Heavy snow, freezing rain and potential flooding are in the forecast for B.C.’s south coast beginning Thursday night (Dec. 22), and the provincial government is asking people not to travel.
Already struggling to recover from tens of centimetres of snow dumped throughout the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, the coastal regions are now having to prepare for a fresh onslaught. Meteorologists and government officials say residents are in for a dangerous triple doozy: heavy snow, followed by freezing rain and ice pellets, and finished off with pouring rain.
The unusually-brutal Christmas conditions are the result of the collision of an arctic front – causing extreme cold in northern and Interior B.C. – and an incoming wave of pacific moisture.
Things will start getting bad Thursday night, according to Environment Canada meteorologist Bobby Sekhon. He says 10 to 20 cm of snow will fall in most coastal regions overnight, but as much as 30 cm could accumulate in the Eastern Fraser Valley and along the Sea to Sky Highway.
By Friday morning, snow will transition to freezing rain. The icy brew will hit Vancouver Island first, beginning in the morning, before striking Metro Vancouver around midday. Conditions in both areas will last until late Friday afternoon. Things will get worse in the Fraser Valley, where freezing rain is forecast to start Friday afternoon and last up to 36 hours.
“These are very dangerous conditions,” Bowinn Ma, minister of emergency management and climate readiness, said during a news conference Thursday.
Her and the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming are strongly advising that no one travel until at least Saturday.
“We want everyone to remain safe,” Fleming said.
He said road crews have been out around the clock and will continue to do so, prioritizing main transport routes and switching to ice blades when the freezing rain hits. Still, Fleming said, it is possible they’ll have to close highways with very little notice if road conditions are too dangerous.
Ma and Fleming said if people absolutely have to travel, they should do so with an emergency kit of warm clothes, flashlights, a snow brush, food and water, and a full tank of gas.
Fleming said when people take to the roads without proper tires or without clearing off snow, it results in stranded drivers and crashes. This severely impedes the ability of road contractors to do their work, Fleming said.
On top of icy roads, BC Hydro said the freezing rain is also likely to impact power lines. The electricity supplier is anticipating more widespread outages over the coming days.
Travel conditions are expected to ease by late Saturday or Sunday as regular rain begins, but some risks will remain.
Dave Campbell of the River Forecast Centre said they’re closely monitoring the forecast and current snowpack in anticipation of a possible surge in water levels. Campbell said he doesn’t expect things to get too bad, but that a combination of melting snow and falling rain as conditions warm could cause minor to moderate flooding. He said they’re most concerned about Sunday and Monday.
Ma said the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness has pre-positioned sand bags throughout at risk areas in case things do flood.
Also over the weekend and into next week, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said avalanche conditions are likely to increase.
Throughout all of this, the risk will be especially high for people living in precarious conditions or on the street. The Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness said it’s heard from 21 communities so far who have opened warming centres, and that it’s ready to help any others that need it.
Ma said anyone experiencing homelessness should do their best to seek out one of those centres. A full list can be found on the EmergencyInfoBC site.
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