Pictou County was slammed with over a hundred centimetres of snow over the weekend caused by a lingering low-pressure system just off the coast of Atlantic Canada.
Unofficial reports from the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) show that Pictou Landing received 115 centimetres of snow, according to SaltWire’s weather specialist, Allister Aalders. The amount could be skewed due to drifting caused by high winds during the storm.
CoCoRaHS snow accumulation estimates for the New Glasgow are closer to 75 centimetres.
“Due to the strong and persistent winds, it’s likely that snow drifts are much higher than actual reported snowfall amounts,” Aalders said.
During a press conference about the storm on Feb. 5, Premier Tim Houston added that more snow-clearing equipment is being shipped to Pictou, Antigonish, Guysborough Counties and Cape Breton.
“The province is doing everything possible to get folks cleared out,” Houston said.
Situation in New Glasgow
According to Audrey Buchanan, the assistant director of Engineering and Public Works for New Glasgow, the most important thing is that people stay off the roads.
“We’re still trying to keep the message out there to the public that the more they can stay off the road until we get back clearing, the quicker it can happen because it is very difficult to move all this snow,” Buchanan said.
She added that crews worked throughout the storm to clear priority roads, which were clear as of Monday morning, Feb. 5. Following main arteries, the focus will be on clearing side roads throughout the town, followed by sidewalks.
When asked if the town feels they need to hire private contractors to help with snow clearing, Buchanan said that hasn’t been considered as an option.
She added that she estimates that roads in town will be cleared and passable within the next few days.
“At this stage, the goal is to have the roads cleared to at least passable for residents within the next couple of days, but it will take longer than normal,” she added.
For those sleeping rough during the storm, Viola’s Place in New Glasgow was operating 24 hours a day from Saturday until Monday.
Lisa Deyoung, the executive director of Viola’s Place, said all their beds were full and expanded their bed options from 20 to 25. Extra people were given air mattresses and couches to sleep on.
She added that shelter staff were incredible in offering support to clients and helping colleagues who couldn’t make it to work due to the weather.
“We had one staff member who worked a 12-hour shift but got storm-stayed,” Deyoung said, “So, she slept on our office floor for the night and then got back up and worked another 12-hour shift to ensure we could stay open.”
For Deyoung, she’s just glad they were able to keep unhoused members of the community safe and warm. She added that when the storm stopped on Monday morning, some clients even helped staff shovel our entryways.
“We are grateful for their help,” she added.
Throughout the county
While the Municipality of Pictou County (MOPC) couldn’t comment on snow-clearing efforts throughout Pictou County since the province maintains the roads, the Regional Emergency Management Organization for Pictou County put out a statement on Facebook encouraging residents to be patient and check in on neighbours.
Clean-up throughout the county is expected to take multiple days, said the statement.
MOPC Warden Robert Parker did provide a statement on Feb. 6 acknowledging the struggles many people throughout the county are experiencing.
“A significant number of people in rural Pictou County are currently unable to leave their homes due to the huge snowstorm, many with health challenges,” Parker said in the statement. “As your Warden, I assure you that our Council is well aware of the terrible position this storm has put you in. I want to be very clear that almost all roads in rural Pictou County are serviced by your Provincial Government and not by our Municipality. We only service a small number of residential roads. We have absolutely no authority to insist that certain roads get plowed before others. This is a provincial responsibility.”
Parker added that declaring a state of emergency for the region was investigated but dismissed since it wouldn’t speed up snow-clearing efforts.
“The Province of Nova Scotia sets its priorities for snow removal. I want to be very clear that we are not faulting our hard working men and women who are out there long hours trying to open up our roads. They have a very difficult job fighting mountains of snow,” he said.
According to Mark Peachey, the chief engineer for Nova Scotia Public Works, there are 400 pieces of equipment and 1,000 people out clearing snow across the province.
“We haven’t had a response like this since White Juan in 2004,” Peachey said during the Feb. 5 press conference.
The Premier added that rural areas in the province are going to take longer to clear out, particularly in the regions most impacted.
“I definitely understand through Pictou County, Antigonish County, Guysborough County and certainly into Cape Breton as well, there are lots of people in rural areas whose roads are impassable right now,” said Houston. “I know there are lots of families who are isolated and we just ask them to be patient.”
The county also experienced several closures over the weekend and Monday morning due to the storm. All schools under the Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education umbrella were closed, as was the Pictou County NSCC.
A number of stores, services, and provincial offices in the county were closed. The Pictou County provincial and supreme court offices were also closed due to weather conditions. Pictou County RCMP offices were also closed on Feb. 5 to help facilitate snow clearing, but officers are still responding to calls as usual.
Const. Dominic Laflamme, an information officer with the RCMP, also reported that they received eight collision calls for Pictou County over the weekend of the storm.
He added that this number may not be representative of all cases throughout the county.
“Some people might not have reported their collision yet, or stranded motorists might have found help before contacting us,” said Laflamme.
Around the province
Unofficial weather reports for the rest of the province estimate that Halifax airport received around 85 centimetres of snow, while the Halifax Regional Municipality was hit with between 33 and 55 centimetres.
Spanish Ship Bay saw 105 centimetres. Cape Breton Island was hit hard, with the unofficial snowfall amount being between 69 centimetres and 150 centimetres.
Southwest Nova Scotia and Annapolis Valley saw between one and 30 centimetres of snow, with Lower West Pubnico seeing the least snow across the province.
Federal minister for Central Nova, Sean Fraser, said that federal support is being offered to most impacted regions, particularly with Parks Canada coming to help with equipment from Highlands National Park in Cape Breton. The Coast Guard is also offering required supplies, such as helicopters.
“We have agreed to provide whatever we have available in the days ahead. When we further understand the scale of damages resulting from the extraordinary snowfall we’ve experienced, there could be further opportunities for us to help depending on fear of the consequences. In the meantime, we’ve communicated to the province that we’re here ready to be helpful,” Fraser said during a phone interview on Feb. 6.
Fraser added that he’s thankful for all the people who hunkered down and stayed off the roads during the storm.
“We’re getting very good at preparing for these extreme weather events, for the worst reasons for our experience with hurricane Fiona, in parts of Nova Scotia, obviously impacted by wildfires and floods. We’re going to continue to do what we can to respond to these kinds of situations,” he said.
“The way we get through these challenging circumstances is by looking out for one another and looking out for ourselves. We’ll be here to continue to support the provincial efforts as we move through the cleanup phase of this record-breaking snowfall.”