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Hurricane Fiona could be ‘most intense storm on record' to slam into Atlantic Canada

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 9/22/2022 Nicole LoBiondo

Days after menacing Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos and other parts of the Caribbean, Fiona is now on a crash course with Atlantic Canada and is poised to become one of the strongest storms on record to impact the easternmost portions of Canada, according to AccuWeather forecasters.

Hurricane watches and tropical storm watches were issued for parts of the Atlantic Canada coast, with the Candian Hurricane Center warning the storm could potentially evolve into "a landmark weather event" for Eastern Canada this weekend.

Fiona is expected to bombard eastern Prince Edward Island, eastern Nova Scotia and Quebec, western Newfoundland and southeastern Labrador with life-threatening flooding, damaging hurricane-force wind gusts and dangerous storm surges. Fiona "is shaping up to be a severe event for Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec," officials with the hurricane center said Thursday.

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As of Thursday morning EDT, Fiona remained a Category 4 major hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 km/h). It was continuing to move north-northeast toward Bermuda at a brisk speed of 16 mph. As of 2 p.m. EDT, Fiona was about 1,085 miles southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Fiona is expected to move quickly northward into Atlantic Canada while maintaining its hurricane intensity, bringing damaging winds, flooding rain and coastal flooding starting on Friday, which forecasters warned could lead to widespread power outages.

Satellite imagery on Thursday showed that Fiona was an enormous storm with hurricane-force winds extending outward about 70 miles (110 km) from the center of the storm and tropical-storm-force winds extending 205 miles (335 km).

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"Fiona will likely be the most intense storm on record, when taking into account the central pressure and the magnitude of wind gusts that are expected to strike eastern Nova Scotia through this weekend," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson, who routinely issues weather forecasts for Canada.

In 2019, Hurricane Dorian brought significant damage to Nova Scotia as a Category 1 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale and was in the process of losing wind intensity when it made landfall along the south coast of Nova Scotia. Winds gusted as high as 96 mph (155 km/h) along the coast, with widespread damage to structures and trees. More than about 500,000 people in the region lost power.

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Dorian also made landfall over a more populated area, whereas Fiona is forecast to make landfall about 124 miles (200 km) farther east over Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. However, AccuWeather forecasters anticipate Fiona to make landfall as a Category 2 hurricane Saturday morning local time and bring severe impacts to the region that could be similar if not worse than Dorian's in 2019.

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"Fiona will bring widespread power outages due to high winds, flooding due to torrential rain and isolated storm surge and massive seas offshore and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence," Anderson added.

Peak wind gusts of 80-100 mph (130-160 km/h) from Fiona are expected from northern Nova Scotia to southwestern portions of Newfoundland early Saturday morning with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 120 mph (195 km/h). Winds from 40-60 mph (60-100 km/h) could spread from far eastern Maine to eastern Quebec and Labrador.

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Widespread heavy downpours of 4-8 inches (100-200 mm) could occur across northern Nova Scotia and southwestern Newfoundland, with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 10 inches (330mm) of rainfall possible. Rainfall of that magnitude could lead to substantial flooding, AccuWeather experts said, and although the storm is expected to move quickly through the region, if the storm were to slow down at all, it could lead to higher local rainfall totals.

Flooding in any urban areas or along roads could be exacerbated by falling leaves that may be clogging storm drains, resulting in severe ponding on roadways.

"Fiona is expected to cause significant loss of leaves, which will probably have a major negative impact on the fall color in October," Anderson explained.

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Also, with the heavy rainfall and intense wind gusts, many uprooted trees and snapped tree limbs are anticipated in the region and could cause widespread power outages north of Halifax, Nova Scotia and southwest of St. John's, Newfoundland.

The combination of flooding rainfall, destructive winds, dangerous seas and widespread power outages means that Fiona has been rated as a 4 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes.

"Wave heights may reach 50 feet just offshore Cape Breton with significant coastal inundation into many harbors and inlets, which will damage boats and property," Anderson said.

Fiona has already generated some towering waves as it churned across the Atlantic this week. A Saildrone device that was deployed into the ocean to measure wave heights and other weather data related to Fiona reported a monster wave height of near 50 feet on Thursday as the storm tracked over the open Atlantic.

With progressively colder waters prevalent over the North Atlantic, due to the icy Labrador current, powerful hurricanes often quickly lose their punch or transform into tropical wind and rainstorms.

But this year, water temperatures have been running 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit (6-11 C) higher than average over the North Atlantic, especially just south of Atlantic Canada, and those warmer-than-usual waters may result in less weakening of the hurricane or a slower transformation to a rainstorm. Water temperatures range from near 60 F (16 C) near the coast of Nova Scotia to 84 F (29 C) off the southeast coast of New England.

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Hurricane Fiona is seen on the AccuWeather RealVue™ satellite on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which was off to a notably slow start during its first half, has roared back to life during the month of September - and that is in no small part due to the power and longevity of Hurricane Fiona. Meteorologists gauge the overall intensity of a hurricane season using a metric known as ACE, or the accumulated cyclone energy of each named storm in a hurricane season.

Just a week ago, the 2022 ACE value stood at 31.1 as of Sept. 16, according to Colorado State University (CSU), and was dramatically trailing the pace of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, which finished with a value of 145.7. But thanks to Fiona, which has racked up an ACE value of 19.8 through Sept. 22 - the most of any Atlantic hurricane so far this year - the season's total ACE has catapulted to 51.5. That figure still trails what is considered a normal ACE value, 82.9, through this point of the Atlantic hurricane season, according to CSU.

Track these severe weather conditions and more with the AccuWeather app. For next-level safety, unlock AccuWeather Alerts™ with Premium+. These advanced, hyperlocal notifications are prompted by our expert meteorologists and are often delivered much further ahead of government warnings when possible.

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