A massive spring blizzard has paralyzed parts of the East Coast with heavy snow, strong winds and warnings of storm surges.

Blizzard conditions began to bear down on Nova Scotia late Wednesday morning, forcing widespread cancellations of schools, government offices and ferry and bus services.

The strong winds caused power outages, affecting more than 2,800 Nova Scotia Power customers in the Shelburne and Liverpool areas. At one point, 16,000 residents and businesses in Nova Scotia were experiencing blackouts, The Canadian Press reported.

Winds were expected to intensify Wednesday afternoon, prompting warnings of near-zero visibility on roads.

Environment Canada has issued blizzard, storm surge and high-wind warnings for much of the Atlantic provinces.

Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are forecast to see the greatest amounts of snow – up to 50 centimetres in some areas. Environment Canada is warning of near-zero visibility as wind gusts are expected to hit 120 km/h.

Prince Edward Island was also dealing with power outages Wednesday, but the messy weather prompted Maritime Electric to pull its utility crews off the road.

Nova Scotia officials have asked motorists to stay off the roads, and have issued warnings to residents in low-lying areas of storm surges.

“Later tonight, when the winds have picked up and we’ve got sustained winds for a number of hours we are expecting a storm surge,” Sean Irvine of Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Office told CTV Atlantic. “That is coinciding in and around high tide.”

New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador are expected to get less snow but stronger winds that could cause widespread whiteout conditions and power outages.

Environment Canada says in western Newfoundland, wind gusts could reach 160 km/h, and in the Wreckhouse area of the province the winds may hit 180 km/h. The Newfoundland and Labrador government issued an advisory to residents to avoid coastal areas as winds pick up.

While the worst of the storm is expected to hit the Maritimes Wednesday afternoon and into the evening, meteorologists say the effects of the storm can last a few days, with high winds and flurries forecasted for Thursday and Friday.

In Nova Scotia, some government services and offices have been closed as a precautionary measure.

Schools were closed in parts of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, and airports in Fredericton and Halifax were showing several flight cancellations.

While there are currently no signs of spring in sight for residents of Atlantic Canada, forecasters say milder temperatures are expected to move into the area later this week.

N.L. snow removal crews laid off ahead of storms

While Newfoundland and Labrador is bracing for its second storm this week, St. John’s residents are questioning why 130 of the city’s snow-removal employees were laid off late last week.

The number of snow-removal employees has gone from 180 to 50.

Paul Mackey, the city’s deputy city manager and director of public works, says the layoffs were part of a normal cutback that usually takes place the third week of March. “We look at the long-range forecast and make a final decision,” Mackey told CTV’s Canada AM on Wednesday.

He said while city officials had predicted today’s storm, they weren’t expecting a storm on Monday that saw 20 centimetres of snow blanket the area.

Regardless, Mackey said the city has enough staff to deal with the snow.

“A lot of people are reacting to this layoff,” he said. “Unfortunately they seem to think we have no capability.”

Mackey said he believes residents could simply be worn down by winter.

“People are tired of this long, cold winter, and they want it to be over with,” he said.

CUPE, the union that represents the outside snow removal workers, did not respond to a request for comment from CTV.

With a report from CTV Atlantic and with files from The Canadian Press