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‘Very powerful’ Fiona forecast to bring severe winds, heavy rain to Atlantic Canada

Forecasters said wind speeds could reach up to 145 km/h with gusts even higher in some areas

By Keith Doucette in Halifax

People across Atlantic Canada were stocking up on last-minute essentials and storm-proofing their properties Friday ahead of the arrival of Fiona, which forecasters say will hit the region as a “very powerful” post-tropical storm.

The storm, characterized as “historic” in magnitude by meteorologists, is expected to make landfall early Saturday morning, bringing hurricane-force winds and more than 100 millimetres of rain to much of the region and eastern Quebec. Closer to the path of Fiona, more than 200 millimetres of rain is expected to fall — potentially leading to the washout of some roads.

Bob Robichaud, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said Fiona is shaping up to be a bigger storm system than Hurricane Juan, which caused extensive damage to the Halifax area in 2003. He said it’s about the same size as post-tropical storm Dorian in 2019.

“But it is stronger than Dorian was,” he told reporters during a briefing. “It’s certainly going to be an historic, extreme event for Eastern Canada.”

He said wind speeds could reach up to 145 km/h with gusts even higher in some areas.

Robichaud said the storm is moving northward and is expected to reach Nova Scotia waters late Friday night before passing through Cape Breton early Saturday. Fiona is expected to reach Quebec’s Lower North Shore and southeastern Labrador early Sunday.

Dave Buis, vice-commodore of the Northern Yacht Club in North Sydney, N.S., said he is worried about the storm, which is expected to slam the island of Cape Breton.

“Oh definitely, I think this is going to be a bad one,” Buis said in a telephone interview. “Hopefully it will slow up when it hits the cooler water, but it doesn’t sound like it’s going to.” He said he removed his seven-metre sailboat from the water on Thursday.

On the eastern part of the island in the small Acadian community of Petit-de-Grat, N.S., fishermen were also busy dry-docking their boats, or attempting to lash them tightly to the wharf.

Lobster fisherman Kyle Boudreau said major storm damage is hard for a coastal community to absorb. “This is our livelihood. Our boats get smashed, our traps gets smashed … it’s stuff you don’t have to start your season next year,” he said.

Meanwhile, stores in Halifax sold out of propane gas cylinders used for camping stoves. Shelves in the camping department of a local Canadian Tire store that normally carried the small green canisters were completely bare.

But Halifax resident and plumber Chad Shiers advised that people in search of a small fuel tank could use plumbing propane.  

“There’s more ways to get what you need,” he said Friday after buying a blue propane torch. “If I have fire I can eat. As long as they have what I need, I’m not going to panic.”

Robichaud warned people across the region not to be complacent just because they aren’t near the centre of the storm’s track. “The impacts are going to be felt way beyond where the centre of the storm actually goes,” he said.

Severe winds and rainfall are expected to result in “major impacts” for eastern Prince Edward Island, eastern Nova Scotia, southern and eastern New Brunswick, western Newfoundland, eastern Quebec and southeastern Labrador.

Coastal areas of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are expected to experience pounding surf, with waves expected to reach more than 10 metres off Nova Scotia and more than 12 metres in eastern parts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

In addition to significant storm surge, potential for flooding in coastal and mainland areas and an “all-time” low pressure across the region, the storm is expected to cause widespread power outages due to trees and electrical poles brought down by powerful winds.

A spokeswoman for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, said there are plans to open Centre 200 sports centre in Sydney as an evacuation centre Friday evening. Christina Lamey said the space is to be used by residents who feel they will be unsafe through the storm, particularly those living on the southern coast of the region. Halifax was also set to open four evacuation centres on Friday evening.

In P.E.I. Public Safety Minister Darlene Compton warned people who might be curious to stay away from coastal areas, saying it wasn’t worth it to watch the storm roll in.

“My message is simple — don’t,” Compton said during a briefing. “Don’t go near the water, don’t put yourselves and others at risk.” An emergency alert from the province warned residents of severe flooding expected along the northern shoreline.

In downtown Charlottetown, the normally bustling Confederation Landing was unusually quiet. Restaurant owners Lisa and Robert Gale decided to keep Lobster on the Wharf open Friday afternoon to welcome a tour bus expected by 5 p.m. Robert Gale said the worst storm they had faced was Dorian. “We’d be lying if we said we weren’t worried about Fiona,”  his wife Lisa added.

Red chairs that usually sat on the deck were stacked in their office along with tables, and they were hoping the storm surges are not so high that there is water in the restaurant.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey issued a statement aimed at reassuring the people of his province Friday, saying that a provincial emergency operations centre has been activated, while Department of Transportation crews were already checking culverts and removing debris.

“Stay home if at all possible as this will not only help keep you and your family safe, but will avoid putting emergency responders in harm’s way,” said Furey.

In Quebec Friday, Premier François Legault said authorities were keeping a close eye on Fiona, which is on track to hit the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Gaspé and the province’s Lower North Shore.

“I want to tell people in those regions, be careful, there’s a significant risk, prepare for the worst and we’ll hope it goes well,” Legault said in Laval.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

— With files from Michael Tutton in Petit-de-Grat, N.S., Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax, Hina Alam in Charlottetown and Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal