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Lower Mainland digs out after snowstorm causes highway, transit station closures

SnOMG! Winter storm cripples B.C.’s Lower Mainland
Heavy snow, wind and freezing temperatures wreaked havoc across the Vancouver area, where resources to deal with winter weather are limited. Neetu Garcha looks at how people on and off the roads coped with their commute.

The Lower Mainland was digging out from a powerful snowstorm Wednesday, with plenty more to come in the forecast.

Most schools across the region called a snow day amid heavy accumulations in all municipalities.

READ MORE: School closures for Wednesday in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley

The roads in many areas, particularly side streets, were a mess, and anyone without snow tires is being advised to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary.

TransLink provides update on Metro Vancouver snowstorm
TransLink provides update on Metro Vancouver snowstorm

A snowfall for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley was reissued Wednesday morning, with up to 10 more centimetres in the forecast.

Snowfall warnings also remained in place for parts of Vancouver Island, including the Malahat and the Duncan and Nanaimo areas. Winter storm warnings were also in place for eastern Vancouver Island.

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READ MORE: Wind warning prompts BC Ferries to cancel sailings on all major routes

Environment Canada said Lake Cowichan got the most snow on the south coast overnight, 36 centimetres, followed by Saanich at 30 centimetres and Coquitlam at 28 centimetres.

Victoria got between 22 and 28 centimetres, North Vancouver between 14 and 25 centimetres, and Surrey between 16 and 19 centimetres, depending on neighbourhood.

Even sea-side Kitsilano got between 11 and 14 centimetres.

Schools closed as winter storm wallops Lower Mainland
Schools closed as winter storm wallops Lower Mainland

A wind warning is also in effect. Environment Canada says winds of up to 70 km/hr are expected to arrive over Victoria by Wednesday evening before moving to the mainland, with gusts of up to 90 km/hr.

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Travel troubles

Conditions were particularly bad in the Fraser Valley Wednesday morning.

The Ministry of Transportation issued a travel advisory warning motorists in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island on Highway 1 between Nanaimo and Victoria, as well as Highways 14, 17, and 18. Drivers are being told to “avoid all but essential travel.”

READ MORE: 5 things you need to know about the next 24 hours when it comes to southern B.C.’s weather

Highway 1 was closed for hours along the Sumas Prairie (Lickman Exit 116 to Sumas Exit 92) due to “extreme whiteout conditions from blowing snow.”

The Ministry of Transportation had previously issued a travel advisory for the same stretch of the freeway.

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“Travel is not recommended unless absolutely necessary … due to limited visibility and slippery conditions.”

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The highway was opened to westbound traffic around 12:30. Eastbound traffic wasn’t allowed to start moving again until 4 p.m.

DriveBC said visibility and wind remain the key issues.

READ MORE: Winter driving 101: How to survive Metro Vancouver’s ‘snowmageddon’

Drivers are advised to take detours via Highway 7, Highway 9 or Highway 11 to avoid congestion.

The Sea-to-Sky Highway was closed southbound twice near Porteau Cove due to crashes, but has since reopened.

The Alex Fraser Bridge was briefly closed to allow crews to plow the lanes, after multiple vehicle stalls were reported. It fully reopened just before 3:30 p.m.

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Making the best of a bad situation, city skiers take to B.C. streets
Making the best of a bad situation, city skiers take to B.C. streets

Abbotsford police spokesperson Sgt. Judy Bird said snow clearing equipment was out all night, but so much snow has fallen amid powerful winds, it has been tough for them to keep up.

“We are asking travellers, if you do have to go on the roadways, make sure you check with your media outlets to make sure the roads are open, and if your vehicles are not ready for winter conditions please stay off the roads,” said Bird.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the City of Vancouver had “all hands on deck,” including staff from the sanitation and street operations departments.

The City of Vancouver said crews were focused on clearing priority routes, and that several steep hills had been closed for safety.

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Erin Watts, manager of street operations said the city was at level four of a possible five in its snow response.

She said hundreds of staff were deployed for snow removal, including trash collection crews who have been reassigned to help.

“We got a huge dump of snow,” said Watts.

“Streets got just covered in snow, it was very challenging for staff to keep up. They’ve been at it all night and again into this morning, focusing on our key priority routes, our main routes, priority hills, corner ramps, bus stops.”

Vancouver Resident Uses Hockey Stick to Clear Snow From Windshield
Vancouver Resident Uses Hockey Stick to Clear Snow From Windshield

The City of Burnaby also closed Royal Oak Avenue between Rumble Street and Marine Drive due to snow, while the Clarke Road hill in was closed in both directions in Port Moody.

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In Port Coquitlam, the Coast Meridian Overpass was closed in both directions due to snow.

BC Ferries says all sailings on major routes are cancelled starting at 3 p.m. in anticipation of high winds.

You can see up to date BC Ferries service notices here.

Major transit delays

TransLink reported delays on dozens of bus routes across the system due to heavy accumulations of snow and slick roads.

Bus passengers are being warned to dress warmly and leave plenty of extra time for their trip.

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You can see an up-to-date list of transit travel alerts here.

The Canada Line was briefly shut down system-wide due to a track issue at Bridgeport station.

Trains on the SkyTrain system were also experiencing difficulty due to icy weather freezing door closing mechanisms.

King George Station was closed shortly after 7 a.m. due to “a track issue and weather conditions,” according to TransLink.

TransLink closed Sapperton and Braid stations due to switch issues around 8:30 a.m., and Canada Line was running at reduced frequency.

All stations reopened around 9:30 a.m.

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Trains were being held at some stations as crews worked to close the doors properly, and TransLink warned travellers there would be some delays, and attendants were telling passengers to turn around and go home if they could.

Passengers at Lougheed station reported delays of up to an hour.

The agency said crews were using de-icing fluids on the doors, but advised passengers to keep an eye on its Twitter account and website for updates.

It said some trains had also been pulled from service due to the door issue.

SkyTrain attendants could also be seen using hockey sticks to de-ice the trains.

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“The inclement weather may also result in some crowding on board trains and at SkyTrain stations, as was seen during afternoon rush hours yesterday,” said TransLink Spokesperson Ben Murphy.

“Station attendants will be on board trains to monitor guideways and limit emergency braking on the system, which can be caused by heavy snowfall or ice build up.”

HandyDART service was also reduced to essential travel only.

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Abut 25-30 smaller, regional flights were cancelled out of the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), according to Don Ehrenholz, vice president of airport operations.

Passengers were also being warned to check with their airlines or the airport’s website for cancellations and delays before heading to the airport.

However, Ehrenolz said the biggest issue for travellers was the roads to the airport.

“The roads getting to the airport int he region are quite slippery, so passengers should allow quite a bit of time to get to the airport,” he said.

“We do have to de-ice your wings on your aircraft, before you take off, so that is taking about an extra 10 or 15 minutes.”

Homeless concerns

Celine Mauboules, director of homelessness services for the City of Vancouver said the city has activated four warming centres which will remain open through the weekend.

She said pets, sleeping mats and belongings are welcome in the warming centres, and that warm drinks and snacks are available.

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Mauboules added that during the day, community centres and libraries are open for people who need to warm up.

The United Gospel Mission (UGM) was one of many agencies that has opened cold weather shelter spaces, and deployed its new Mobile Mission to the Fraser Valley this week to hand out cold weather gear.

“We are handing out lifesaving gear to keep people warm,” said Stephen Kastlinson with the UGM.

“For people who are rough sleeping, that is sleeping outdoors it could mean the difference between life and death, keeping dry and keeping out of the wind.”