Islanders asked to remain patient while crews clean up record snowfall

Mitch MacDonald
Published on February 16, 2015

While the blizzard is officially over, a historic amount of snow has left Islanders buried and brought the province to a standstill.

The provincial transportation department and RCMP are asking Islanders to stay off the roads  today until crews have a chance to clean up in the aftermath of the record Islander Day blizzard which dumped more snow on the province than 2004's "White Juan."

Transportation Minister Robert Vessey said the weekend's combination of heavy snow and hurricane force winds has been one of the worst to ever strike the province, with whiteout conditions causing snowplows to be pulled off the roads for about 24 hours in the middle of the storm.

Sunday night, plows were travelling in tandem to avoid getting stuck.

"The people I've talked to at the government garage have quite a bit of experience and they've never seen anything like it," said Vessey during an interview with The Guardian Monday night. "Hour by hour, as the weather improves we'll make better progress. But right now it's slow going so we're asking for everybody to stay at home and we do appreciate their patience."

Environment Canada meteorologist Jean-Marc Couturier said the storm began at dawn Sunday and had left a little more than 80 cm of snow at Charlottetown airport by 2 p.m. Monday.

"As far as I can see, this would probably be a record snowfall," said Couturier, noting that 74 cm was recorded during "White Juan" on Feb. 19, 2004.

Couturier said there were accumulation reports generally ranging from 40 cm to 75 cm across the Island.

The heavy snowfall was accompanied by extremely high winds, with the strongest gusts being reported at 128 km/h at North Cape.

Charlottetown's highest gust was 93 km/h, while Summerside reached 115 km/h.

"It was a very potent storm," said Couturier. "It probably will become (historic), the numbers I've given you are definitely preliminary and not official. Our climatologist will look at it within the next couple of days and will confirm where in history it exactly fits."

If the storm doesn't end up setting a record, it still saw a number of rare occurrences, including the Confederation Bridge being shut down to all traffic over two days.

That restriction began at 4:50 p.m. Sunday and was still in effect late Monday evening.

As of Monday night, about 1,500 Maritime Electric customers remained without power as crews were unable to work throughout the day.

A statement from the company said that due to the severe conditions, it was not expected that all power would be restored overnight.

"We appreciate your understanding during this time and we are working as safely and efficiently as possible to restore power to all customers," said the statement.

The Charlottetown airport also saw a brief closure on Monday, as concerns were raised over the amount of heavy snow on the terminal's roof.

It was later re-opened after crews cleaned the roof.

The conditions also led to the cancellation of every Islander Day event and postponed Charlottetown's Heritage Day Celebrations scheduled for Tuesday.

A re-scheduled date for the celebrations will be announced later.

Much of the province will also remain shut down today, with the English Language School Board and Commission scolair de langue Francaise both announcing schools would be closed.

All provincial civil service offices will also be closed, while Charlottetown announced parking restrictions that will last several days.

While RCMP had asked Islanders to refrain from driving in the storm, emergency vehicles still had to attempt the treacherous roads to answer calls.

Vessey said the department sent plow drivers to help with several ambulance and fire calls throughout the blizzard.

"You just deal with them the best you can," said Vessey, who also praised the plow drivers. "There are a lot who stayed overnight and were on call all night. They're working as hard as they can work."

The blizzard warning officially ended for Prince and Queens County late Monday afternoon, while it continued in Kings County later into the evening.

One good thing about the storm system was that the north shore coastline didn't receive storm surge damage originally forecast Sunday and Monday.

That was because of the heavy ice buildup already covering the water, said Couturier.

"The sheer thickness of the ice prevented it to cause any impact along the coast," he said.

Couturier said the province will now see a couple dry days before the next possible precipitation on Thursday.

Accumulation is forecast to be just between five  and 10 cm.

"It's just basically time now to be patient and deal with the cold," he said. "It's not going to be pleasant with the wind chill as people start to recover from this.. and that's going to take a few days."