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Groundhog Gale of 1976

Andrea Stockton, staff writer

February 2, 2011 — A fierce storm that hit Saint John on February 2, 1976 is one that went down in the history books.

Winds clocked in at 160 km/h
Winds clocked in at 160 km/h

Groundhog Day (February 2) brings back vivid memories for some residents in Saint John, New Brunswick. In 1976, the province wasn't concerned about what certain groundhogs would predict for the arrival of spring, they were more concerned about surviving through the storm.

“Street signs were flattened, lamp posts were down, cars were turned over, windows were crashing in and it just happened in a blink of an eye and nobody was prepared,” says Mark Lee, a resident who remembers being caught in the storm.

Some say the Groundhog Gale hit Saint John like a bomb. Winds peaked at 160 km/h. That's equivalent to a Cateogry 2 hurricane.

“You felt like you were in a cyclone and being taken away to see the Wizard of Oz,” notes Lee.

Telephone poles were knocked down one by one
Telephone poles were knocked down one by one

Ivan Court, the current Mayor of Saint John, was a teacher at the time and recalls the horrific event.

“I don’t care who you were if your wife or husband was working in town and you were at home I am sure you were in panic mode wondering what was happening to them once the winds came up so great that you were watching trees fall all over the place.”

Teachers and students hunkered down inside of schools with the fear of being hit by any flying debris. Court remembers telephone polls falling like a domino effect. As a result, power was cut to the city for close to two weeks.

A messy Groundhog Day storm of 2011 is bringing heavy snow and strong winds to the Atlantic provinces, but residents say it isn't nearly enough to take the place of the notorious Groundhog Gale storm.

On Februay 2, 1976 “you knew where you were. If you were a Saint Johner you knew what happened on Groundhog Day,” notes Lee.

The storm cost over $22 million in damages.

Keep up to date on your forecast by checking out The Weather Network on TV where the National forecast comes up at the top and bottom of every hour. You can also check our Canadian cities index.

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