41 years later: Memories from the Groundhog Day storm of 1976 in southwestern N.S.

Published on February 2, 2017

In Yarmouth's south end buildings belonging to the Sweeney Fishery interests were demolished.

©Ken Oxner/Vanguard file photo

SOUTHWESTERN, N.S. – Following the Groundhog Day storm in southwestern N.S. in 1976 – which caused widespread destruction and flooding and left people with power for an extended period – a book called Tidal Wave was compiled by retired Ruth Specht of Barton, in which students from around the Tri-County area shared their storm experiences. As we mark the 41st anniversary of the storm, we thought we'd share some of these remembrances.

Cape Sable Island School

On Feb. 2, 1976, we had the worst storm I ever experienced. The highest winds were 117 miles an hour. Boats broke away from the wharf at Clark’s Harbour. Down the inlet at Southside, a transformer caught fire and a boat sank. The power lines blew down and we were without power for three days. We had little heat and light.

Trevor Nickerson

 

Cape Sable Island School

The outrageous storm swept over the Atlantic like a bird on wings. It took everything in its path. The power was off all over Cape Sable Island. People were driven into other homes. I was at a home where there were 19.

Brenda Atwood 

 

Cape Sable Island School

We were almost to the causeway when we saw a car coming across. A big wave came and went right over the top of the car. When I got home I almost blew into the woods

Yvonne Brannen

Groundhog Day Storm

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Places like Westport saw lots of damage from the Groundhog Day Storm of 1976.

Photos by Photo provided by Karla Kelly

Groundhog Day storm

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The collapse of Robicheau’s general store in Westport was part of the tremendous damage done during the 1976 Groundhog Day storm. Photo courtesy Islands Historical Society

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A view of Weymouth looking north through town during the 1976 Groundhog Day storm. Marie Belliveau photo

Photos by

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A tidal surge caused the Sissiboo River to flood most of downtown Weymouth on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, 1976. Selby Gosset photo

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Former Vanguard editor Alain Meuse looking over coverage of the 1976 Groundhog Day Storm that he helped to compile.

Photos by ERIC BOURQUE PHOTO

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Students from Shelburne, Yarmouth and Digby counties shared their experiences of the 1976 Groundhog Day storm in a booklet called Tidal Wave.

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A building smashed up on Yarmouth's waterfront.

Photos by File photo

Groundhog Day Storm

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The wind crumbled buildings, brought down trees and blew things around.

Photos by Photo provided by Karla Kelly

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Road crumbled in Cape St. Mary's.

Photos by File photo

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<p>A sunken vessel’s mast protrudes above the water near the Clark’s Harbour wharf.&nbsp;</p>

Photos by Shelburne Coast Guard file photo

There was damage everywhere in western Nova Scotia.

©Photo provided by Karla Kelly

Barrington High School

Groundhog Day started as any other day. There was a brisk southwest wind, the sky was overcast. By 12 o’clock the tide was full and so was the wind. Before noon the power was cut off from falling trees and also from salinity in the air crystallizing on the wires.

Some of the worst damage was a couple of boats broke loose and went ashore on the rocks. The fishermen’s private wharves were washed away, along with what was on them. One lobster dealer lost 3,500 lbs. of lobsters when his lobster cars broke loose and went ashore.

Two fishing boats were out from Clark’s Harbour but they managed to reach the port of Shelburne safely.

Grant Smith, Clark’s Harbour

 

Barrington Municipal High School

We had to cross the causeway. It was being washed out. On it were rocks and seaweed and large holes. The light poles were bending. Then came a gust of wind. Our bus went to the other side… almost off into the water. We screamed. I’ll never forget that day.”

Beatrice Brannen

 

West Pubnico Consolidated School

After school, I went over to my friend’s house. We had to walk there in that fierce wind. With no power, we had no TV, stereo nor tape. I stayed all night. We slept in sweatsuits with seven blankets, yet we were cold… our noses, hands, feet, faces… At home, another family had come. There the fireplace was crackling. My father and mother stayed up all night putting the wood on. The worst of the storm was the sea, the cold and the wind!

Angele Saulnier

 

West Pubnico School

The night was cold. Candles were burning. A propane stove provided heat for supper. At theSealife Plant four Pubnico boats were battling fiercely but no one could do anything. We watched the boats float down the harbour to their destruction.

Georges P. d’Entremont

 

Arcadia Consolidated School

I don’t know how the Groundhog Day storm affected you, but here’s how it affected me. We had a hedge… it went like a feather. One of our barn doors came tumbling down. The shingles came off our barn like big flocks of black birds. That night the power lines were crackling.

Jerry Hayes, Brooklyn

Groundhog Day Storm

Using a boat to stay dry in the Milton area of Yarmouth.
Alain Meuse/Vanguard file photo

Yarmouth Central School

When that terrible storm came, a lot of things got wrecked and flooded. On Water Street, where the cotton mill is, the street was flooded. Cotton from the mill was across the harbour on the bank.

Lisa Nickerson

 

Arcadia Consolidated School

We couldn’t go home (from school), we had to wait for the tide to go down. As we ate our lunch we had to pull out chairs far from the windows that could be shattered from the flying rocks.

Debbie Boudreau

 

Yarmouth Central School

The storm occurred on Monday, I had to do my paper route. As I ate breakfast I heard the howling wind. I dreaded having to go out. It was raining. I heard a crash. Our garbage can came rolling down the driveway, all the trash was scattered over the lawn. It was impossible for me to ride my bike. The wind got a hold of my paper bag, took it off like a piece of paper.

I had much trouble getting to the office. There the other boys were waiting for the storm to let up. After a while I left. At the first house I pulled out my paper… a heavy wind took the paper out of my hands and it was gone!

My paper route was located down by the IMO fish plant. As I turned the corner the wind came fast and I was thrown to the ground. When I reached Sanborn’s Trucking Lodge I fell, nearly landed in a water puddle. When I got home from the route I went to bed!

Gordon Sisco

 

Port Maitland Consolidated School

The bus was crowded. The pressure of the wind plugged everyone’s ears. Halfway home two people had to go on the hood of the bus to get the salt off the windshield. The bus driver George was very nervous.

At home, my cousin and I stood on a tree root as it raised and lowered. Our enjoyment turned to horror when Mom and Dad came from the Yarmouth Bar. They told of the destruction of boats. Five boring days followed at home.

Steven Watkins  

Photo courtesy Islands Historical Society

Hebron Consolidated School

The storm hit Pembroke. We had little damage done but a few things did happen. A couple of windows were broken, animals were jumpy, boats were banging together, but none were seriously damaged.

Bobby Bain had to move from his house, he had no heat. Bobby Cushing and his family huddled in the kitchen near a propane stove.

Dawn Bain’s horse was so jumpy, it got out of its stall and went through an unsafe part of the barn floor. Men from the community rushed to get it out. It is ok now and almost ready to ride again.

Shelley Goodwin

 

Port Maitland Consolidated School

The winds were so strong thousands of lobsters were washed up on the beach where BeaverRiver and Salmon River meet. We carried up many burlap bags of lobsters. We cooked lobsterswhile others waited to be cooked. We ate lobster sandwiches every day for a week.

Terry Bullerwell

 

Weymouth Consolidated School

At noon hour some people came up from town and said Weymouth was flooded. The wind was blowing quite hard but we went downtown just the same. As we ran down the wind was in our faces. We could taste the salt on our hands…We saw people wading up to their waists trying to reach their cars.

Denise Jarvis

 

Digby Regional High School

From the tiny box in the wall a voice told all the students to leave the school to go home. At this point I left the protected environment of the school and went out into the dangerous world.

Loose debris was flying through the air; utility poles were down in a number of streets. I saw several men on a roof stopping shingles from flying off. I would have been more concerned about my life.

As I turned into our driveway I heard the fire siren. I looked. I could see sparks from a neighbouring chimney. Things were soon under control. Later I saw a hat fly past the window. I’m sure its owner never saw it again.

Jacqueline Journeay, Digby

 

Digby Regional High School:

By afternoon the storm became furious. Damage had begun. School had been dismissed. Some of the students from Digby Neck could not get home for the night due to roads being flooded and washed out. Later the bus trip home was like a tour through a disaster area.

David Switzer

 

Island Consolidated School, Freeport

I started off for school. As I was sitting in my seat working I saw the sawdust coming down by the buckets. It went in my hair and all over my clothes and seat too. The floor was covered. A rock went through a window in the next classroom.

We watched the big waves roll over the bridge. It swiped the rail off. The road around the cove was washed out. It destroyed our fish factory.

Sharon A. Stanton

 

Weymouth Consolidated High

In Weymouth… one big wave and everything was flooded. In New Edinburgh, waves were splashing over the top of trees 50-75 feet high. It washed out the bridge and a brand new boat broke loose. The boat drifted out to sea, the back end cutting into the waves and going straight out instead of going in toward town with the big waves. It was found four days after, all smashed up.

Many trees were blown over across the pavement, blocking traffic. Power lines were down; roads were washed out. In Weymouth North, boats were carried across the pavement. One went over on Roy Thurber’s lawn. It was his own boat. Mr. Thurber slept in his new boat during the storm. He did not want to lose it as did the man in New Edinburgh.

Robert Wagner

 

Yarmouth South Centennial School

I think the groundhog was just coming out when the storm struck, then went back to his beautiful dirty bed, after eating a cheeseburger. He probably slept for a number of weeks before he came back out.

Patsy Muise

 

 

A sunken vessel’s mast protrudes above the water near the Clark’s Harbour wharf. 

Shelburne Coast Guard file photo

Last year the Tri-County Vanguard ran a number of stories to mark the 40th anniversary of the storm. You can read those again here:

 

SHELBURNE COUNTY DURING THE GROUNDHOG DAY STORM: "IT WAS WILD"

SHELBURNE – “T’was a winter’s wind that arrived unannounced and…unexpected,” reads a February 1976 article in the Shelburne County Coast Guard after the infamous Groundhog Day storm that wreaked havoc and left half of the province in darkness. Read more here.

 

REMEMBERING THE GROUNDHOG DAY STORM:

YARMOUTH – The following may sound absurdly obvious but here goes: Groundhog Day 1976 might have been a pretty good day if not for the wind.  Read more here.

 

Groundhog Day Storm

 

40 YEARS LATER: "IT WAS DEVASTATING"

YARMOUTH – “As soon as I opened the door, my God, it was windy,” former Vanguard editor Alain Meuse said. “I walked to the waterfront and took some pictures. When I came back, there was stuff flying all over the place.” READ MORE HERE.

 

GREAT BIG SEA: WESTPORT STOREKEEPER ESCAPES THROUGH WATER TO HIS WAIST

WESTPORT – Raymond Robicheau had just finished saying he’d seen rough weather before, when a great big sea demolished the building he was in.

“Within a half hour my whole store was gone, everything washed away,” he remembers. READ MORE HERE.

 

 

Groundhog day storm

A BUS TRIP TO REMEMBER: From Digby to Wolfville through the storm of the century:

Greg Turner of Smith's Cove sent us this letter last year about his unique viewpoint on the Groundhog Day Storm - looking through the windows of an Acadian Lines bus.

READ MORE HERE.

 

FORECASTING HAS COME A LONG WAY SINCE 1976 GROUNDHOG DAY STORM:

Like the uninvited visitor from hell, the Groundhog Day storm blew into the region unexpectedly and took people by surprise, but this likely wouldn’t happen today.

Part of the legacy of the Groundhog Day storm is the storm surge warning program forecasters use. READ MORE HERE.