Schools closed across B.C.'s Lower Mainland, travel discouraged as snow, wind blast South Coast

Schools closed across B.C.'s Lower Mainland, travel discouraged as snow, wind blast South Coast

The provincial government in B.C. is asking people in the Lower Mainland and parts of Vancouver Island to stay home, avoid driving and reconsider transit if they can after an overnight blast of snow, continuing Wednesday morning, created perilous road conditions.

Persistent snow, high winds and bitterly cold temperatures are wreaking havoc on the roads. Environment Canada has issued snowfall warnings or special weather statements for Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, the southern Gulf Islands and the Sunshine Coast. A blizzard warning is in effect for Howe Sound.

Classes have been cancelled in every school district across Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. A number of districts on southern Vancouver Island are also closed.

Here's what you need to know.

Travelling by road

Roads across the region are covered in snow and dangerously slippery. The province is asking drivers to avoid all travel unless absolutely essential.

Highway 1 in the Fraser Valley has been hit especially hard with snow. Abbotsford police asked motorists to avoid all highway travel between Chilliwack and Abbotsford due to "extreme whiteout conditions." A department spokesperson described the highway as "a train wreck."

Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC

In Howe Sound, forecasters are warning of blowing snow, visibility near zero and hurricane force winds of 85-100 km/h early Wednesday, increasing by the late afternoon to 100-120 km/h. A freezing spray warning is also in effect.

The Sea to Sky Highway has been shut down south of Porteau Cove due to a vehicle incident in the southbound lane.

Rush hour through the region will likely be messy. Snow isn't expected to ease until late morning.

A number of vehicles struggled on snowy hills across the South Coast overnight:

Visibility will be limited on the Coquihalla Highway, the Okanagan Connector, and Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon. Heavy snow has been falling and is expected to pick up in ferocity again Wednesday afternoon into Thursday. 

A travel advisory also applies to Vancouver Island on Highway 1 from Nanaimo south to Victoria, as well as Highways 14, 17 and 18.

Transit

TransLink said service will be "significantly slower" across the region's transit system on Wednesday. King George Station, a major station in Surrey linking the Fraser Valley to Metro Vancouver, has been shut down due to the weather.

Train service will be crowded and service has been delayed. Ice buildup preventing doors from closing properly is an issue — one attendant at Commercial-Broadway station in Vancouver was walking around with a plastic hockey stick, using it to knock ice off the train.

For now, SkyTrain is running larger trains to increase capacity, but those trains run at a reduced frequency.

Yvette Brend/CBC

Buses struggle in the snow and often get stuck. Passengers on at least one hilly route in Coquitlam, B.C., abandoned their bus early Wednesday in favour of trudging through the snow.

"Customers are asked to consider whether they need to travel today, and if there is a need, whether they could consider travelling outside of rush hours, as commutes will take significantly longer than usual," read a statement from the transit authority on Wednesday morning.

Jason Farmer/Twitter

Schools, universities shut down

Every school district in the Lower Mainland, from the Fraser-Cascade district in the eastern Fraser Valley to West Vancouver, cancelled classes Wednesday due to the conditions. A number of school districts on Vancouver Island, including the Greater Victoria District, were also closed for the day.

As well as elementary and high schools, the following post-secondary institutions are also closed:

  • UBC (Classes at Point Grey campus cancelled).
  • Simon Fraser University.
  • BCIT.
  • University of the Fraser Valley.
  • Vancouver Community College (Classes cancelled; students advised to check school website).
  • Capilano University.
  • Kwantlen University.
Nathan Pachal/Twitter

Air travel 

A number of flights in and out of Vancouver International Airport, mostly between B.C. and Alberta, are cancelled this morning as snow continues to fall over the airport. Passengers are advised to check the airport's website for details on their flight before leaving home.

Return to rain by Friday

Forecasters said Friday will be the "transition day" away from snowy weather on the South Coast. Bitterly cold, snowy air is expected to shift back to seasonal downpours.

Parts of the region can expect around 40 millimetres of rain on Friday, which isn't good news given the amount of snow the area has seen this week. Rain-soaked snow weighs heavily on structures, particularly weaker ones like sheds and outbuildings. Dense, saturated snow could also down power lines and and cause outages.

Adam Van Der Zwan/CBC