Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - 71 - 13 Memories From 2003's Hurricane Juan

This month will mark the five-year anniversary since Nova Scotia was hit by Hurricane Juan, the worst storm we've had here since 1893.

With Hurricane Gustave hurling destruction across the Gulf of Mexico this week, and Tropical Storm Hannah moving up along the Atlantic seaboard (my side of the continent), my thoughts linger on what happened to my city five years ago.

1 - "The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument onboard NASA's Terra satellite captured this true-color image of Hurricane Juan approximately 360 miles south of Halifax, Nova Scotia. At the time this image was taken on September 28, 2003, Juan was packing sustained winds near 100 miles per hour and was moving to the north at 20 miles per hour." - NASA's Visible Earth

Nova Scotia is the narrow peninsular landmass in the top center of the photo. Halifax, my city, is located exactly in the center of the lower coastline. Directly in the path of the storm.

2 - This photo by Chris Green shows the VIA Rail station and the Westin Hotel where my friend Lisa and I just spent a few luxurious nights during her trip here from Ontario. The train station is quite a ways up from the harbour. Behind it is a parking lot, a road, Pier 21 and docks where cruise ships arrive in port. It's beyond freaky to see it flooded by the storm surge.

"When we look a little closer at the timing of the water levels in Halifax, it becomes apparent that the event had a silver lining. Juan missed the high tide. Had Juan arrived only 2 hours earlier, the peak surge in Halifax Harbour would have coincided exactly with the high tide. Had it arrived 10.5 hours later, it would have coincided with the higher of the two daily high tides. An additional 60 cm (2 feet) would have resulted, with staggering consequences." - Canadian Hurricane Centre

This is my sister at Point Pleasant Park when the city opened it up to traumatized citizens who couldn't bear to be kept from our beloved seaside park any longer. Halifax let us in for two days, keeping us to the perimeter, so we could mourn the damage for ourselves and not just see it on the news. The area behind Michelle used to be dense evergreen forest, with no sky visible. Where she is standing is a gravel road, eerily strewn with shells and seaweed.

She's standing along this road at the remains of the treeline. You can see the ocean is quite a ways off, past the upper left corner of this aerial photo by Len Wagg. The trees were absolutely demolished by Juan's landfall, with winds gusting up to 170 kilometres an hour, or 105 miles per hour.

3 - The night before Juan arrived, I sipped wine on the docks at Salty's, a wonderful restaurant and bar on the Halifax waterfront. My friend Alan was in town with his wife Marianne - we all used to work at the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto together.

L to R: Marianne, Alan, my husband Brad and me. Brad worked days in the administration office at the theatre, and Marianne, Alan and I worked evenings and weekends as ushers during performances.

We knew the storm was coming. Alan and Marianne luckily departed for Ontario the day of the storm, which didn't hit until the evening of September 28th, 2003. Official landfall of Hurricane Juan is just after midnight of Sept. 28th/29th.

The dock where Alan and I had our drinks the night before is shown here crumpled at left. Actually not seen in the photo (taken by Chris Green) is the spot where I was standing in the picture above - because it got completely splintered into tiny bits.

4 - On the afternoon of Sept. 28th, Mom and I drove out to Lawrencetown Beach, 20 minutes from our house, to watch the incredible waves churned up by the approaching storm.

This is a photo taken by the Geological Survey of Lawrencetown before Juan arrived.

The wave action looked pretty much like these two photos, taken by Adrian Pernette of a later hurricane - Hurricane Noel which hit us in November 2007.

There was a huge crowd of other people watching the waves that day. We could all feel the power of the storm and we gathered to see the phenomenal unleashed energy of the mighty sea before we had to take shelter.

This is the same section of beach shown above after Juan hit.

Photo by the Geological Survey.

5 - The storm didn't pick up scary intensity until later in the evening. My husband and I were watching local storm coverage on TV as the wind howled outside. The intense blue light of an exploding transformer went off just as the power went out. I had candles ready, and my husband turned on his battery-powered radio so we could continue to monitor the storm in between music.

As it went on, the extreme low pressure really did a number on my head. I have barometric pressure-triggered migraines, and I can tell you Hurricane Juan stands out as the most extreme migraine pain I've ever experienced.

I told Brad, who's from Ontario where hurricanes are not as common, that this hurricane was not normal. We sat out the rest of the storm ready to bolt from the house in case a tree crashed through the roof. I could smell the fresh wood of popped tree trunks in the air all night.

When we woke up the next morning and I pushed aside the curtain to step onto the deck, I discovered the house was plastered in leaves. There was not a sound of a single thing stirring or twittering. The phrase silent as the grave went through my mind.

6 - This is a corner of our backyard looking across to our neighbours' yards. Mack, a sailor in the Canadian navy, is at right talking to Billy, from The Rock (otherwise known as Newfoundland.) Billy's outdoor stove can be seen smoking slightly. With everyone's power gone, Billy's stove became the communal cooking spot. Everyone emptied out their freezers and cooked up whatever they could before it spoiled.

7 - Our street was without power for five days. These trees were down on a street just behind our house, taking the powerlines with them.

The people in our neighbourhood didn't wait for the city crews to clear the pathways on the greenbelts that wind all through our area. The men plowed into the tangle of trunks and branches, the sound of chainsaws filling the air for weeks afterward. In return for clearing the downed trees, everyone collected up a ton of free firewood. Win-win all around, eh?

8 - This is an aerial photo by Len Wagg of the Martello Tower in Point Pleasant Park with its surrounding forest flattened. Point Pleasant is located at the head of Halifax Harbour, and this tower was built in 1796 as part of an eight-part fortification system concentrated at the Citadel fort in the center of Halifax. It was originally intended as a gun mounting structure, but over the years the forest was permitted to grow around it, as it was no longer needed for defence.

In this comparison photo by Col MacDonell, the tower can barely be seen at the top of the lane in a pre-Juan photo. This is the Point Pleasant Park that will always live in my memory.

After the hurricane, the tower has an unobstructed view of the harbour, pretty much as it must have been when it was constructed.

9 - The damage done to the Public Gardens was also horribly painful for Halifax residents. This is the view of the entrance gates I grew up with, and it ghosts over the current gates every time I look at them.

The photo above was taken by Thorfinn Stainforth, ironically earlier that same September before the hurricane took the trees down.

The photo at left was taken by Matt Gallinger and shows some of the restoration of the gardens.

It's amazing how much sadness these photos can evoke in me. I can't bear seeing those majestic trees flattened.

"The next thing you know," wrote John Demont in the October 13, 2003 edition of Maclean's magazine,"you're cowering in bed at 1 a.m. with only two panes of glass between you and winds screaming like the apocalypse as they slam into Halifax. Then, before you realize it, you're among the throngs of people wandering the streets, staring dazedly at venerable old trees tossed like pick-up sticks, shattered wharves, mashed cars and wounded houses left in Hurricane Juan's wake. Humbling isn't the word. 'I am here to cry,' says a senior citizen standing in front of Halifax's ravaged Public Gardens, just a day earlier one of the loveliest Victorian garden plots in North America."

10 - For all the destruction to the landscape and to marine property, there were only 8 fatalities attributed to the storm.

John Rossiter, a paramedic, was crushed when a huge tree fell on an ambulance outside a hospital. "As a member of the Local 911 bargaining team, Rossiter played a pivotal role in developing the first unionized contract for paramedics under one employer – Emergency Medical Care Inc.(EMC)." - Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union

A second person perished due to a crushed car, and two fishermen died when their boat sank in the storm. Three people died in a housefire during the power outage, presumably due to lit candles. The eighth person died during relief efforts after the storm.

11 - Although Hurricane Juan was at first called a Category 1 storm, it's now generally acknowledged as a Category 2 storm.

Meanwhile, descriptions of Category 3 seem to more aptly describe what I personally experienced, including:

- foliage torn from trees (remember the leaves splattered all over the house?)
- large trees blown down (Public Gardens, Point Pleasant Park, all the wooded areas in Cole Harbour where I live)
- practically all signs blown down (the weathervane on the convention center was a mangled mess, as were the Golden Arches near our place)
- damage to roofing materials of buildings; window and door damage (roofing debris along Barrington St. in downtown Halifax)

- many smaller structures near coast destroyed (this photo of the battered Bedford Yacht Club was taken by Gary Dunbrack)

Descriptions of storm damage taken from the Canadian Hurricane Centre

12 - These days, it's common to move from one end of the country to the other for work. You may be new to your area and be unaware of what locals have been weaned upon for centuries.

"Canada is a vast country with extreme weather conditions and dramatic geological features. With its size, weather patterns and varied regions come several natural hazards. Learn about the natural hazards of your region." - Canadian Hurricane Centre

Here in Nova Scotia, on Canada's east coast, our biggest worries are:

- flooding
- hurricane
- landslide
- storm
- storm surge
- tsunami
- wildfire

13 - Fortunately:

- "Hurricanes can often be predicted one or two days in advance of their landfall."


- "As a rule, hurricanes move slowly and batter communities for several hours."


- "The high winds create huge waves at sea." This can be totally awesome to behold.


- "When they reach the shore, they may become tidal waves or storm surges. Do not go down to the water to watch the storm. Most people who are killed during hurricanes are caught in large waves, storm surges or flood waters." - quotes taken from Canadian Hurricane Centre

Photo of a 16-foot storm surge heading for the Florida shore during Hurricane Eloise on Sept. 23, 1975, taken by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) -

You may recall me mentioning that my mom and I drove out to Lawrencetown Beach to watch the huge waves before the hurricane arrived. Key words being 'before the hurricane'.

We watched the ocean churn from a hill high above the waterline, along with a huge crowd of other locals who knew better than to go down onto the beach itself. We took shelter during the storm and would never consider going outside during a hurricane, let alone down by the water. We have the utmost respect for the power of the Atlantic.

Especially after Hurricane Juan.


Annette Gallant said...

Wow. Just wow. Those before and after pictures of Point Pleasant choke me up. I went there almost a year later and thought things looked devastated then, but that was nothing compared to what it must have looked like after Juan hit.

Thanks for sharing your photos, Julia. Another great TT, as usual! :-)

Thomma Lyn said...

Wow, I learned a lot about Hurricane Juan -- sounds like it was a terrible storm. Such an interesting and affecting post, and my heart goes out to everybody who was affected by the storm.

Wylie Kinson said...

Mother Nature can sure be a capital BITCH sometimes.
I've been thru more hurricanes than I can count on one hand - and they're long, noisy and a wee bit scary.
Glad I'm smack dab in the middle of Canada now and only have to put up with snowstorms :)

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Wylie - you must have seen some doozies in the Caribbean.

Amy Ruttan said...

You know why I don't really remember Juan? Friday September 26th, when it was heading your way I was in labor for over forty hours.

My eldest was being born while Juan was raging at your shores.

When I came out on the 30th, the air was cooler, because in Ontario we get the cooler temperatures after Hurricanes bash the East Coast.

I'm 5 years late getting caught up on the news, but YIKES.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Amy - 40 hours! And then you had another one.

Anonymous said...

Gosh. You know, I guess I am much more country centric than I thought. I had no idea you had this hurricane. Boy. I wish there was a way to be more "north americans". sigh.

I can dream

Amy Ruttan said...

You forget ... trust me. LOL!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Amazing, my friend. I can't imagine going through it -- but at the same time, I'd love to see the ocean the day before, like you did.

Akelamalu said...

I don't think we've ever had anything nearly as bad as that. Torrential rain yes but hurricanes no, thank goodness. It must have been terrible!

Ann said...

I have no memories of Juan in 2003, of course we were still recovering from Isabel. Then again, I don't remember much of that year after Isabel (she not only cut one of the outer banks islands in two but 99% of Virginia Power's customers lost power- they had to rebuild the entire power grid- and she was just a 1).
P.S. It's quite possible Hannah will follow a similar path...

Jennifer McKenzie said...

OMG. I didn't even know about this. What amazing pictures.
Thanks for sharing them, Julia.

Heather D said...

Wow what memories. I remember driving home From work early morning when it was over. Trees, power lines and the huge metal signs that hang over the highway down. Oh and how far did you drive for a cup of Tim's?

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Heather - out to the airport, of course! With about 30 other desperate java lovers.

Wylie Kinson said...

Julia - yes, I did some some amazing storms. The ocean is stunningly beautiful before AND after. During,... not so nice ;)

And Amy lies. You NEVER forget. But the cuteness of the kids makes it worth it.

btw - I tagged you for a meme over at Wylie's words. Time to air out your QUIRKS! ;)

Amy Ruttan said...

Wylie lies! I forgot ... sort of. LOL!!

I gots a new cover!! It's up!