“Have you got your storm chips yet?” our Newfoundland waiter asked our table in the St. John’s restaurant Portage.
He was gobsmacked when we respond with: “What are storm chips?”
The next table quickly gets involved, explaining the Newfoundland practice of emptying store shelves of potato chips when a known storm approaches. Locals call them “storm chips.”
Our waiter stammered to the adjacent diners how he thought he might be losing his mind, and thanked them for helping him out.
Clearly we blindsided him with our lack of fluency in the local vernacular, and talk returns to the pending storm.
The forecast was calling for approximately 40 cm of snow to begin falling that night, combined with winds gusting over 100 km per hour. We had nearly missed our window to get into St. John’s for a trip to help out family.
As we deplaned at the airport, an airport employee was advising the crew they should plan to be in town for a bit, as they didn’t expect many flights to be going anywhere for two to three days.
His prediction was spot on, and that was how long it took for me to get the luggage the airline had left behind in Toronto.
We went to bed that night knowing we would be needing to give ourselves extra time to get around on the roads to take a family member to medical appointments.
In the morning, we dug out the vehicle and listened en route as the news radio announcer was advising everyone to avoid unnecessary travel.
As forecast, snow had fallen through the night and was still falling when we rose at 5 a.m.
However, unlike what seems to be our experience at home, people heeded the warnings, and the roads were quiet, with more snowplows than private cars out and about, as we went to and from appointments.
Drivers who were out took their time, though we barely saw anyone.
The few pedestrians we did see were walking on the road as the sidewalks were mostly drifted in to impassable depths. We saw one man going down the road on cross-country skies.
Vehicles who needed to be out on the road were free to travel at safe speeds and have room for error, though snowplows had been working nonstop.
The side road near downtown where we were staying had been plowed twice before we needed to venture out, very helpful with the steepness of many St. John’s streets.
The next day, after the snow had stopped, clearing continued, sidewalks were being cleared continuously, and sharp cuts of the banks were as tall as pedestrians in some spots, citizens were out slowly digging out front steps and parked cars.
Then the sun came out and it was suddenly beautiful and clear, I learned another Newfoundland expression – splitting rocks.
When the sun is really shining, people say it is “splitting rocks.”
St. John’s is truly a beautiful city, with incredible old buildings and “salt box” houses of every colour in the rainbow. It is such a vibrant and fun city to walk around downtown and along the “Battery”, an area nestled against the rocks just inside the narrow entrance to the harbour where homes perch precariously between the ocean and Signal Hill, a tall rocky promontory.
By the end of the next day, it was raining, and the snow was white cement, and roads became even more slippery. Traffic had resumed somewhat, but the streets were narrowed by snowbanks, and people were still taking their time and being cautious.
The third morning, the rain overnight had frozen, and we chipped the vehicle out of about a quarter of an inch of ice before we could go anywhere. Pools of slushy water made street crossings a bit of an interesting proposition. But snow clearing efforts continued.
A stunning logistical exercise, in the early morning hours when we were leaving for the airport, multiple dump trucks were lined up to be filled by a snowblower, with spotter trucks in strategic locations as well.
The shoulder and centre of the roads were being cleared in the downtown, in preparation for the week and in advance of rain and freezing rain.
It was just another adventure in Newfoundland weather, a province which surprises me each and every time we visit, with weather which runs the gamut.
We have hit the tail end of a hurricane, worn t-shirts hiking in late October, to wake up to frozen boots the next morning.
So for those in the Cariboo who like to talk about the wild swings in Cariboo weather, I invite you to try the shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean for a bit and just see what the Newfoundland coast can have in store. It’s well worth the trip, just bring your Gortex and pack layers.
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