DIGBY, N.S. – Power outages, high winds, storm surges and a mix of snow, ice pellets and rain all hit Digby County as a major winter storm entered the region on Jan. 4.
As of 1 p.m. on Jan. 4, Environment Canada ended the snowfall warning for Digby County, but the wind and rainfall warnings remained in effect.
The anticipated rain, Environment Canada warned, could be heavy at times, with the possibility of localized flooding in low-lying areas. The storm was also expected to deliver damaging winds to the region, with strong easterly gusts of up to 100 km/h in Digby County.
The weather service warned that the anticipated high winds could cause downed trees, power outages and damage caused by blowing debris.
By 1:30 p.m., Nova Scotia Power had already reported that parts of Digby County were without power. The two power outages were attributed to the high winds and affected more than 1,400 customers.
A storm surge that happened around 1 p.m. was reported in Bear River by a local resident, who also said there was some minor damage in the Trading Company Building, with water entering a walk-in cooler inside Grandmas Place Country Store.
At Digby General Hospital, storm preparations were well under way in the early-morning hours.
“Traditionally with adverse weather conditions, when we know there could be challenges, we identify a number of things that we have to address,” said Hubert d’Entremont, site manager for Digby General Hospital. “We look at staffing to see if we will have issues with staff getting to and from work, and we prepare to accommodate people onsite if they need to stay overnight – we have a few cots for that purpose.”
D’Entremont said they also inspect the site to ensure that everything is tied down in anticipation of strong winds, that they have full gas tanks for running backup generators and that there is adequate food onsite for staff and/or visitors if the weather becomes too inclement to go home.
Barry Faulkner, public works foreman for the Municipality of Digby, said he was watching weather developments closely. With heavy rainfall warnings in the winter months, he said his primary concerns are power outages, flooding and keeping the sewer systems in the region operational.
“Unfortunately, we have to put those waste water treatment plants on the low points and that’s the area that always floods first,” Faulkner said, adding that two of the sewage treatment plants – one in Weymouth and one in Smith’s Cove – operate on a freshwater ecosystem. “When we get infiltration of salt water into those systems through the sewers it completely throws off the balance and plays havoc with the system. That’s a major concern I have for the residents and for the environment.”
Faulkner recalled one winter storm in a previous year when flooding did occur, but said they got lucky because a heavy layer of ice was covering the roads and the manholes leading into the sewer system, so the salt water could not infiltrate the sewers.
Faulkner also said operation of the sewer system is dependent on the electrical system, so another concern is power outages and the increasing number of people with generators. While he said the electrical components are in place high enough not to be affected by rising flood waters, power outages are hugely impactful.
“They continue to flush and I can’t get rid of it.”
In Clare, Public Works operations manager Jody Comeau said his storm preparations included getting rid of some of the snow that had accumulated in the last couple of weeks so it didn’t impact how water would drain off.
“We also exercised some of our generators yesterday to make sure they would start up if we need them to,” Comeau said. Comeau explained that the generators were in place at the Clare emergency centre and at the waste water facility, but he said he wasn’t overly concerned about potential flooding with this storm.
“I’ve been with the municipality for 18 years and historically there’s only been a couple of times that we’ve had issues with water – and that was with storms delivering a lot more water than this one is predicted to bring,” Comeau said.
Comeau said the municipality of Clare has often been spared in the past from the worst damage in heavy storms.
“We’ve had a lot of storms go through here and we’re pretty lucky because quite often the worst of the weather misses Clare and goes up towards Digby or over to the south shore,” Comeau said.
Still, when contacted last week, Comeau said he was monitoring the weather closely.
“I’ve got a weather app on my phone, and right now they’re saying for Meteghan, gusts of 90 km/hr with sustained winds of 70 km/hr,” Comeau said. “We’ve had much more higher sustained winds in the past, so if the report is correct, I don’t expect this one to be too bad.”
Gerald Robichaud, manager at the Meteghan Harbour, said Friday his harbour got away with some minor flooding and some minor damage to the breakwater during Thursday’s storm.
“The waves took some of the rocks off the breakwater,” Robichaud said. “You can see the section where the top layer of rocks is gone.”
Robichaud said the power outage overnight and into Friday morning was more of a concern to the fishermen.
“We didn’t have any real problems,” Robichaud said. “But we didn’t have any power until about 11 a.m. so a lot of them came down here to check on their boats,” he added. “It was good to see the power come back on, because of the lobsters,” Robichaud explained. “If they’ve got any in the hold, they need to keep oxygen pumping to keep the lobsters alive.”
Hydro was out for several thousand customers along the western shore for about five hours overnight, while a few areas in or near Meteghan had a more extended outage.
The Nova Scotia Power website had warned customers Thursday that power outages might occur due to “hurricane force winds.” The utility said, “Customers should be prepared for power outages lasting through the weekend and possibly into early next week ... We will have more than 1,000 people dedicated to storm response.”
The Nova Scotia Power “be prepared” link suggests residents have an emergency kit prepared with flashlights, a battery-operated radio and adequate fresh water.
For more details on preparedness, visit: www.nspower.ca/beprepared.