Heaps of blowing snow and unusually frigid temperatures have led to a series of ferry and flight cancellations on B.C.’s South Coast, creating travel mayhem near peak holiday travel season.
Authorities ranging from the provincial government to first responders and transit companies have urged residents on the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island to stay home Tuesday because road conditions are not safe.
The weather has forced “mass cancellations” overnight at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and no departures whatsoever Tuesday morning ahead of its busiest day of the year on Thursday. Several planes full of passengers have been sitting on the tarmac for many hours, unable to return to the gate to let passengers deplane.
“It’s as much of psychological challenge as it is a physical challenge as far as fatigue,” said Jeff Bryant, a passenger who has been stuck on his Toronto-bound WestJet flight since 8 p.m. PT Monday.
“I give a lot of people a lot of credit for challenging the inner turmoil they’re feeling.”
A statement from YVR said staff are working to “safely get passengers off aircraft and clear the airfield and aircraft of snow and ice to get planes and people moving again.” More delays and cancellations are expected through the week.
Travellers are asked Tuesday to check their flight status before leaving home. Those with cancelled flights are being told to not come to the airport.
As for travel by sea, a spokesperson said B.C. Ferries has cancelled sailings on all three of its major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland due to the weather.
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Heavy snow blanketed much of the Lower Mainland overnight, covering parts of southern Vancouver Island in roughly 25 centimetres, while Metro Vancouver is coping with as much as 15 centimetres.
“This snowfall is quite significant for the Lower Mainland, in an area that does not typically doesn’t receive heavy snow,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Jonathan Bau, adding Vancouver Island was the “hardest hit.”
“The amount of snow that we’ve seen is toward the rare side of the scale.”
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Police in Abbotsford, B.C., east of Vancouver, reported whiteout conditions along Highway 1 through the Fraser Valley.
Environment Canada said an additional five to 10 centimetres is still to come for most areas before snow is expected to ease later Tuesday. Even after the snow stops, Bau said, severe cold will stick around.
“We do want to advise that after the system moves through, the Arctic [air] will really settle in over the region,” he said, referring to the South Coast.
“So we are forecasting near, if not at, record-breaking lows for tonight and Wednesday night.”
The University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of the Fraser Valley have all cancelled in-person exams on Tuesday.
Environment Canada has weather warnings in effect for virtually all of B.C., forecasting either blowing snow, extreme cold or Arctic outflow conditions.
Preliminary totals as of 6 a.m. PT show unusually heavy snow fell overnight into Tuesday in a number of places:
- Malahat Highway: 32 centimetres
- Victoria International Airport: 30 cm
- Nanaimo: 30 cm
- Pitt Meadows: 25 cm
- Vancouver International Airport: 24 cm
- White Rock: 23 cm
- Abbotsford International Airport: 17 cm
- West Vancouver: 14 cm
The province said drivers in the Lower Mainland “are advised to stay off the road unless their vehicle is properly equipped with winter tires.”
For those with winter tires who have to drive, a statement Monday said drivers should pack an emergency kit in their vehicles.
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Elsewhere around B.C., the ongoing deep freeze produced several daily minimum temperature records Monday, including a low of –46.8 C west of Williams Lake, while the Quesnel area broke a record set 78 years ago when it reached a low of –37.5 C.
Northern B.C. is covered in extreme cold or Arctic outflow warnings, with frigid conditions expected to continue this week.