UPDATE - Blizzard is now on, big time

Dave Stewart
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The most powerful blizzard of the 2013-14 winter-spring season shut down Prince Edward Island on Wednesday and it will likely cause delays to start the day on Thursday.

"It's official, we have ourselves a blizzard," Environment Canada meteorologist Linda Libby said early Wednesday evening.

Storm slideshow

Classes shut down for schools across the province as well as Holland College and UPEI. Government offices were closed and flights were grounded.

Visibility was down to a quarter of a mile (0.4 kilometres) at the Charlottetown Airport during the day but conditions were expected to deteriorate  to the point where visibility was going to be down to as little as an eighth of a mile (0.2 km) that evening.

Additional Storm Video 1

Additonal Storm Video 2

Winds were gusting to just under 100 kilometres in the Summerside area while Charlottetown was reporting 20 centimetres on the ground as of 5 p.m. with plenty more to come.

The entire province is getting blasted with snow and wind. Libby said heavy bands of precipitation are moving into the central and western parts of P.E.I. Conditions in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are worse, she said with wind speeds on Beaver Island in Nova Scotia reaching gusts of 134 kilometres an hour.

Libby said winds were expected to diminish to 75-90 kilometres an hour by 8 p.m. Wednesday before shifting to the northwest, resulting in gusts of between 80 and 110 kilometres an hour by 1 or 2 a.m., and that's expected to last for three to four hours before gradually easing off into Thursday.

Libby predicted it would be a slow start to the day on Thursday for just about everybody as everyone dealt with an expected 40-50 centimetres of snow and those strong winds.

Kim Griffin with Maritime Electric said the company pulled crews off the roads Wednesday afternoon due to deteriorating conditions but issued a statement just after 6 p.m. that efforts were underway to help some 16,000 without power.

List of places with power out

"Our crews are attempting to go out now and try to locate the problem area and restore power," said Griffin. "It will be very slow going and they may have to turn back but they are trying. Based on road conditions it could take hours to find the problem."

In an updated statement issued at 7:30 p.m., Griffin said Maritime Electric crews were able to restore some power, but trucks became stuck in the process.

"Our crews were able to restore power to about 10,000 customers, said Griffin. "We have had (two) trucks stuck on the highway and required assistance.

"They are trying to get other customers back on. One truck is being towed now and another is waiting for help. "When they are mobile again they will try to find the problem.

 "Rattenbury and Kensington substations and surrounding areas are still out with approximately 6,000 customers still (without power, as of 7:30 p.m.)."

By 11:30 p.m. Maritime Electric issued an update.

"(There are) scattered Outages across PEI affecting 600 customers," it said.

 

"Due to safety and the weather conditions our crews have been taken off the road. Crews will be responding to emergency and life-threatening situations only.

 

"Assessment will continue during the night with a further announcement at 7 am regarding the status of our crews," said Maritime Electric.

"We have also booked 10 hotel rooms to keep staff in overnight, as needed," said Griffin. "We have lots of employees who have suitcases and bags packed in the office. We also have additional support people just in case we need it."

"We're asking people to stay home, off the roads and away from (electrical) equipment," said Griffin.

Stay home is a message being repeated over and over again by municipal police forces, RCMP and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

"Stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary," a spokesman with the department said.

Plows were pulled off the roads in Kings County at 3:35 p.m., only going out in the event of an emergency, and were being pulled off all Island roads as of 6 p.m.

White-out conditions contributed to a two-vehicle collision on the Hillsborough Bridge in Charlottetown.

RCMP issued a statement a short time later asking people to stay off the bridge as conditions made it impassable, with numerous vehicles stranded on the bridge - although in a twist of irony the Confederation Bridge remained open to cars until it shut down totally to any traffic at 8 p.m.

There were also incidents around Queens County of vehicles getting stuck and abandoned, with at least one vehicle catching fire.

Anyone who has to venture out should check the government's website to gauge road conditions. The site is www.511.gov.pe.ca.

RCMP indicate road conditions are deteriorating right across the province.

"There is no visibility in Seven Mile Bay just outside Borden," Borden-Carleton resident Jamie Fox told The Guardian.

RCMP responded to another case where a vehicle got stuck at Horne Cross Road and Winsloe Road. The first tow truck also got stuck which meant a second tow truck had to tend to both vehicles.

There is certain no reason to go out, said officials. Just about everything is shut down, including tonight's Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoff game between the Charlottetown Islanders and Halifax Mooseheads.

Game 4 has been pushed back to Thursday at 7 p.m.

Residents in Summerside and Charlottetown are being reminded that overnight winter parking restrictions are in place and not to leave vehicles on the road.

The City of Charlottetown has an emergency plan in place and will put it into action if needed. The fire department and Charlottetown Police Services also have staff at the ready.

Police in Charlottetown said it was a relatively quiet day Wednesday as people seemed to heed warnings to stay off the roads.

"We received very few calls," said Const. Dave Flynn.

A few alarms were triggered by bumps in the power grid but there was nothing more to them.

"It's when people try to travel in conditions like this that problems occur. They get stuck in the snow, visibility is poor, people can't see them, accidents happen. We're getting whiteouts out there right now. Do youself a favour and stay home."

Maritime Bus hauled its rigs off the roads, asking customers to call 1-800-575-1807 or email info@maritimebus.com to rebook travel.

Anyone who has plans with the Halifax Airport express route should call 1-800-350-6945 for further information. Most, if not all, flights in and out of Halifax were cancelled today.

Canadian Red Cross offices were closed Wednesday throughout the Maritimes but disaster teams remain available to assist if needed.

There are businesses running as per normal today, such as Cooper's Red & White in Eldon. Business was brisk all morning with people still packing up on things like potato chips.

"We're seeing people in here we haven't seen before," co-owner Glenda Cooper said, noting that because she and husband David live above the store there would be no issue with closing early. Cooper's will be open until 8 p.m. as usual.

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart

Organizations: Environment Canada, Maritime Electric, Charlottetown Airport RCMP Department of Transportation The Guardian Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Halifax Airport Red Cross

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Nova Scotia, East Point New Brunswick Beaver Island Hampshire Wiltshire Warren Grove West Royalty Kensington Kings Borden Borden-Carleton Summerside Eldon

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Recent comments

  • joe jackson
    March 26, 2014 - 20:39

    Certain standards are done in the measurement form which they originate (i.e. the US). As well, they said 1/4 mile is 400meters...just divide by 2 for 1/8th mile...

  • Mary Judson
    March 26, 2014 - 19:24

    Needs Convenience store is staying open until 11;00.....thanks to Dedicated employee...Doug McAleer....

  • Robert
    March 26, 2014 - 19:09

    Typo: conditions conditions

  • Canadian girl
    March 26, 2014 - 18:48

    "An eighth of a mile"? Um, did America take over? Last time I checked this was still Canada and we have the metric system. How far is an eighth of a mile? Guardian, please fix this. Thanks.

    • Morgan
      March 26, 2014 - 20:43

      They told you a 1/4 mile is 0.4KM can you not do the math to figure out an 1/8th of a mile?

    • LA
      March 26, 2014 - 20:51

      If that was your first and only concern, you should count yourself extremely fortunate. Mary Judson has her priorities in order. Thanks for giving kudos where it is due, Mary.

    • duuumass
      March 26, 2014 - 21:24

      Really? Perhaps they thought people on PEI are not a bunch of illiterate hicks and are able to figure out how far a quarter mile is. Some people will miss no opportunity to whine about the most petty and insignificant things.