brauweiler, a meteorologist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in the province. Her station lost power during the storm and had to stop broadcasting. At one point, she told The Washington Post, people there couldn’t even open the door because of the snow that had piled up on the other side.
St. John’s International Airport measured 30 inches of snowfall Friday, its snowiest single day in records dating to 1942. The previous record of 26.9 inches was set in April 1999. Totals in other areas were higher, and wind speeds of 100 mph or greater made it difficult to measure the snow amid blowing and drifting.
Hurricane-force winds piled snow against homes, and residents woke Saturday to drifts that completely covered their cars and blocked first floors.
As one person put it on Twitter atop a picture of icy white pushing all the way up their windows: “All we can do now is hibernate!”
“Somewhere under all this is a row of cars and front doors,” another person remarked, sharing a photo of one utterly blanketed road. “This is going to take a while.”
The storm was a meteorological “bomb,” having undergone a process of rapid intensification known as bombogenesis. With its central air pressure dropping quickly, the storm drew surrounding air into its center, causing sustained winds in some parts of Newfoundland and Labrador to reach 74 mph or greater, with higher gusts. The winds combined with the heavy snowfall to create whiteout conditions.
NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center determined the central air pressure of the storm bottomed out at 954 millibars early Saturday morning, more than a 54-millibar drop in less than 48 hours.
While the storm was relatively short in duration, it was unusually ferocious even for an area used to powerful ocean storms during the winter — “as severe a blizzard as St. John’s metro has ever seen,” tweeted one meteorologist, the Weather Network’s Chris Scott, who placed the tempest “in an elite class with some of the most infamous nor’easter/Atlantic seaboard storms ever.”
Almost 7,000 customers in the St. John’s area were experiencing unplanned outages late Saturday afternoon, according to Newfoundland Power, which posted no estimated restoration time for the majority that were attributed to poor weather.
“Severe weather conditions and impassable roads currently preventing our crews from safely accessing storm-related outage areas,” the utility said on its website. But it added on social media that — despite complications from heavy snow and narrow roads — workers were out and “patrolling by foot where necessary” to take stock of the damage.
Previously, on Friday evening, about 10,000 people in the vicinity of St. John’s were without electricity.
Snow cleanup efforts in the province had to be suspended at times amid deteriorating weather. Newfoundland Premier Dwight Ball tweeted Saturday that road-clearing work was still underway “to meet first order priorities of restoring power and addressing health care services.”
“Please continue to stay home and be safe,” he urged, echoing other officials, who also asked people to check on neighbors and help clear snow around their houses and from nearby fire hydrants.
The Department of Transportation and Works for Newfoundland and Labrador said plow operators handled more than 100 requests for assistance Friday, including 24 from ambulances, 23 from police and 60 from the public.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his thoughts were with those in Newfoundland “dealing with the aftermath.”
“Stay safe out there and listen to your local authorities,” Trudeau tweeted. “We’re here for you and stand ready to help in any way we can.”
The city of Mount Pearl announced that its state of emergency would be lifted from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily starting Monday, while St. John’s loosened some restrictions Sunday but said roads remained too blocked for “general city movement and traffic.”
Brauweiler, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. meteorologist who lives in St. John’s, said she came home to no snow in her front yard, thanks to the wind. But the back door was a different story — there, it had piled as high as her head. Houses across the street had snow up to their second level.
She can’t shovel, she said: Her neighborhood has no sidewalks, so “there’s physically no place to put the snow.”
Brauweiler is a forecasting veteran, but “when you actually experience it, it’s something completely different,” she said.
And this was no ordinary storm.
“It is certainly something that I’ll be talking about for the rest of my career,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”