Winter storm brings overnight snow to Metro Vancouver, freezing rain on the way
Environment Canada is once again asking drivers on B.C.'s South Coast to avoid non-essential travel, after renewing its winter storm warnings for much of the province.
The federal agency warned Thursday morning that hazardous winter conditions are expected Thursday and Friday due to a low-pressure system in the Lower Mainland.
At the start of the day, some cities were expected to see more snow accumulate with up to five additional centimetres possible in Metro Vancouver, Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Closer to Hope, that could be as much as 40 centimetres, while the Sea to Sky from Squamish to Whistler could see about 35 more centimetres of snow.
Even as the snow slows, conditions on the roads could worsen. As much as 50 millimetres of rain is expected before Friday morning, which could lead to slippery roads and pooling water
"Prolonged freezing rain is expected in the Fraser Valley beginning today and continuing tonight," Environment Canada's warning said.
"Freezing rain is also likely for southeast Metro Vancouver (including Surrey) this morning while the rest of the Metro Vancouver region will see a risk of freezing rain. Freezing rain will make roads icy and slippery leading to hazardous travel conditions."
Along with snow and freezing rain, gusting winds up to 70 km/h could lead to reduced visibility, especially in the Fraser Valley.
Officials urged drivers on the South Coast to postpone non-essential travel until conditions improve.
"Rapidly accumulating snow could make travel difficult over some locations. Surfaces such as highways, roads, walkways and parking lots will become icy, slippery and hazardous," Environment Canada said.
B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation warned about possible weather-related bridge closures that could snarl traffic in the Lower Mainland.
In fact, the Alex Fraser Bridge was closed around noon "due to winter operations" and drivers were asked to take an alternate route.
“Under normal conditions, the ministry uses a cable-collar system to remove snow that builds up on the cables of the Alex Fraser and Port Mann bridges so traffic can safely pass. However, high winds can increase the shedding of snow and pose a risk to the rope technicians. This prevents them from deploying the system,” a news release from the ministry said.
Traffic came to a slow crawl on the Port Mann Bridge during rush hour Thursday morning, with several spun-out vehicles stranded on the side of the highway.
Drivers on other routes were warned to expect major delays throughout the day. In the morning, flooding in the northbound lanes of the George Massey Tunnel on Highway 99 led to temporary disruptions, though DriveBC said the right lane reopened just after noon. And, on Highway 5, a semi-truck jackknifed, blocking traffic for a couple hours.
Those taking transit instead of driving also faced delays and detours Thursday. TransLink issued a warning to its customers saying bus and SkyTrain service may be delayed or cancelled across the system.
"We continue to salt and sand bus loops and SkyTrain stations, but please use caution in these areas; there may be extra crowding on some bus routes and SkyTrain platforms today," TransLink's notice said.
Up-to-date transit changes can be seen on TransLink's Twitter feed or on the authority's alerts page.
The latest round of winter weather also led to several Lower Mainland schools closing for the day Thursday. While many students haven't started class yet because of a phased return due to the COVID-19 pandemic, children of front-line workers and students with special needs have been at school this week.
Several post-secondary institutions also announced closures for at least part of Thursday, including the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, Langara College, BCIT, Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Vancouver Community College. More information on school closures is available here.
The renewed weather warnings come as the South Coast has been gripped by cold weather and snow for the last four weeks now.
“That's certainly been a bit abnormal than what we're used to from data from year to year," said Bobby Sekhon of Environment Canada.
"However it is winter and we can expect it to conditions pretty much right through February."
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