HALIFAX — Maritimers were buying last-minute groceries and hauling boats out of the water Friday as forecasters warned hurricane Lee could soon bring destructive winds, high waves, flooding and power outages.
In a busy grocery store parking lot in Liverpool, N.S., Connor Hanrahan loaded pints of strawberries, sliced meats and bottles of water into the trunk of his car. Liverpool is in Queens County, one of many regions in Nova Scotia that was under a hurricane watch issued by Environment Canada.
"Power outages could be the No. 1 concern," he said in an interview. "Because if I can't get gas, I can't get food. And you never know around here, with our infrastructure, how long the power could be out for."
"You can't be too safe, you know?" he added. It was a sentiment echoed by politicians, forecasters and emergency officials Friday as Lee moved north toward Atlantic Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened the incident response group on Friday to discuss the potential effects of the hurricane in Atlantic Canada and parts of eastern Quebec.
The group, which typically consists of cabinet ministers and senior officials, meets only to discuss events with major implications for Canada, such as the recent port strike in British Columbia as well as the wildfires in B.C. and the Northwest Territories.
The storm was expected to move into western Nova Scotia and southern New Brunswick on Saturday, bringing heavy rains, high winds, and powerful waves, Environment Canada said in an update Friday afternoon.
Winds could gust up to 120 kilometres an hour, toppling trees and downing power lines, the agency warned. Rainfalls of up to 100 millimetres could cause flooding in parts of southwestern Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, including Saint John and Moncton, Environment Canada said. Areas along Nova Scotia's central Atlantic coast could see breaking waves of between four and six metres.
As of Friday afternoon, the hurricane was roughly 750 kilometres south of Yarmouth, N.S., with sustained winds of up to 130 kilometres an hour.
Earlier Friday, it appeared to be slowly weakening as it transitioned from a Category 1 hurricane to a strong post-tropical storm, Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, told reporters. But that was no cause for complacency, he warned.
"This is a very, very large storm," Robichaud said. "We expect this storm as it approaches, and as it gets close to the coastline, should be very close to hurricane strength."
The centre of the powerful storm will likely pass over southwestern Nova Scotia some time on Saturday afternoon, bringing Lee's strongest winds and heaviest rainfall, he said. But Lee's impact is expected to be felt as far as 300 kilometres from the centre, and some parts of Nova Scotia could begin to experience its winds and rains on Friday night.
"The time to prepare is today. Tomorrow will be too late," Robichaud added.
The worst conditions should last about 12 hours, he said, but rain and high winds could batter some areas for more than 24 hours and perhaps up to 36 hours.
A tropical storm warning was in effect Friday evening for most of Nova Scotia and for New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy coast and parts of the province along the Northumberland Strait.
A hurricane watch was in place for Grand Manan Island and coastal Charlotte County, N.B., and for most of Nova Scotia's Atlantic coast, stretching from Digby County through to Halifax County.
Environment Canada issues watches for areas where hurricane-force winds could threaten within 36 hours, according to the agency's website. A watch does not mean a hurricane is definitely going to hit; it's a warning to everyone in the area to be prepared to act quickly if it does.
Jennifer Chandler, commodore at the Chester, N.S., yacht club about 65 kilometres west of Halifax, said she and her team have been working for days to prepare for what she anticipates will be a "significant storm."
"When we get a direct impact, it hits us pretty hard here," Chandler said in an interview. "Over the last five days, most people have been taking their boats out if they can .... We'll be lashing down a lot of the gear. We've already taken all the furniture off our deck."
Chandler said she was keeping a close eye on the wind forecasts and how they might drive storm surges, which occur when the powerful, cyclonic winds push water up toward — and sometimes over — the shoreline.
September is normally a busy month for boaters, she said, but with Lee on the way, the bay is virtually empty.
"Which is a good thing," she added, smiling.
In St. George, N.B., on the coast of the Bay of Fundy, Ottawa resident Frank Haveman said he'd rearranged part of an annual trip to the region to arrive a day early. He was heading to Grand Manan Island, and he wanted to be sure he caught the ferry before Lee arrived.
"I've been here before with big storms coming through," he said in an interview. "And the next day, everything is back to normal. I can't believe how it happens so quickly here." He said he'd stocked up on groceries and planned to park his car in a safe place.
Bonnie Morse, mayor of the Village of Grand Manan, said preparations are also underway on the island, located in the Bay of Fundy. The Grand Manan council held an emergency preparedness meeting with police and other first responders on Thursday to plan for what may come, Morse said.
The island is used to big storms hitting in the winter when the ground is frozen and the trees are bare. But right now, the ground is saturated from rain in the past few days, she said. And the trees are full and leafy, which means they could more easily knock out power lines if they fall.
“We're hopeful that this isn't going to be like Fiona was last year in Nova Scotia,” Morse said in an interview Thursday, referring to the post-tropical storm that hit the region last September. “We’re hopeful that we’ll all come through it OK.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2023.
— With files from Sarah Smellie in St. John's, N.L., and Hina Alam in St. George, N.B.
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press