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CINDY DAY: Brushing off some St. Patrick's Day weather lore

A Bedford NS man shovels his driveway March 18, 2015, following a St. Patrick's Day storm that dumped close to 60 cm of snow over many parts of Nova Scotia.
A Bedford NS man shovels his driveway March 18, 2015, following a St. Patrick's Day storm that dumped close to 60 cm of snow over many parts of Nova Scotia. - Herald/SaltWire File Photo

'Sheila's Brush' expected to miss us this year

Did you ever notice that Atlantic Canadians like to name their snowfalls?  

After the equinox, we will be watching for the “sugar snow”, the “smelt snow” and the “robin snow.” But, right now all eyes are on the fabled St Patrick’s Day storm known as “Sheila’s Brush.”  

According to Newfoundland weather legend, a winter storm that falls near St. Patrick’s Day is known as Sheila’s Brush. Sheila is related to Patrick in some way; depending on the version of the legend, she might be his wife or sister or mother or mistress or housekeeper. It’s believed the snow that comes on or around March 17 is whipped up by Sheila brushing the old season away. 

The legend of Sheila’s Brush is not to be taken lightly. I’ve heard there are some Newfoundland fishers who firmly believe in this and won’t head out until they know the Shelia’s Brush storm has happened.

There was a storm that proved the truth of this legend 11 years ago. On St. Patrick’s Day in 2008, the second of two powerful back-to-back storms roared across Newfoundland. Schools and businesses were shut down. In St. John’s, even public transit was pulled off the roads. Roads were completely blocked by snow. Gander saw 120 cm of snow – about a quarter of its average annual snowfall in about a week.

A more recently, Sheila’s Brush came in 2015. Many of us recall that snow season, but the Maritimes got quite a wallop on St Patrick’s Day. Snow started to fall on the 17th and continued into the 18th. Halifax ended up with 54 cm of new snow; 35 cm fell in parts of the valley; 30 cm in Sydney; 26 in Charlottetown and 15 in Moncton.

It was a close call this year: a stalled high off Cape Cod forced a powerful winter storm up and over our region. We slipped to the warm side; the rain could have easily been snow if not for that offshore high-pressure system. As is often the case in real estate, it was all about location.

Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network.

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