Coquihalla highway closed indefinitely
VANCOUVER - A series of storms over the last few days has dumped as much as two metres of snow in some areas of the B.C. Interior, forcing the indefinite closure of a major highway and prompting a warning from avalanche forecasters.
Anna Brown, a forecaster with the Canadian Avalanche Centre, said Saturday the increased load of snow, along with wind and warming temperatures, is a recipe for major avalanches.
"The storms have put huge amounts of snow high up in the alpine...that provides for rather large, destructive avalanches.'' Brown said.
The types of avalanches Brown describes would cover a pickup truck or push a train engine off the tracks.
The high avalanche potential has also indefinitely shut down the Coquihalla Highway, a major artery connecting the Lower Mainland to the B.C. Interior.
"This is extremely rare,'' said Ministry of Transportation spokesman Jeff Knight. "They've just had an exceptional amount of snowfall up there this winter.''
Knight said the conditions are too dangerous for ministry crews to even attempt to start the work of avalanche control.
"Until they can do avalanche control the ministry doesn't feel it's safe to reopen the highway,'' he stated.
The toll highway is the most direct route into the B.C. Interior and is often preferred by truckers moving goods into the rest of B.C. or on to other provinces.
Sandy McDonald, the driver manager of Coastal Pacific Xpress in Surrey, B.C., said most of its 175 Canadian trucks use the Coquihalla Highway
He said the closure is inconvenient, but he is adjusting to rerouting the company's trucks.
"It's winter. I've just come to accept road closures,'' he said.
The avalanche potential across many parts of the province is rated as high.
Brown said it will be a few days at least before the danger level drops.
"The snow that's accumulated over the last five days is almost two metres,'' she calculated.
The recent added snow load brings extra pressure onto the weak layers deep within the snowpack that could produce giant snow slides.
The warmer weather in the short term causes the avalanche hazard to increase, but Brown said if the temperature drops, conditions should improve and the snowpack is expected to strengthen.
The centre's advice for back country users is to avoid avalanche terrain.
"This would be a good weekend for skiing at a resort,'' Brown suggested. "Or if you are travelling in back country terrain, choose flat terrain to travel in.''