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Blizzard deals wintry smack to Maritimes

Blizzard deals wintry smack to MaritimesPedestrians brave the blizzard conditions in Halifax on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. The region is in the grip of unseasonably cold temperatures with heavy snow and high winds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX - The Maritime provinces were dealt a wintry wallop Friday as a blizzard bore down on the region all day, forcing the cancellation of flights, interrupting public transit and closing roads, government offices, universities and businesses.

Whiteouts prompted police to urge the public to stay off the roads as plow operators undertook the frustrating task of clearing snow, only to have wind-whipped drifts quickly build back up.

"It's a doozy," said Halifax Mayor Mike Savage. "A lot of Halifax just didn't open up this morning."

James Rogers, a federal civil servant, arrived at work in the city only to be told to go back home.

He said the nasty weather wasn't surprising given the time of year, but he urged drivers to pay more attention after he had a close call.

"I nearly got hit by a driver going down a one-way street incorrectly," said Rogers, bundled up in a fur-lined, hooded parka. "It's a little hard for people with hoods to see what's going on around them. I got lucky."

Bus service in Halifax was suspended for the day, and in Toronto, that city's public transit service said the extreme cold forced it to pull about 50 streetcars from the roads during their morning and afternoon rush hours. That represents roughly a quarter of its fleet of 195 for its peak hours of service, the Toronto Transit Commission said.

The storm that swept into Atlantic Canada hit Nova Scotia particularly hard, where retail outlets including liquor stores in Halifax, the Annapolis Valley and the South Shore were closed early.

Numerous flight delays and cancellations were reported in Halifax, Charlottetown and Moncton, N.B. Post-secondary schools including Dalhousie University, St. Mary's University and l'Universite du Moncton were shut down.

There were reports of local flooding along Nova Scotia's Atlantic coast near Liverpool, N.S., because of higher-than-normal water levels and heavy, pounding surf.

Environment Canada meteorologist Paula Sutherland said the cold temperatures were to blame for creating extremely light, fluffy snow — the kind that is easily whipped up by strong winds.

"The hardest hit areas appear to be along the Atlantic coast," she said, adding that the range of visibility rarely rose above two kilometres along the coast.

By early afternoon, 22 centimetres of snow had piled up at the Halifax airport. Higher amounts were expected along the coast and in the Annapolis Valley, with smaller amounts anticipated in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Wind chills ranging from -25 C to -40 C were expected throughout the Maritimes.

The coldest wind chill was felt in Labrador, where the wind chill factor dipped to - 47 C at Happy Valley-Goose Bay early Friday. A blizzard warning was also in effect for parts of Labrador, where up to 40 centimetres of snow was expected by Saturday morning.

The blizzard was expected to pass southeast of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula overnight Friday, dumping 15 to 35 centimetres of snow over southeastern parts of the island.

That province was already grappling with rolling blackouts implemented Thursday evening by Newfoundland Power as it tried to cope with increased demand because of bitterly cold temperatures. Those planned outages were to continue Saturday, the utility company said.

The storm has been blamed for at least 16 deaths in the northeastern United States. The heaviest snow fell north of Boston, where almost 60 centimetres had piled up by the time the storm moved out on Friday.

U.S. officials from the upper Midwest to New England were preparing for another frigid blast over the next few days.

In southern Ontario, which endured a bitter cold snap for much of the week, Environment Canada was warning that heavy snow and bitterly cold temperatures could be expected by late Sunday and into Monday.

The snow could change to freezing rain by the time it reaches Eastern Ontario early Monday.

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