Columns and Letters

Column: Fiona: Not the tail end of a hurricane

September 28, 2022 

-by Frank Macdonald

    Storms are nothing new to Cape Breton.
    The island is only a couple of months away from going toe-to-toe with some December-January-February blizzards, which delight in snapping power lines, clogging highways, and seeing how many heart attacks they can trigger by dumping cloud bursts of deep snow on driveways. Sometimes, in a fouler mood, they may even deliver an ice storm, which in any form of environmental free-for-all is hitting below the belt.

    There have always been precursors to the season of the blizzard.
    Every autumn, we would get storm warnings originating in the Caribbean, watch television reports as it swamped those islands and hammered the eastern coastlines of the United States, arriving in our backyard as a basically spent force. It could still do some damage, but generally Maritimers could shrug it off because their houses were built to withstand a blizzard, so what’s a little southern wind?
    When tropical storms did drop by, the weather report was usually that the eastern provinces of Canada were battered by the “tail end” of a hurricane. It brought coastal erosion, tree falls, trees falling on houses, power outages, but (with some notable exceptions such as Juan and Dorian, for example) getting over it was like getting over a cold. We reminded ourselves that when those southern geographies got hit by a hurricane, they didn’t need to wear parkas or worry about their roofs caving in under the weight of snow.
    In recent years though, things began to change.
    Because of global warming or climate change (pick your preferred phrase), the south began moving north. Right whales, traditionally feeding in the Bay of Fundy, began moving north into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. With the oceans warming, their favourite food sources began swimming further and further north, and the right whales, their appetites being their GPS, followed. In and near the Gulf they began dying at a species-threatening rate from a variety of causes including tangling in fishing gear or being hit by cruise ships.
    Even more recent, newspapers carried the once unimaginable headlines such as Woman Attacked by Great White Shark Near Margaree Island. The victim survived, fortunately, but our awareness grew that the once benign Gulf of St. Lawrence was now playing host to Great Whites. That would be similar to hearing that the poshest of restaurants was now sharing its menu with Hell’s Angels. There is even an app available through which a person can track where in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and its Atlantic gateway each individual Great White is located.
    So, as welcome as visitors are to attend our book festivals and the Celtic Colours International Music Festival, Fiona was not a tourist. It hit landfall in northern Nova Scotia with the highest winds ever recorded and, unlike its predecessors, it had not been downgraded to a semi-tamed tropical storm. It became instead a tropical cyclone which, in my limited understanding of wind and rain, is another name for hurricane except that a cyclone skates circles around its chosen victims be they trees, roads, houses, power lines, people.
    Fiona arrived not exhausted as in “tail wind,” but still loaded with destructive winds and drowning rainfalls, sculpting new coastlines, creating residential chaos, until it reached Newfoundland’s Port Aux Basque where it washed portions of that town, a neighbourhood of houses in fact, down into the sea. It was a graphic disaster to underscore the multiple warnings for us to not go near the ocean. It seemed that people listened, not a single news story of some silly fool testing the waves at Peggy’s Cove.
    But the shoreline homes of Port Aux Basque could not follow such advice. These were not lakefront vacation homes but homes many had lived in for generations. There was little that small town could do but watch as those homes were washed from the shore into the sea.
    It was in that small community that Fiona inflicted its greatest tragedy, taking the life of a 73-year-old woman; another death was recorded in Prince Edward Island; and another in Nova Scotia.
    Atlantic Canada is now in the aftermath of Fiona's destruction. Across all four provinces it has destroyed communities, wharves, homes, and lives. Power crews and volunteers and the military are now in the cleanup phase of trying to get back to normal.
    But as Fiona has so aptly demonstrated, the global environment is no longer predictable, no longer “normal.” Reports of tropical storms forming in seas thousands of kilometres away is not news of something happening a world away, but next door.



























































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