Nfld. & Labrador

Plows pulled from highways as winter storm sweeps over Avalon, Bonavista peninsulas

A storm that closed schools before it arrived was powerful enough to shut down the Avalon Mall, liquor stores and many public services.

20 to 35 centimetres en route to St. John's area

A St. John's pedestrian struggles against snow and wind during the region's first major storm of the year on Jan. 21, 2021. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

If there was proof that the snowstorm slamming into eastern Newfoundland was serious, it came Thursday afternoon when the Avalon Mall announced it was shutting down. 

As the first flurries fell in the St. John's area just after noon Thursday, schools and other facilities in the St. John's area began closing ahead of the incoming storm that would blast the Avalon and Bonavista peninsulas. Both regions remain under a winter storm warning, with 20 to 35 centimetres expected by Friday morning.

As of 6:30 p.m., Environment Canada meteorologist Rodney Barney reported 15 centimetres at St. John's International Airport.

Some backyard observations from residents — and CBC's Ashley Brauweiler — marked higher totals.

The Department of Transportation said on Twitter after 6 p.m. that it took plows off the Witless Bay Line and Route 100, among other Avalon highways, due to whiteout conditions and over concerns about the safety of plow operators.

A number of travel warnings are in effect for highways throughout the region as of Thursday evening. The Department of Public Safety has asked all residents to remain indoors where possible and avoid unnecessary travel.

Rash of closures

The storm prompted all St. John's area schools in the English school district to dismiss their students at least three hours before regular dismissal Thursday, with a decision on Friday's classes to be made at 6 a.m. the following morning. In the French school district, Ecole Rocher-du-Nord closed at noon.

The City of St. John's closed its facilities at 2 p.m. ahead of the snow storm. Memorial University closed its St. John's campus buildings at noon. The College of the North Atlantic also closed its St. John's campuses and its Placentia campus.

Metrobus halted service as of 5 p.m. Thursday due to the forecast. 

The Avalon Mall closed its doors at 3:30 p.m., adding it will provide an update Friday morning on whether or not the building will be open. 

Liquor stores in St. John's, Mount Pearl, Paradise, Conception Bay South, Bay Roberts, Carbonear and Placentia shut their doors at 5 p.m.

Plows will be clearing major arteries throughout the night, said City of St. John's Coun. Sandy Hickman. Other streets will be cleared tomorrow as the snow tapers off, he said, adding crews and equipment were well prepared.

"We are ready to roll with the full complement," he said.

The city is also bringing in a 24-hour parking restriction as of 6 p.m. Thursday evening, outside of downtown and the business district. Hickman said the restriction will continue through Friday, and the city added it won't know when the restriction will be lifted until public works makes the decision. The reasoning is to allow easy and effective snow removal for equipment operators. 

The City of St. John's is bringing in a 24-hour parking ban effective 6 p.m., while Metrobus says it will stop services as of 5 p.m. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Vehicles parked on roads during this time may be ticketed or towed, the city said, and an update will be issued when restriction is over.

As for sidewalks, Hickman said new equipment with "drop spreaders" for sand and salt will continue to make way for pedestrians.

"I think people will see an improvement," he said. "It won't be, likely, a small snowfall, so it will take a little longer of course."

Winds are expected to gust up around 80 km/h, and in some places, like Cape Race, top 100 km/h, creating poor visibility.

"It will be blizzard-like visibilities this evening and into the overnight periods, but the storm's moving through fairly quickly, so it's not going to be a long-lasting event," said Environment Canada Meteorologist Dale Foote.

The storm marks the first major winter weather event for the St. John's area, with Foote calling the storm was a proper nor'easter, "a typical January storm that we'd expect in a normal year."

A special weather statement is in effect for a swath of the northeast coast, central Newfoundland and Northern Peninsula, which could see between 10 to 15 centimetres of snow.

On the Avalon, Boudreau said, the storm's winds and snow will ease slightly but continue overnight, but the snow should taper off by Friday morning, with gusts continuing until noon.

A second weather system anticipated for Saturday probably won't materialize, as it's tracking east of Newfoundland at the moment, the meteorologists said.

"If that works out, Saturday should be a nice day for the entire island," said Foote.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show