Crews restore power as blizzard sweeps across Island

Power crews have made headway restoring electricity to thousands of customers as a major blizzard swept across the Island Wednesday — a storm that forced snowplows off the road and shut down both the Hillsborough Bridge and Confederation Bridge.

CBC meteorologist Kalin Mitchell says wind gusts will continue Thursday

Watch on radar as Wednesday's blizzard engulfs P.E.I. 0:12

Power crews have restored power to nearly all of the 16,000 customers on the Island that had electricity knocked out by Wednesday's blizzard  — a storm that forced snowplows off the road and shut down both the Hillsborough Bridge and Confederation Bridge. 

The province was battered by large amounts of snow and strong winds. CBC meteorologist Kalin Mitchell says the wind will shift direction a overnight, but will retain its "fierce strength."

Mitchell said winds are forecast to gust to more than 100 km/h for large parts of the Maritimes moving into Thursday morning. It may be late on Thursday before wind gusts drop below 60 km/h for much of the region, he said.

Strong winds caused intermittent whiteouts across P.E.I. on Wednesday. 

"People can’t see and the guys there too in the plows, they're having a job seeing," said Jimmy Rhynes, operations supervisor for Queens County. He's pulled his plows off the roads around 6 pm Wednesday.

"If we got any emergency or anything we got plows ready to go and we’ll go and deal with them."

At one point, Maritime Electric was dealing with 16,000 customers without power between West Royalty and Kensington. By 9 p.m. crews had restored power to all by 600.

Crews were then pulled off the roads until the weather improves.

Confederation Bridge was closed to all traffic at 8 p.m. and will stay that way until the weather improves.

RCMP closed Hillsborough Bridge between Charlottetown and Stratford around 5:30 pm. Wednesday. There was a two-vehicle crash and police said visibility was "zero." Despite that warning, RCMP reported an hour later that numerous vehicles were stranded on the bridge as they attempted, unsuccessfully to cross it.

Police managed to clear the vehicles by 8 p.m., but continued to urge motorists to stay off the bridge.

Police across the province are asking drivers to stay off the roads.

In North River, volunteer firefighters planned to spend the night at the fire hall, just in case an emergency call comes in.

"We could be there one day to two days to three days," fire chief Kirby Wakelin said. "It just depends on the storm, the weather. It's nice to have people at the hall when a call comes in. Then we can just get in the trucks and go.

"We don't have to wait for anything. We don't have to fight to get to the fire hall. All we have to do is fight to get to the area that we're called to."

Cancellations were being called into CBC P.E.I.'s Storm Centre page starting on Tuesday. While the weather was fine Wednesday morning, schools were cancelled, the provincial government and banks shut down. More than 200 cancellations and closures were on the site by the time the snow started falling.

The storm is forecast to drop 20 to 30 centimetres during the day and a further 10 to 20 centimetres is expected overnight. Strong winds, 60 km/h gusting to 90 km/h in the afternoon, will blow that snow around. Those winds will pick up to 70 gusting to 110 overnight.

"Through much of the day, the visibility is going to be the biggest concern with prolonged whiteout conditions," said CBC meteorologist Kalin Mitchell.

The biggest storm so far this season hit Jan. 22, when 37 centimetres of snow fell.

All flights out of Charlottetown Airport have been cancelled, as has Maritime Bus service to the mainland, and all flights at Halifax Airport. The buses in Charlottetown are running. Confederation Bridge is warning that strong winds could close it to high-sided vehicles.

With the high winds Maritime Electric representative Kim Griffin said power outages are a concern.

Also worrisome is a predicted storm surge. The surge will carry with it not just water, but large chunks of ice.

"Anywhere that that wind is blowing on shore, we would typically expect to see a fair bit of pressure once the ice hits the shore," said Paul Veber, superintendent of ice operations for the Coast Guard in the Atlantic region.

"We've had experiences in the past where we have seen ice being pushed up on the shore in a significant way."

He said structures in the way of that ice are likely to be seriously damaged.