Ferry cancellations, ‘ice bombs,’ sloppy roads amid Metro Vancouver’s first snow of the season

Winter storm causes problems in Metro Vancouver
A January storm caused power outages, treacherous driving and ferry cancellations in southwestern B.C.. Aaron McArthur reports.

Wet snow and powerful winds combined Friday to create trouble for travellers across the south coast.

Heavy snow accumulated in North Surrey and the Fraser Valley, while “ice bombs” falling from the Alex Fraser bridge snarled traffic.

READ MORE: ‘Ice bombs’ damage vehicles on Port Mann, Alex Fraser bridges during snowfall

Powerful winds forced the cancellation of multiple sailings on major routes well into the early afternoon, while BC Hydro said about 12,000 customers in the Lower Mainland and another 5,000 on southern Vancouver Island were without power.

Those customers were all without power by Friday evening.

A rolled ambulance is pictured on the Island Highway near Union Bay, Friday. BC EHS said no patients were aboard and the crew was not seriously hurt.
A rolled ambulance is pictured on the Island Highway near Union Bay, Friday. BC EHS said no patients were aboard and the crew was not seriously hurt. Allen Felker / Global News

Wet snow began falling across the region overnight, and is forecast to continue until shifting to rain around noon.

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Environment Canada ended a snowfall warning for Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Howe Sound, Sea-to-Sky and inland Vancouver Island regions around 1 p.m.

READ MORE: Up to 25 cm possible as Metro Vancouver preps for 1st snowfall of the season

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Residents in Chilliwack, Abbotsford, North Surrey and Burnaby Mountian reported significant accumulations of snow.

Commuters are urged to have proper winter tires, use their headlights and to slow down and drive for the conditions.

Return of “ice bombs”

Callers to AM730 Traffic reported so-called “ice bombs” falling from cable stays on both the Alex Fraser and Port Mann bridges.

Police closed the bridge to traffic in both directions for the better part of an hour late Friday morning due to falling ice.

One lane was reopened in each direction around 11:20 a.m.

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In a statement Friday morning, the Ministry of Transportation (MoT) said crews were not able to drop snow removal collars on the bridge’s cable stays due to high wind.

It said the bridge was closed by local police due to concerns about safe travel over the bridge.

“Slush has accumulated on the cable stays and with high winds at the structure, is shedding onto the bridge deck. Ministry staff are onsite actively monitoring the weather and conditions at the bridge,” said a spokesperson in an email.

“As it will take time for traffic congestion to clear, the ministry encourages travellers to use alternative routes if possible.”

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The ministry did not immediately respond to questions about vehicles allegedly damaged by the ice bombs on either bridge.

In anticipation of the snow, TransLink configured its Millennium Line trains in four-car configurations to increase capacity.

However, the agency says the move also means the line is running at a reduced frequency.

So far, TransLink is not reporting any major problems on buses or SkyTrain but said routes were noticeably busier than normal as some commuters opted to leave their cars at home.

City of Vancouver and others prepare for possible overnight snow
City of Vancouver and others prepare for possible overnight snow

The agency said it had also swapped its articulated buses on the R5 route to SFU for shorter 40-foot models, with passengers required to switch buses at Hastings and Duthie.

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On Vancouver Island, a paramedic crew escaped serious injury after their ambulance flipped on the Island Highway in poor road conditions.

BC Emergency Health Services said (BC EHS) said the crew, based out of Courtenay, lost control about one kilometre south of Cook Creek Road, and fortunately did not have a patient aboard.

School closures

Only two snow-related school closures were announced Friday morning, both in Abbotsford:

  • St. James Elementary
  • St. John Brebeuf Secondary

The Surrey School district was also forced to close two elementary schools due to a power outage. However that outage was caused by a traffic accident, rather than snowfall directly.

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  • MB Sanford Elementary
  • Georges Vanier Elementary

At least five schools in Langley lost power, but the school district said classes would still continue.

Windy weather and ferry cancellations

Along with the snow, powerful winds blasted multiple areas across the south coast, forcing the cancellation of ferry sailings on all of BC Ferries major routes.

Travellers on key routes between the mainland and Vancouver Island were left waiting until 3 p.m., when sailings were scheduled to resume.

You can find up to date details on delays and cancellations here.

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Metro Vancouver’s southern areas, including Surrey, Langley, Richmond and Delta were forecast to get sustained winds of up to 70 km/hr, with gusts of up to 90 km/hr.

Greater Victoria, the Southern Gulf Islands and eastern Vancouver Island were forecast to get winds of up to 60 km/hr, with gusts of up to 80 km/hr.

Homeless concerns

Union Gospel Mission spokesperson Jeremy Hunka said the city’s homeless are facing a triple threat amid the nasty weather.

“It’s the worst of the worst, you’ve got rain, wind, snow, and then temperatures really dropping down. So we want to make sure people have a chance to come inside if they’re outside,” he said.

Hunka said UGM has two “rescue vehicles” on the road distributing survival gear, including warm and dry clothing.

The City of Vancouver has already opened the Powell Street Getaway, across from Oppenheimer Park, as a warming centre for the city’s homeless, and says it will remain open nightly until Jan. 15.

With temperatures forecast to plunge over the weekend, the city is also planning to open additional warming shelters in the days to come:

Jan. 12-Jan. 14

  • Britannia Community Centre (Hours: 9 pm to 8:30 am)
  • Vancouver Aquatic Centre (Hours: 10 pm to 6 am)
  • Overdose Prevention Society (Hours: 11 pm to 8 am)
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Jan. 15

  • Britannia Community Centre (Hours: 9 pm to 8:30 am)
  • Overdose Prevention Society (Hours: 11 pm to 8 am )

The City of Victoria has also activated its extreme weather shelters.