Commuter mayhem as storm dumps snow across southern British Columbia

A man wearing a Canadian flag stands in the middle of a snow-covered road while he waits for the bus in North Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, January 15, 2020. Vancouver and the lower mainland have been hit with cold temperatures and snow.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER - A powerful snow storm that swept across southern British Columbia early Wednesday prompted a provincial government advisory warning motorists to stay off many roads.

The advisory covered four Vancouver Island highways including Highway 1 between Nanaimo and Victoria. It was issued shortly after a section of Highway 1 just east of Vancouver was also closed because of blowing snow and treacherous conditions.

"Because of extreme winter weather, motorists are advised to avoid all but essential travel throughout the Metro Vancouver region today, including the Fraser Valley," said the advisory from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

A section of Highway 99, the Sea to Sky Highway north of Vancouver, was also shut down for several hours due to a vehicle incident in icy and blustery conditions not long after Environment Canada posted a rare blizzard warning for the Howe Sound region, which includes that route.

Every public school and post-secondary institution from the eastern Fraser Valley to Victoria and Nanaimo was shuttered as the storm dumped at least 25 centimetres of snow in many areas, with the weather office calling for more snow.

Hardy Lower Mainland commuters who decided to rely on public transit faced lengthy waits and those who reached SkyTrain stations were advised by attendants to return home.

A statement from TransLink, which handles transit services across Metro Vancouver, confirmed the snow was playing havoc with the service.

"Switch issues on the system are causing some trains to be unable to reliably make it to stations, and crowds are building," the statement said.

While all stations are open, TransLink said it was experiencing delays and reductions in train frequencies due to the switch issues as well as door problems caused by the freezing temperatures.

Trains are also moving at a slower speed and some lines are seeing a reduction in train frequency, it said.

Trains will de-iced in preparation for the afternoon peak, it added.

BC Ferries cancelled all sailings on major routes after 3 p.m. Wednesday because of forecasted hurricane force winds.

Extreme cold, winter storm or snowfall warnings were in effect for all but a handful of regions from British Columbia, Yukon and the Northwest Territories all the way to northern Manitoba.

Bitterly cold Arctic air that skidded southward across Western Canada carried wind chill values that Environment Canada said were at or below -50 C in Prairie provinces, while wind chill values in B.C.'s Interior were around -40.

The weather office also posted wind warnings for Victoria, Metro Vancouver and much of B.C.'s inner south coast with winds up to 90 km/h having the potential to bring down trees and cause power outages.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2020.

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