Canadians are braving what could be the worst storm ever to hit their country’s coast.
Hurricane Fiona has battered the Caribbean, with Bermuda forecast to be a dangerous Category 3 storm and showing no signs of slowing down before it hits Canada on Saturday morning.
“This could be Canada’s version of (Hurricane) Sandy,” said Chris Fogarty, a Canadian hurricane center meteorologist, noting Fiona’s size and intensity and its combination of hurricane and winter storm characteristics. Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states and the entire east coast, causing $78.7 billion in damage.
Fiona was about 1,200 miles southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia on Thursday morning, but that area is already poised for a rare and historic impact.
“Please take it seriously because we are seeing meteorological numbers that are rarely seen on our weather maps,” Fogarty said.
The lowest pressure ever recorded in Canada was 940 millibars in January 1977 in Newfoundland, said Brian Tang, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Albany. “Current weather forecast models indicate that Fiona will make landfall in eastern Nova Scotia with pressures of around 925 to 935 millibars, which would easily set a new record,” he said.
Pressure between 920 and 944 millibars is typically found in Category 4 hurricanes.
Many forecasters, including Fogarty, are comparing this storm to 2003’s Hurricane Juan, which hit the Canadian coast as a Category 2 storm.
“That storm was much smaller. This is huge,” said Fogarty.
The storm’s hurricane-force winds spread 70 miles in both directions from its center
– and tropical storm winds extend more than 200 miles. This means that a path 140 miles wide could have hurricane force winds and an area over 400 miles could have tropical storm force winds.
And Fiona could grow even larger by the time the storm reaches Canada, according to Tang.
Fiona is expected to reach Atlantic Canada on Friday afternoon, but conditions will begin to deteriorate over the region early Friday.
“Fiona is a pure hurricane now. As it begins to interact with the cold weather system and the jet stream, it will develop into a major storm with the characteristics of a strong hurricane and a strong autumn cyclone, with hurricane force, very heavy rain and large storm surges and waves,” explained Tang.
The National Hurricane Center predicts the storm will “continue to develop hurricane-force winds as it crosses Nova Scotia and enters the Gulf of St. Lawrence.” In fact, the storm could still pack winds in excess of 100 mph when it makes landfall.
Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and western Newfoundland could receive up to 6 inches of rain, with up to 10 inches in some areas. This can cause major flooding.
“We want people to take this very seriously and be prepared for service disruptions and long-term structural damage to buildings,” Fogarty explained.
Life-threatening storm surges and large waves are forecast for the region.
How to Prepare for a Hurricane
Waves in the eastern parts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence could exceed 39 feet, while the western gulf will see waves up to 26 feet from the north in places, causing significant erosion on Prince’s north-facing beaches. Edward Island, Canada’s hurricane center said.
The hurricane center also warns of coastal flooding, especially at high tide.
It has been approximately 50 years since a storm of such intensity hit Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. Both were winter storms, in 1974 and 1976, Fogarty said. Many people won’t remember those two storms, so forecasters are trying to send a clear message to residents to prepare.