Winter storm shuts down highways, leaves thousands without power as high winds forecast for South Coast

·4 min read
Waves are pictured crashing into the seawall in English Bay during a King Tide in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, January 7, 2022.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Waves are pictured crashing into the seawall in English Bay during a King Tide in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, January 7, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

More weather alerts are in effect for several regions of British Columbia as winter storm conditions continue to wreak havoc on the province's highway and utility systems.

Environment Canada says heavy snow is forecast for the province's Interior on Friday and is warning drivers about hazards on major highway routes, some of which have been closed.

Much of the north has been placed under extreme cold alert and, as B.C. Hydro crews scramble to restore power to thousands of customers on the South Coast, a wind warning has been issued for Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria.

According to DriveBC, a high risk of avalanche has already forced the closure of Highway 3 at Allison Pass and Kootenay Pass, as well as Highway 1 north of Yale. Highway 5, which had been open to commercial traffic only, is currently closed between Hope and Merritt due to freezing rain. Highway 99 remains open despite an avalanche warning between Pemberton and Lillooet.

Snowfall and slick roads have also prompted travel advisories for sections of Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton, the Trans-Canada from Eagle to Rogers Pass and the Yellowhead and South Klondike Highways.

Up to 25 centimetres of snow is possible for the Coquihalla Highway on Friday as an intense Pacific frontal system continues to bring heavy snow and freezing rain to the area.

Freezing rain is forecast for parts of the Fraser Valley and Howe Sound, prompting an advisory for the Sea-to-Sky Highway, as well.

The City of Chilliwack has advised people to avoid non-essential travel due to icy conditions. It says crews are working to apply salt and sand to roads, and residents should report downed power lines to 911 and downed trees to the city.

Road conditions are available at drivebc.ca.

Schools have been closed for another day in the Mission, Chilliwack and Fraser Cascade school districts.

Wind warning, outages

Environment Canada is forecasting strong winds for Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria starting Friday morning, which does not bode well for B.C. Hydro crews as predicted gusts of up to 90 km/h could cause more power outages.

More than 20,000 customers woke up in the dark Friday morning, primarily in the Lower Mainland, the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

On northern Vancouver Island, residents in the remote communities of Tahsis and Zeballos have been without power since Jan. 4. Wet, heavy snow has damaged transmission lines and infrastructure in several places, which are currently only reachable by helicopter.

Officials say due to weather conditions, the access road to Zeballos may not be safe for drivers until Jan. 14.

The Canadian Coast Guard said Friday that one of its vessels transported B.C. Hydro crews to Bella Bella to restore power to the Heiltsuk First Nation after crews were unable to access the community by road or helicopter.

"The situation is critical, with power out for several days and the community faci dwindling fuel reserves," the coast guard said in a statement.

"Conditions on the water are challenging, with storm warnings and freezing spray."

B.C. Hydro is reminding customers of the value of keeping an emergency kit equipped with enough supplies to last 72 hours, including water, non-perishable food items and batteries.

B.C. Ferries cancelled several sailings on the South Coast on Friday due to the high winds. They include sailings between:

  • Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay.

  • Tsawwassen and Duke Point.

  • Horseshoe Bay and Departure Bay.

  • Powell River and Comox.

  • Powell River and Texada Island.

Exact details of the sailings cancelled can be found at the B.C. Ferries website.

Environment Canada says the winds should ease through the afternoon.

David Horemans/CBC
David Horemans/CBC

The Vancouver Park Board has closed sections of the seawall, while the City of West Vancouver has closed the seawalk and Ambleside Park due to the winds and a simultaneous king tide.

King tide is a colloquial term for the highest tides, which happen due to extra gravitational forces on Earth's oceans produced by the sun and the moon.

Watch out for frostbite

On Thursday, temperatures in the north dropped below -40 C in some communities, with Dease Lake hitting -43.5 C, a record-setting low for the town in the province's northwest.

Extreme cold alerts have been issued Friday for Dease Lake, as well as the Peace River region, Cassiar Mountains, Haines Road, Muncho Lake Park and Williston.

According to Environment Canada, a very cold air mass hovering over northern B.C. through Saturday, combined with moderate winds, could create wind chill values below -40 C.

The weather agency is warning people to watch for cold-related symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain, muscle pain and weakness, numbness and colour change in fingers and toes.

To find forecasts for your community, visit Environment Canada.

For a list of shelters, including women-only and family shelters where people experiencing homelessness can get out of the cold, visit B.C. Housing.

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