Could it happen again? Yes, it can, and probably will.
It was 150 years ago earlier this month when a monster of a storm struck the Bay of Fundy causing what in today’s dollars would be millions in damages and took the lives of more than 30 people in New England, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The Saxby Gale has gone down in legend. It was one of those once in a lifetime storms to hit the region and its impact was incredible. All along the Bay of Fundy, from Yarmouth and Campobello Island at one end to the Tantramar Marshes at the other buildings were lost, boats sunk, and dikes breached.
In the Minas Basin and Cumberland Basin, between Amherst and Sackville, N.B., the dikes were overwhelmed, and water encroached several kilometres inland. It’s the worst-case scenario EMO officials are trying to warn Nova Scotians could be just over the horizon.
With sea levels expected to rise over the next century because of global warming it’s expected the dikes along the Tantramar Marsh could again be threatened. While it may be years before increasing sea levels could overtop the dikes that protect valuable infrastructure on both sides of the border, it’s another Saxby Gale that has EMO and municipal, provincial and federal officials worried.
It’s why the study of the dikes that’s underway is so important and it’s why the recommendations from that study must be implemented. It’s going to cost millions to complete the necessary work, whether it’s increasing the height of the dikes or moving infrastructure – like the railway and Trans-Canada Highway – further inland. Government needs to know it will have to pay now to mitigate the risk or pay later when the dikes are breached and critical infrastructure destroyed.
Several weeks ago, many in this part of Nova Scotia were in awe at Mother Nature’s power in the form of hurricane Dorian. The September storm knocked down thousands (if not tens of thousands) of trees and put people in the dark for close to a week in some cases. If the storm had occurred at spring tide (when tides are at their highest) and if Dorian had taken a different track, such as through central New Brunswick, we could very well have seen a repeat of the Saxby Gale.
With today’s technology we will have plenty of warning of the next Saxby Gale. As SaltWire Network meteorologist Cindy Day said we will be able to see such a storm at least a week away, even if we’re not certain of its exact track until almost the last minute. Problem is, even if we know the next Saxby Gale is out there – and we know it will be eventually – if we choose to do nothing to prepare we should be prepared to suffer many of the same consequences of 150 years ago, although the cost would be much higher considering $50 million in commerce passes through the Isthmus of Chignecto.
Hopefully it’s a message those who control the purse strings in Halifax and Ottawa hear loud and clear.