ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Snow-clearing crews in eastern Newfoundland were given the frustrating task of plowing streets Friday only to have two-metre high drifts blow right back in as a powerful storm smacked the island.
Power was knocked out throughout Newfoundland and most services on its east coast were shut down as the wintry wallop buffeted the area with strong winds and heavy snowfall.
Newfoundland Power was reporting outages in a large swath spreading from the Avalon Peninsula, the Burin Peninsula, Clarenville and Gander all the way to Corner Brook on the west coast.
Schools and government offices were closed in St. John's, which expected to get up to 80 centimetres of snow and wind gusts of more than 100 kilometres an hour before the blizzard moved offshore. Lesser amounts were expected elsewhere.
Paul Mackey, the city's director of Public Works and Parks, said it was one of the worst storms he'd seen in his 18-year career.
"It's a good, old-fashioned, nasty winter blizzard," he said in an interview.
"It's certainly a fairly extreme weather event for us. ... We're out plowing streets, but they're filling in almost as quickly as we can plow them."
Mackey said some 60 plow operators and other workers were trying to clear snow-packed streets, with the priority on major thoroughfares.
He estimated it would take 12 to 18 hours once the snow stops falling to get streets plowed with at least a single lane, but a full cleanup could take days.
"The city is virtually at a standstill," he said. "We're encouraging people to stay off the street, in terms of vehicles."
Environment Canada meteorologist Herb Thoms said the unusually intense system would only start to ease up later in the day in St. John's after it moved in Thursday. The capital city had already received about 40 centimetres of snow by Friday morning and was expecting more.
Eastern Health — the largest health authority in the province — said non-essential and elective services were cancelled for the day, though emergency rooms remained open.
The St. John's International Airport was also closed as the city was blasted by high winds and steady snow. The airport reported wind gusts of 111 km/h, while the highest were recorded in Bonavista at 128 km/h.
Visibility at the airport was estimated to be about 400 metres.
Snow drifted through major intersections and against front doorways as scores of businesses and city offices also shut down for the day. Only a handful of coffee shops braved the storm and stayed open, said Mackey.
The storm also caused whiteout conditions and heavy drifting in southern parts of the province, prompting police to urge motorists to stay off the roads.
The snow was expected to turn to rain overnight.
Mackey said most storm-hardened Newfoundlanders were taking the winter blast in stride.
"It's just as well to deal with it and have a smile on your face than to fight it and get upset," he said. "Because you can't really argue with Mother Nature when it dumps on us like this."
Thoms said a huge storm pummelled St. John's in 1943, burying the area under more than 90 centimetres over a two-day period.
(VOCM, The Canadian Press)
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version incorrectly spelled Thoms.