'Very intense' winter storm shuts schools, offices in Atlantic Canada

Schools, businesses and ferry services in parts of Atlantic Canada are closed down as a powerful storm pummells the region, delivering a messy mix of high winds, rain and snow.

Environment Canada meteorologist Ian Hubbard says this is definitely a very serious and very intense winter system.

The federal agency issued a range of winter storm warnings and watches for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, saying the low-pressure system will bring fierce winds that could gust up to about 130 kilometres an hour and snowfall amounts of 40 centimetres.

Hubbard says the storm could unleash all sorts of weather in the region, forcing the agency to issue warnings for everything from wind and rain to blizzards and storm surges along much of the Atlantic coast.

He says this system packs the whole spectrum of weather -- pick a weather and it's forecast somewhere in Atlantic Canada.

Hubbard says the doozy of a system is expected to hit southwestern Nova Scotia later today, starting as snow and then turning to rain before tracking up the Bay of Fundy.

The province could see up to 50 millimetres of rain, possibly causing localized flooding.

By early afternoon, many lights were out across Nova Scotia.

About 17,000 utility customers were without power as of about 1:30 local time -- many along the Atlantic coast.

Halifax suspended its ferry services across the Halifax harbour.

All of New Brunswick is under a winter storm warning and the central and northern parts of the province could see roughly 40 centimetres of snow, along with wind gusts of up to 90-kilometres in some areas.

P.E.I. is also expected to be hit by fierce winds and up to 25 centimetres of snow before it changes to rain in the evening.

Hubbard says the danger is that high tide will coincide with the greatest surge in the evening.

He says the system is drawing its strength from the combination of warm and cold air.

Nova Scotia Power says it has more than one-thousand people at the ready in what is its biggest-ever pre-storm mobilization of personnel and resources.

More than 50 departures and arrivals were cancelled Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Marine Atlantic also cancelled sailings between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, while Bay Ferries shelved its crossings between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

School boards in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. didn't wait for the storm to arrive, with most schools and some universities closing well before the weather set in.

Some offices also shut down for the day.

Anticipation of the storm led to some light banter online, with some upping the hyperbole in reference to what was being dubbed a "bomb cyclone."