Tow truck driver Jimmy McLean was on the job 40 years ago when the sky darkened.

"She turned black and you could see the Bay of Fundy actually rising,” said McLean, “and I said, ‘This don't look good.’"

The weather event known as the Groundhog Day Gale swept through southwest Nova Scotia and along the Bay of Fundy in 1976. Power poles all over the city were snapped like matchsticks.

"I think we had 14 days without power,” said McLean. “We were bringing generators in from all over the place on our wreckers and stuff. We were the only people able to drive down through that stuff."

"Believe it or not, it was a hurricane."

CTV Chief meteorologist Cindy Day says McLean is right. She says winds were equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane.

"It approached during the lunar tides, the spring tides and all those tides coincided to make for an extremely powerful coastal storm with strong storm surge. Some of the waves were measured at 12 metres, almost 40 feet offshore," said Day.

Storm surges, flooding and widespread destruction also occurred on the Nova Scotia side of the bay, from Yarmouth to Digby – and everywhere in between.

Art Melanson watched from his south-end home as the roof of the church across the street was blown from the building.

"That storm has never been matched," said Melanson. "I was looking up and saw that roof actually lift high, and move, and then it started to lift again, so it just totally dismantled from the building itself. It was amazing."

Considering how destructive the storm was, many in the community were surprised by how few injuries there were. There was only one fatality from an ice fisherman who got caught out on the frozen Kennebecasis River at the height of the storm.

"Nobody can remember one that was worse before, and there hasn't been one since as bad," said Melanson.

"You couldn't walk,” said Saint John resident Owne Boyle. “You couldn't stand, and things blowing around.”

Many who lived through the Groundhog Gale say it was the storm of that century, and then some.  

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mike Cameron.