HALIFAX, N.S. - A howling blizzard ushered in New Year's Day in parts of the Maritimes as snow and high winds caused power outages, disrupted highway travel and grounded flights at some of the region's airports.

Most of Nova Scotia was hit with whiteout conditions, with the eastern part of the province and Cape Breton expected to receive the most snow - up to 60 centimetres in some areas - by the time the brawny storm moved on.

Relentless wind gusts of up to 80 kilometres per hour played havoc with travel schedules and prevented all flights from either taking off or landing at the region's busiest airport, Halifax Stanfield International.

Airport spokesman Peter Spurway said runway plows had been operating since the storm began late Wednesday, but they were fighting an uphill battle with drifting snow.

"Guys go up and down the runways with the brushes and move it and in comes a new set," he said. "So the winds are the bigger issue than the accumulation of snow at this point."

Spurway said the backlog of flights was expected to get longer as the storm held the province in its grip all day Thursday.

"The forecast calls for the snow to stay with us ... and with no abatement in the winds at all, so this does not auger well for air travel."

He said there was little activity in the terminal as it appeared most people had heeded warnings about checking ahead with airlines before venturing to the airport.

Similar conditions in Prince Edward Island also led to cancelled or delayed flights at the Charlottetown airport, while the Confederation Bridge, which links the province to New Brunswick, was closed to high-sided vehicles, including trucks, tractor trailers and buses.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia Power crews were working to restore electricity to thousands of customers, mainly in the eastern part of the province and Cape Breton.

Utility spokeswoman Glennie Langille said crews were battling strong winds and whiteout conditions.

"One of the challenges with high winds and snow is problem trees - trees touching lines, trees coming down on lines," Langille said.

Outage figures fluctuated throughout the day, rising to as high as 7,000 by late Thursday afternoon.

The Canso Causeway, which links Cape Breton with mainland Nova Scotia, was closed in the late afternoon amid severe whiteout conditions caused by a storm surge.

In Prince Edward Island, high winds whipped up 20 centimetres of snow, and between 10 and 15 centimetres was dumped on southeastern New Brunswick.

Up to 15 centimetres of snow was expected for parts of western Newfoundland and coastal Labrador.

And while most people in Nova Scotia heeded warnings to stay home, others were determined not to let the bad slow them down.

David Hawe, part of crew clearing snow in front of the Metro Centre, Halifax's largest hockey arena, said he was "in-between jobs" and needed the work.

"I'm not really complaining, and the weather is not really too cold, although it's a bit windy and that," he said.

Down the street, friends Cameron Milner and Emma Sampson were trudging through the snow, searching for "some greasy food to take the edge off" their New Year's celebrations.

Both laughed when asked what they thought of the weather.

"We've got experience in this," chuckled Sampson, a university student from southern New Brunswick.

"I think it's a nice fresh start because we've had really nice weather for most of December and I think we need a big blast of snow to ring in the new year."

Meanwhile, the lieutenant-governors in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. were forced to cancel their annual New Year's levees.

Police advised motorists to stay off the roads in both provinces.

"Unless people are facing an emergency situation, drivers are strongly advised to stay home, for everyone's safety," said Janice Durkee, shift supervisor at the RCMP communications centre in Nova Scotia.

"If driving is necessary, drivers are urged to use extreme caution and expect slowed traffic and possible delays as visibility is reduced by snow and wind."

Sgt. Mark Gallagher, a spokesman for the RCMP in Nova Scotia, said there had been no reports of major accidents on the province's highways.

"I think they (travellers) are hanging on to wait the storm out before they move on."

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