Storms and Salvage

The following is reprinted from Ch. 49 - Forests of Nova Scotia by Ralph Johnson 1986. (out of print)

The peninsula of Nova Scotia lies exposed to ocean storms, some of which have wreaked havoc on its woodlands from time to time, requiring extensive salvage operations after hurricanes and winter storms, and influencing cutting practices.

Hurricanes are tropical cyclones with sustained surface winds of 74 mph or more occurring in the North Atlantic region, including the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical cyclones with sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph are classed as tropical storms. With energy derived primarily from the latent heat of condensation of water vapor, they generally range from 60 to 600 miles in diameter and rarely exceed 1,000 miles. In well developed hurricanes, the speed of maximum winds has been estimated at more than 200 mph. Torrential rainfall over a considerable area is a common feature of tropical cyclones. An unusual feature is the central "eye." The pattern of winds becomes tangential to the eye boundary at a radius of some five or more miles from the storm centre, moving counter-clockwise around the eye which is the centre of air pressure lower than that of the surrounding area. The strongest wind is usually southerly and between 100 and 200 miles east of the eye.

The U.S. Weather Bureau publication Tropical Cyclones of the North Atlantic Ocean contains North Atlantic tracking charts from 1871 to 1963, compiled from data from ships, aircraft and other sources. These charts show the tracks of the storm eyes, the dates the storms occurred and whether they were tropical depressions, tropical storms or hurricanes. Most North Atlantic tropical cyclones start over the western Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico between latitudes 10 degrees North and 30 degrees North; during August and September many originate over the mid Atlantic, within these latitudes, and a few just west of the African coast. Most of those originating over the Atlantic move westerly or northwesterly over the Caribbean Sea or the Greater Antilles and then swing north and northeast up the American coast or within 500 miles thereof. Some continue westerly or northwesterly across the Gulf of Mexico and move overland comparatively short distances before dying out.

Hurricane Carol in 1953 originated east of the Azores. The eye of Hurricane Carol swept over southeastern New Brunswick on September 7, 1953, passing about 150 miles northwest of Nova Scotia's south shore. This caused some damage along the southern coast and blew down some timber in patches from Halifax to Yarmouth, within 30 miles of the ocean. Most of the forest damage was in stands partially cut under the Small Tree Act regulations.

On December 1 another southerly gale struck Nova Scotia when there was no frost in the ground. This was not forecast nor recorded as a tropical cyclone, but there have been a number of winter gales here which struck with little or no warning. This one blew down some trees loosened by Hurricane Edna- these are included in the total estimated damage from Edna.

A year later, on the night of September 11, 1954, Hurricane Edna's eye passed over central New Brunswick from Woodstock to Chatham. It had originated east of the Lesser Antilles. The damage in Nova Scotia from this storm was tremendous. Besides great damage to buildings, waterfronts and shipping, it was estimated that Edna blew down a total of more than 700 million board feet of timber. Approximately 300,000 cords, or 150 million feet, were blown down on Mersey Paper Company freehold land, which comprised 572,000 acres at that time.

Hurricane Carol diminished to a tropical storm after it crossed the Fundy shore of New Brunswick and Hurricane Edna did the same as it passed over the eastern corner of Maine. But by the time they reached Nova Scotia, Carol was still carrying winds of over 60 mph and Edna of over 70 mph with gusts to 100 mph and rainfall of 4 to 8 inches.

In contrast to Hurricane Carol's impact, damage from Hurricane Edna was as great in previously undisturbed forests as in those which had been given a light partial cut. Most of the damage was in mature and overmature forests, but many young stands of 50 to 70 years old suffered considerably. There were areas up to 600 acres or more in good spruce forests of this age class, previously undisturbed, where practically all trees were down. Such an area was located just south of West River in what is now Kejimkujik National Park. Just south of Dennis Boot Lake in this park an entire stand of perhaps 40 acres was flattened. This was old-growth hemlock.

More than half the damage was accounted for by stands where from 20 to 60 per cent of the trees per acre were down. In extensive areas only occasional trees were damaged. Damage was heavy along margins of clearcut areas and in recent partial cuts where more than 50 per cent of the volume had been removed. Because of salt spray, foliage of some deciduous trees was darkened and that of many white pine trees turned brown inland two to four miles from the south shore. (Such spray has little effect on the foliage of cat spruce and Scots pine.)

Pulpwood production increased somewhat from salvage of Edna's damage. According to Department of Lands and Forests reports, total average annual pulpwood production from 1951 to 1960 inclusive was 276,000 cords. The exceptions were the three years following Edna's visit (1955-1957), when the average was approximately 370,000 cords. The increase in lumber production was not as great. From 1951 to 1960 it averaged 281 million board feet; from 1955 to 1957 the average was approximately 301 million. The lumber market was poor at that time.

Through a period of five years after the hurricane, Mersey Paper Company salvaged just about 300,000 cords, including sawtimber, in company operations, stumpage sales and pulpwood contracts. This salvage included a number of standing trees considered to be subject to loss in following storms. On the other hand, many fallen and broken trees were not economically salvable because of inaccessibility from existing improvements or because they were too widely scattered through basically undamaged forests. The last of Mersey's salvage was in 1959. The sapwood was mostly lost due to stain and rot, but the heartwood of most of the larger trees was still sound and acceptable. Mersey put as much bleach into its pulp as possible but the newsprint paper was still pretty dingy. Fortunately, publishers accepted this paper which was not very "bright" or white.

The Small Tree Act was fairly well enforced until Edna struck in 1954. Although nearly as much damage occurred in previously undisturbed stands as in those where moderate partial cutting had been prescribed under the act, many owners attributed losses to the legal restrictions. After that, the provincial foresters were less inclined to enforce the law so strictly.

To saw spruce salvage following Hurricane Edna, Mersey Paper Company constructed its first fairly modern sawmill, electrically operated, at Sandy Lake near St. Margaret's Bay in 1954. The mill operated until 1968. An Anderson debarker was installed for debarking sound sawlogs so that slabs and edgings could be most efficiently utilized for pulpwood chips. This was the first sawlog debarker and the second utilization of sawmill waste as chips for chemical wood pulp in Nova Scotia.

In the 1970s there were three severe storms with gale-if not hurricane-force-winds in Nova Scotia. And there was apparently little or no warning of these from the weather stations. The first occurred October 20, 1974 when heavy snow and gales occurred which hit the Annapolis Valley and northern Nova Scotia the hardest. Forest damage was heavy in these regions; many buildings were damaged and some destroyed. Power and telephone lines and poles were downed and waterfront damage was severe. The second storm struck February 2-3, 1976 and was popularly dubbed the Ground Hog Day Storm. It brought snow and freezing temperatures; it damaged homes and fishing equipment and caused power failures and extensive flooding. The ground was frozen during this storm so most of the forest damage was in tree breakage rather than in uprooting. The third storm came a month later, bringing heavy wind and rain which caused extensive flooding throughout most of the province.

That year, the province paid approximately $4,000,000 for salvaging timber damaged by storms. This is the only known occasion of such assistance.


Forests of Nova Scotia by Ralph s. Johnson is no longer in print. It was co-published by the former Department of Lands and Forests and Four East Publications in 1986. Its contents are fully copyrighted. ISBN 0-920427-08-1.