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Storm conditions disrupt ferries, flights, power across Newfoundland

A City of St. John’s snowclearing crew member clears and salts a section of sidewalk on Empire Avenue in the Rabbittown area on Wednesday morning.
A City of St. John’s snowclearing crew member clears and salts a section of sidewalk on Empire Avenue in the Rabbittown area on Wednesday morning. - Joe Gibbons

High winds herald holiday headaches

Stormy weather during the Christmas season didn’t make the holidays merry and bright for everyone in the province.

High winds, blowing snow and icy conditions in many areas caused headaches for travellers, with cancelled and interrupted ferries and flights, and slippery roads and poor visibility.

Thousands of residents also lost power for periods of time throughout the holidays due to a Boxing Day storm that brought high winds, blowing snow and blizzard conditions to some parts of the island.

After experiencing a huge backlog from ferry cancellations Wednesday, Dec. 20, and Thursday, Dec. 21, between Port aux Basques and North Sydney, N.S., Marine Atlantic managed to alleviate some of it when three ferries returned to service Friday when the weather cleared. The MV Blue Puttees, MV Highlanders and MV Atlantic Vision resumed scheduled crossings in the gulf for the 11:45 a.m. and 11:45 p.m. runs.

“We managed to move 1,773 passengers and 700 commercial units in a 24-hour period,” Marine Atlantic communications director Darrell Mercer told The Telegram Wednesday.

However, the break in the weather was short-lived, as another weather system made its way to the province over the weekend, which disrupted things again for three days over Christmas.

Ferry crossings were cancelled Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Wednesday.

Mercer said at the peak of the storm, conditions in the gulf were extremely bad, with wind gusts up to 110 kilometres an hour on the west coast of the island, with wave heights more than eight metres.

“Certainly not ideal sailing conditions from a safety, comfort, passenger perspective,” he said. “Hence the reason the captains have been making decisions they’ve made over the last few days.”

The good news, he said, is that during the Christmas Day/Boxing Day period, there are low traffic volumes.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 269 passengers in North Sydney and 60 commercial units set to take the Thursday morning crossing to Port aux Basques. In Port aux Basques, there were 234 passengers and eight commercial units set to head to North Sydney Thursday morning.

The numbers include those from the three days of cancelled crossings.

“There’s not a big traffic backlog right now,” Mercer said. “Having said that, if we continue to be disrupted by weather, then we’ll start to see that backlog grow significantly over the next couple of days simply because we will have a last push to get goods into the stores New Year’s Eve.

“Also, (many) people travelling for Christmas are going to be heading in the opposite direction, so they’re going to want to get back. So, we’re hoping that the weather is going to clear.”

Mercer said ferry captains will wait to see the latest forecast Wednesday evening before determining if they will travel Thursday morning. Passengers can obtain updated information on the Marine Atlantic website (https://www.marineatlantic.ca) or on its Twitter account (@MAferries).

Several flights were also cancelled or delayed during the Christmas season at St. John’s International Airport. Delays were also reported Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the RCMP and RNC issued several advisories throughout the holidays, warning motorists of poor road conditions.

Many roads across the province were still snow-covered and slippery Wednesday, with whiteouts reported in some parts.

“The winds continue to be very strong in the area,” Harbour Grace RCMP stated in a news release. “That, combined with frequent snow squalls, can cause driving conditions to worsen very rapidly and can easily lead to an accident.”

The Weather Network also issued a travel advisory to motorists Wednesday.

“Travel is expected to be hazardous due to reduced visibility in some locations,” it stated on its website.

Newfoundland Power was kept busy, as well.

Crews responded to outages affecting approximately 5,000 customers caused by the Boxing Day storm.

According to Newfoundland Power spokeswoman Michele Coughlan, the majority of customers affected were located on the west coast of the island and in central Newfoundland — in the Corner Brook, Stephenville, Buchans, Summerford, Botwood and Lewisporte areas.

There was also a power outage along the Cape Shore (St. Bride’s/Branch area) and some isolated ones on the Avalon and in St. John’s.

Coughlan said crews made repairs and power was restored to customers throughout the day on Boxing Day. By late afternoon, most customers had their power back.

The high winds resulted in downed power lines and damage to electrical equipment, as well as fallen trees that had to be removed from power lines.

“In some cases, the fallen trees actually took the power lines down with them,” Coughlan said.

She said that just after 4 p.m. on Boxing Day, the Molloy’s Lane Substation tripped offline due to flying debris contacting the electrical equipment. That affected approximately 9,000 customers in the west end of St. John’s (Blackmarsh Road to Kilbride, Topsail Road, a section of Cowan Heights and Waterford Bridge Road) for about 45 minutes.

About 400 customers in Leading Tickles were without power overnight.

Coughlan explained that the power line that serves this area is in a heavily wooded location, making it harder to get to since it could not be accessed by a service truck. Damage was extensive, with multiple trees on power lines, as well as sections of power line on the ground.

Power was restored by around 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Updates are available on Newfoundland Power’s website. Information can also be obtained on its automated phone system and through social media.

“We know it is difficult being without power this time of year,” Coughlan said. “And we sincerely thank our customers for their patience and understanding as our crews worked in very poor winter conditions to safely and quickly restore power.”

 

rmullaley@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelyRosie

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