The latest on the winter storm on BC’s south coast, as bridges were closed and flights suspended

THE LAST:

  • Snow, sleet and ice pellets swept the south coast Friday morning as dozens of temperature records were shattered by freezing temperatures across the province.
  • Nearly all flights in and out of Vancouver International Airport, as well as dozens in other southern BC airports, were canceled Friday morning and afternoon as BC grapples with its second winter storm in a week.
  • The Port Mann and Alex Fraser Bridges in Metro Vancouver closed Friday at 10:30 a.m. PT due to wintry conditions, with officials urging drivers to make essential trips only.
  • TransLink’s Expo Line was suspended shortly after 1 p.m. PT, with the Millennium Line experiencing serious delays.
  • Power outages were reported due to the storm on Vancouver Island, which closed highways in central BC
  • All BC Transit services in Victoria and the Fraser Valley were suspended Friday morning due to weather, but routes in Victoria began reopening Friday afternoon.

A second major winter storm that swept through southern BC on Friday led to cancellations of bus services, ferry sailings and flights, with black ice wreaking havoc across the region.

BC Ferries canceled the first round-trip flights Friday morning on a number of routes, including those between Metro Vancouver and Victoria, Nanaimo, the Sunshine Coast and the Southern Gulf Islands.

TransLink asked customers not to travel on Fridays if possible and had to stop service on the Expo Line by noon.

Two major bridges connecting municipalities in Metro Vancouver — the Alex Fraser Bridge and Port Mann Bridge over the Fraser River — closed Friday morning due to snowfall, with the Lions Gate Bridge restricted to one lane in each direction.

BC Transit had canceled bus services in Victoria on Friday morning, but slowly began reopening some routes in the afternoon. All transit services in the Fraser Valley – a region about an hour’s drive east of Vancouver – have been suspended until “further notice,” according to the BC Transit website.

However, the warming temperatures gave forecasters optimism that rain could wash away many of the delays in time for December 24 and 25.

“Even by tonight, most of Metro Vancouver will be on the positive side of zero, which means rain,” said CBC News meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe.

“But where cold air has a harder time clearing — namely the Fraser Valley — it can stay below freezing until Saturday morning, which puts the risk of freezing rain all night.”

Drivers are pictured following a crash on the Alex Fraser Bridge during a spell of black ice in Surrey on Friday. The bridge over the Fraser River was closed early Friday morning. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Freezing rain can last for 36 hours

Forecasts by Environment Canada of heavy snow, ice pellets and freezing rain in Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley from Thursday night through Christmas Eve proved accurate, with about 4 inches of snow covering much of the region on Thursday night and Friday morning, followed by freezing rain.

BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said the snow meant the ferry company could not provide enough workers to staff several morning trips across different routes, which had to be cancelled.

“When we look at the roads, it’s not only our customers who are struggling to get to the terminals, but also our staff,” she said.

“We are very happy that the weather is starting to improve and we can get our service up and running again.”

However, the situation was less optimistic for Metro Vancouver transit services, where icing on SkyTrain lines caused the discontinuation of service on the Expo Line, significant delays on the Millennium Line, and closure of the Canada Line between Bridgeport and Richmond-Brighouse station.

“We’re putting up bus bridges where we can,” said TransLink spokesman Thor Diakow.

“We’re just asking for people’s patience as we work to restore service… it’s been a week of bad weather and the black ice is not ideal for the SkyTrain situation.”

Baggage and bags will be photographed at YVR International Airport on Wednesday, December 21, 2022 after multiple delays due to weather conditions in Richmond, British Columbia.
Luggage and bags will be photographed at YVR on December 21 after multiple weather delays. WestJet has canceled all flights to and from Vancouver International Airport until the afternoon of December 23. It also has canceled flights at airports in Victoria, Nanaimo, Abbotsford and Comox (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Travel advisories posted for highways

The transition from snow to rain could have a significant impact on road and sidewalk conditions, while icing could lead to tree branches breaking, Environment Canada predicted.

Transportation and Infrastructure Secretary Rob Fleming said road travel on Vancouver Island, the south coast, or to and from the interior should be avoided “unless absolutely necessary”.

LOOK | Minister advises against most trips:

The latest on the winter storm on BC's south coast, as bridges were closed and flights suspended

‘Only travel when necessary’: Minister of BC emergency management

Bowinn Ma is advising motorists in the Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island to stay off the roads as heavy snow followed by freezing rain will create dangerous conditions.

Most major highways in BC had travel advisories or closures on Friday, telling drivers to expect rapidly deteriorating conditions.

Wagstaffe said local flooding could be a concern as temperatures warm from Friday to Saturday.

“We should all be free on Christmas Day,” she said, “even if it’s a soggy one!”

Dozens of canceled flights

Vancouver International Airport was virtually shut down Friday morning with very few flights.

WestJet has canceled all flights arriving and departing from Vancouver Airport from 11:50 p.m. PT Thursday to 5:50 p.m. Friday, subject to weather conditions.

In addition, the airline canceled flights at airports in Victoria, Nanaimo, Abbotsford and Comox, it said in an emailed statement Thursday. Air Canada also canceled dozens of flights at Vancouver airport on Friday.

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