Top ten weather stories for 2005: story eight

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8. Atlantic Canada's Week of Snow

By mid-January, Atlantic Canada was averaging one good dump of snow a month since November - enough to keep roads bare and residents fit. Then, on January 17, up to 40 cm of snow, accompanied by winds gusting to 90 km/h, raked the region. Drifting snow caused more problems than accumulation. Blowing snow and white-outs created some very treacherous driving and walking conditions.

Before residents could fully recover, Atlantic Canada braced for another winter blow three days later. Many felt relieved when they got roughly half the snow dumped from the earlier storm and less wind. But, the worse was yet to come! On January 23-24, a slow-moving storm had time to drop record amounts of snow across the Maritimes. Blizzard conditions occurred everywhere, with huge snowfalls and hurricane-force winds gusting to 130 km/h. Adding to the misery were very low temperatures, creating brutal wind chills of -35, unusually cold for the Maritimes. In many elevated places, snowfall totals exceeded 50 to 70 cm. Several weather stations broke their record for the snowiest January day. The mammoth storm buried Greenwood with 64 cm of new snow, nearly doubling its single-day January record of 35 cm set in 1962. Yarmouth's 59 cm was another single-day January record, tipping the previous high mark of 47 cm in 1943. You know it's a lot of snow when they close the ski hills. The storm also forced major highway closures, along with the airport and all schools, for at least two days. Churches cancelled services and stores closed after being opened for a couple of hours.

It was a dangerous storm for anyone being outdoors. The heaviest precipitation bands had snow rates of 7 to 9 cm per hour with total storm duration lasting between 24 and 30 hours. Significant drifting of 1 to 2 m occurred almost everywhere, particularly in the lee of buildings and downwind of open fields. In many cases, cars were mostly or completely buried. Several motorists had to be rescued after becoming stranded on the Trans-Canada Highway. Of surprise to Nova Scotia residents, the storm did not create any power interruptions.

The big talk was three major blizzards in one week. Weekly snowfall totals during the third week of January amounted to: 139 cm at Greenwood, 111 cm at Yarmouth, 93 cm at Sydney, 90 cm at Charlottetown and 76 cm at Moncton. The accumulated effect of the storms cost businesses millions of dollars. At one Halifax shopping centre, bad weather had closed the mall for an unprecedented three and a half days since December 27.

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