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Weather not fit for man nor truck

WINDSOR, N.S. - The heavens parted three times in one week in January to bestow major snow storms upon Atlantic Canada that left truckers stranded, stores closed and borders blocked - not that this is...

SNOW AND ICE: A snow pile waits to be cleared at a terminal in Halifax.

SNOW AND ICE: A snow pile waits to be cleared at a terminal in Halifax.

WINDSOR, N.S. – The heavens parted three times in one week in January to bestow major snow storms upon Atlantic Canada that left truckers stranded, stores closed and borders blocked – not that this is anything new to Maritimers.

With up to 70 cm of snow, ice rain, wind gusts peaking at 128 km/h and -20C temperatures in parts of the region, many Atlantic Canadians decided to settle down for a long winter’s nap. Meanwhile, the East Coast trucking community made every effort to keep plowing its way through the storms and kept the motors running.

It wasn’t easy.

But for Joost Suerink, driver administrator for Sea Coast Transport in Windsor, N.S., the Jan. 24 storm was an adventure.

“I like to take a trip out every once in a while to keep my skills up and keep a hand in everything,” said Suerink. “But what should have been a three-day trip turned out to be five and a half.”

Suerink was on his way from Montreal back home to Nova Scotia and figured he could make it at least to Truro or Enfield before the storm hit. He began his journey up Highway 104’s Cobequid Pass but came to a grinding halt when his trailer wheel seized not long into his excursion up the hill.

“Hindsight is the best sight of all,” laughed Suerink. “I knew the storm was coming but I still figured I could make it a little further. I guess I should have stopped driving a little earlier.”

The snow was just beginning to fly when he managed to get his rig pulled off onto the shoulder and put the flashers on so he could call and alert dispatch.

“At this point, it was getting dark, the winds were howling, blowing the snow so you couldn’t see a thing and it was darn cold,” said Suerink.

Suerink had hunkered down to read his book when there was a knock on the door and an RCMP officer told him to grab his stuff and hop on the school bus that had followed two DOT snow plows as part of Oxford Emergency Measures Organization’s rescue initiative.

He was one of five truckers that were rescued from the pass and taken to Oxford-residents Nina and David Hoffman’s home – since all the motels were booked solid. The Hoffmans offered their extra beds and hospitality to the town’s Emergency Measures Organization.

“It was a pretty cool experience, being in the Maritimes you get to expect this sort of stuff,” said Suerink. “But the kindness of the RCMP officer, the bus and plow drivers and the generosity of the people in Oxford was all really nice to see. I live in Nova Scotia and I know the people here are like that but it’s just nice to see that my perception is correct.”

The hardest part for trucking operations after storms like the ones that hit Atlantic Canada in late January is just getting things moving again, said Suerink.

“The drivers have to get out of their driveways, get to the yard and the yard has to be cleared and then they have to pick up the trailer and the load and their pick up points have to be cleared and so there is always a backlash and usually delays because of this,” Suerink said.

The Eastern provinces saw road closures, ferry delays and some businesses shut their doors during storm number three on Jan. 24.

“It was cold and there was a lot of snow but it’s the white-out conditions created by the wind that impedes our ability to make those deadlines and deliveries the most,” said Ralph Boyd, president of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association based in Dieppe, N.B.

The effects of the storms were stronger the more easterly you were.

“If you plan to get in a vehicle and drive across the region, you’re going to have a variety of weather patterns that will change as you travel through the provinces. You have to appreciate that and become weary of it,” said Boyd.

One Newfoundland carrier saw the most easterly effects of the winter weather – extreme flooding, blocked drainage outlets, high winds, cold temperatures and lots of snow.

“There’s no doubt that the wintery weather wreaked havoc on our beautiful island during the storms, but we are not unaccustomed to this kind of weather, as it comes with the territory,” said Marvin Way, president of Way’s Transport in Corner Brook, Nfld.

There was a lot of delay time, idle time and wasted fuel. Marine Atlantic ferries were delayed and drivers were held over trying to get their loads and meet their deadlines, said Way.

“Fortunately this kind of weather is only typical in January and February and those months tend to be a slower time of year for the transportation industry,” Way said.

Back in Nova Scotia, the Department of Transportation worked around the clock to clear the highways of all the white powder.

“Our standard level of service is to get the 100-series highways open eight hours after the end of the storm and we managed to meet our guidelines during these January storms. The plow operators did a good job considering the circumstances,” said Linda Laffin, director of communications and public affairs for the Nova Scotia DOT.

It’s considered a major blizzard when the plow operators can’t see for the snow they are picking up or if they can’t plow a road because of barricades, explained Laffin. This is what the operators were up against during these storms.

The partnership between the DOT and the trucking community is important, said Boyd.

“We rely on our partners, those who offer infrastructure clearing but in some cases their hands are tied as well,” added Boyd.

Making deliveries during blizzards can be difficult when there is no place to park or when streets are only half plowed, Boyd said.

“Today, we are seeing better forms of communication, better tracking and better satellite weather technology than we did a number of years ago. This does afford us the opportunity to do our planning a little more efficiently and get a better estimation of weather patterns. It also helps us to know where to hold our trucks, so we have moved ahead,” said Boyd.

“Drivers also have access to more technology in their trucks so they can keep in touch with those people who are responsible for their well being while out on the road.”

Another technology that is coming down the pike that will make driving through Atlantic Canadian storms a little easier is a radio-based information system for drivers.

“The information that we have at our fingertips today is great for the person in the office sitting at a computer. But when you are on the road travelling, it’s nice to know that you can tune into a radio station that can tell you a whole range of things that may affect your ability to perform your job in our industry,” said Boyd.

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