P.E.I. told to brace for storm possibly worse than Juan, with ‘historic storm surge’

The PEI Emergency Measures Organization is now warning that Hurricane Fiona could do more damage to Prince Edward Island than Hurricane Juan did in 2003.

That’s a notch up from Wednesday, when officials said the oncoming tropical storm system could be “comparable” to Juan.

Given the sheer size of Hurricane Fiona, islanders can expect there to be significant impact from peak to peak, even if the projected path takes a turn before it arrives, the province’s acting director of public safety said during a briefing on Tuesday Thursday afternoon.

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“I think now the certainty is starting to narrow a little bit,” Tanya Mullally said. “The storm surge will certainly be significant. The words they used with the Canadian Hurricane Center are ‘historic storm surge’ – that is, floods that we have not seen and by which to measure.

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“We went head-to-head with Juan yesterday, and now they’re kind of saying, ‘Well, that might not be enough to really prepare us.'”

Fiona is expected to merge with a low-pressure system from the west as it hits Atlantic-Canadian waters, turning the weather system into a post-tropical storm. But similar to Dorian, which was also downgraded to a posttropical storm when it reached PEI in September 2019, the impact could still be devastating.

Woman in a black jacket sits in front of a microphone.
Significant storm surges are expected at the north end of the island for up to eight to 10 hours due to wind direction, according to Tanya Mullally of the provincial emergency response organization. (PEI Province)

These impacts include strong winds, heavy rains and coastal flooding with a storm surge and very high waves.

According to Mullally, a significant storm surge is expected on the north coast of the island for eight to ten hours due to the prevailing wind direction.

Wind from the north, then northwest

The storm’s winds will move counterclockwise, so as the winds pass east of PEI, they will come from the north before turning northwest as the storm’s center moves into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

“Wave heights of up to eight meters are possible in the western Gulf and may exceed 10 to 20 meters east of us towards Cabot Strait, with a storm surge of one to two meters possible for PEI,” said CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland.

That could mean washed out roads, flooded basements and damage to coastal properties, wharves and dunes.

Earlier Thursday, Environment Canada placed all of Prince Edward Island under a hurricane watch.

The watch was posted in effect through 6 p.m. AT on Friday, but “will likely be upgraded to a hurricane warning tonight,” the federal weather agency’s website said.

“Past storms of this type have resulted in prolonged power outages and structural damage,” Environment Canada warned. “Buildings under construction will be particularly at risk.”

A heavy rain warning was issued for all three counties on Prince Edward Island just after 3 p.m. AT on Thursday.

We’ll actually start to see the early impact of this storm as a major cold front pulls in some of Fiona’s tropical moisture far north of the storm and increases precipitation through Friday.​– Jay Scotland

“Hurricane Fiona is still a major hurricane with sustained winds of 135mph and is located nearly 1,200 miles south of the island,” Scotland said.

“Despite this great distance, we will actually start to see the early impact of this storm as a large cold front pulls in some of Fiona’s tropical moisture far north of the storm and increases precipitation here at PEI through Friday.”

Hurricane Fiona could become a post-tropical storm before it hits Prince Edward Island, but that doesn’t mean people should take it any less seriously than a hurricane, Scotland said.

“Rain will pick up late in the day Friday as the storm approaches eastern Nova Scotia, and winds will also pick up late Friday afternoon and evening. Fiona will shortly transition into a posttropical storm as it transitions into an upper level trough before making landfall in eastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Friday night through early Saturday morning.

A woman in a blue shirt sits in front of a microphone.
People shouldn’t wait to prepare for the storm, Darlene Compton, PEI’s Minister for Justice and Public Safety, said during a briefing on Thursday. (PEI Province)

Fiona’s predicted trail has been moving west over the past few days, making her impact on the region more severe than predicted earlier this week.

The storm is coming. I’m not trying to scare anyone, but we have to prepare and make sure we’re prepared.– Darlene Compton

“The storm is coming,” said PEI Minister for Justice and Public Safety Darlene Compton on Thursday. “I’m not trying to scare anyone but we have to prepare and make sure we’re prepared.”

Additional support is provided through the Fire Marshal’s Office to respond to emergency situations, she said.

Compton is also reminding people to make sure they assemble an emergency kit with at least 72 hours of supplies.

“We want the islanders to stay home and stay safe until we get the all clear,” Compton said.

EMO encourages people to stay indoors on Saturday morning and not go outside to view the damage.

Mullally said people would have to wait until the storm passed so emergency vehicles doing the cleanup would not be blocked.

There will be a press conference on Saturday to give an update on storm damage and let people know if it’s safe to travel, Mullally said.

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