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Thousands without power after snow storm on B.C.’s South Coast


Thousands of B.C. Hydro customers remained without power Thursday after a winter storm whipped across the South Coast Wednesday, causing road and school closures, travel alerts, and ferry cancellations.

By 9:30 a.m., B.C. Hydro said crews were making good progress, with just over 6,000 customers without power in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island. Earlier in the morning, more than 15,000 customers were without power.

At the height of the storm Wednesday, hurricane force winds of up to 150 km/h blew across Howe Sound, knocking down trees and power lines, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“Crews made good progress overnight restoring power to most customers affected from yesterday’s heavy snow and winds. Crews will continue to work to restore remaining customers throughout the morning and the rest of the day,” B.C. Hydro said, in a statement Thursday.

B.C. Ferries has resumed sailings between Horseshoe Bay and Nanaimo after some were cancelled earlier Thursday because of the wind.

Most public schools, universities, and colleges in the region were open again Thursday after a rare snow day Wednesday, with some districts reminding parents that if they felt it was not safe to drive then to keep their kids home. Some remained closed, however, including all public schools in Chilliwack and Mission. Many private schools also remained closed.

TransLink said early Thursday that conditions have improved and crews worked overnight to fix some of the problems that occurred Wednesday.

TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy said transit users should expect service to be slower than normal, and budget extra travelling time.

He also said that because the streets remain icy, HandyDART will remain at essential service levels only.

As of 2:15 p.m., a snowfall warning was still in effect for parts of the Fraser Valley, including Abbotsford. Environment and Climate Change Canada said bands of heavy snow could bring up to 10 centimetres of snow.  Once the bands move through, a chance of flurries continues in the afternoon.

A snowfall warning has ended for the rest of Metro Vancouver.

A blizzard warning for the Sea to Sky Highway also remained in effect Thursday, with authorities warning drivers to avoid the highway unless necessary.

As temperatures are expected to warm up this weekend, with rain in the forecast, and highs of around 6 C or 7 C on Saturday and Sunday, there are concerns about flooding.

David Campbell, head of B.C.’s River Forecast Centre, which issues flood advisories, said they are monitoring the situation closely but don’t anticipate any serious flooding in the Lower Mainland.

There will likely be issues with street drainage, water pooling on roads, and maybe some minor flooding of basements, he said.

Campbell said there are more concerns, however, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where significant rainfall is in the forecast.

B.C.’s Ministry of Transport late Wednesday warned that conditions may lead to bridge closures given the weather conditions on the Port Mann and Alex Fraser bridges.

Transit users are asked to go to alerts.translink.ca to check which routes are closed or delayed.

Wednesday’s wild weather led to several major routes being closed as travellers faced dangerous driving conditions, delays and heavy crowding on SkyTrain. Buses jack-knifed, snarling traffic, and B.C. Ferries cancelled afternoon sailings because of anticipated high winds.

It was a busy day for ICBC, with 1,882 dial-a-claim calls in Metro Vancouver on Wednesday, though that number was significantly down from the day before, when 2,773 people placed calls. The highest number of calls over the last week was on Friday, when 5,075 customers called in a claim. ICBC notes that not every call represents a claim.

Emergency crews were also stretched over the last few days. Though Emergency Health Services said it responded to a higher number of motor vehicle accidents in Metro Vancouver on Monday (77 incidents) and Tuesday (43 incidents) than during the big snow storm on Wednesday, when it responded to 34 car accidents in the region.

There was an uptick, however, in the number of cold exposure calls. BC EHS said they responded to 11 such incidents on Wednesday, compared with six on Tuesday and five on Monday.

Many commuters waited for buses that did not show up in freezing weather, with wind chill factors forecast at – 11 C, while others swapped their bikes for a pair of skis to get to work.

The conditions prompted TransLink and the B.C. government to issue rare statements early Wednesday asking people not to travel unless necessary.

On Thursday, however, the message was downgraded, with a statement asking motorists in Metro Vancouver to exercise caution on the roads and to be prepared for winter driving conditions.

Icy sidewalks, curb ramps, and bus stops were being cleared of ice and snow Thursday by Vancouver city crews. The city said it feared the roads would become icy once the snow turned to rain. Staff were also busy clearing catch basins in anticipation of possible flooding on the weekend.

Vancouver has spent approximately $1.5 million on snow response, with approximately $500,000 spent on salt, according to a statement from the city Thursday.

The next snowfall is expected Friday evening through Saturday morning, but accumulation is expected to be washed away with rain by the end of the weekend.

 

Here’s a rundown of what happened across the region on Wednesday, Jan. 15.


Environment Canada re-issues snowfall warning, then issues wind warning

After cancelling an earlier snowfall warning around 9 a.m., Environment and Climate Change Canada issued another warning around noon. The latest warning forecasts up to 10 centimetres over higher elevations of the region late in the afternoon – just in time for the evening commute.

At 1 p.m., Environment Canada issued a wind warning, stating a deep low pressure system crossing Vancouver Island on Wednesday night would bring up to 90 km/h winds to Metro Vancouver. The winds are expected to ease by Thursday morning, however, damage to roofs is expected.

Overnight, there will be a slow transition to rain in areas closer to the water, however the cold air will remain in place over the North Shore, Coquitlam, Port Moody, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, as well as northern sections of Langley and Surrey.

The snow is expected to ease to scattered showers or snow flurries Thursday.

Meanwhile, a snow warning for the Fraser Valley was changed Wednesday afternoon to a winter storm warning as a combination of wind chill values, blowing snow, and the potential for freezing rain were expected to cause hazardous conditions. Environment Canada said the wind chill was expected to be around – 20 C in the region and that driving visibility could near zero with the blowing snow.

A wind warning remained in effect for Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, with gusts of up to 90 km/h anticipated in some areas Wednesday evening.

The city of Vancouver reminded homeless people that warming centres would be open through the night, and that all pets and carts were welcome.

Meantime, much of the province was under a winter storm or extreme cold warning on Wednesday.

Wind, snowfall, and winter storm warnings were in effect for much of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, while some parts of the Interior and northern regions of B.C. were under extreme cold warnings.

Bitter Arctic winds in Dease Lake, for example, were expected to create a wind chill factor of – 50 C or – 40 C in other areas such as B.C.’s Peace Region.

B.C.’s Central Coast and Inland regions are under an Arctic outflow alert, with “severely” cold wind chill factors of – 20 C.


Buses delayed and SkyTrain stations closed due to track issues, crowds

Due to the heavy snowfall, TransLink warned of “significantly slower service” on the transit system Wednesday.

As of 7 a.m., there were nearly 200 transit alerts for buses, and an alert saying SkyTrain is significantly impacted because of the weather.

Commuters were told to expect crowding on trains and at SkyTrain stations. TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy says 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.

Several SkyTrain stations – including King George, Sapperton, Braid, and Bridgeport – were closed Wednesday morning for a brief time due to switch or track issues. Those stations were re-opened shortly after noon.

The Canada Line was also placed on hold for some time but was up and running again later in the day though at reduced frequencies, according to TransLink.

Transit users were told to expect lengthy delays because of switch and door issues caused by freezing temperatures. Trains were also moving at a slower speed.

TransLink said their 60-foot articulated buses have more trouble operating in the snow than the 40-foot buses. This is because articulated joints can cause jack-knifing in winter conditions, with the back end of the bus being more likely to get stuck while turning.

Photos on social media showed a group of people pushing an articulated bus that had jack-knifed at Hastings Street and Boundary.

Dan Mountain, a spokesperson for TransLink, said it was one of several buses that had trouble Wednesday.

“Road conditions are causing some buses to get stuck. It was a large snow event and we thank municipal crews for working hard to improve conditions,” he said, in an email.

Mountain said during extreme weather, TransLink implements a snow desk which liaises with municipal partners to recommend which roads most need snow removal and clearing.

The snow desk employees collect information from transit supervisors, support workers, and bus operators before sending that information to municipal partners as a recommendation, he added.


TransLink is warning that there will be delays and crowding on transit Wednesday.

HandyDART is operating at essential service levels, meaning all trips other than those deemed essential will be rescheduled.

Murphy says customers are asked to consider whether they need to travel today, and if there is a need, whether they could consider travelling outside of rush hours, as commutes will take significantly longer than usual.


Broadway-Commercial SkyTrain station covered in snow Wednesday. TransLink is warning to expect delays and crowds on SkyTrain and busses.


Snow snarls highway driving, Highway 1 closed

Severe whiteout conditions on Highway 1 forced authorities to close a section of Highway 1 from Lickman Road to Sumas in the Fraser Valley early Wednesday. Drive BC says Highway 7 can be used as an alternate route, but conditions are still extreme.

Also, some counterflow lanes were shut down early Wednesday at the Alex Fraser Bridge and Massey Tunnel, as was the Barnston Island Ferry.

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation warned drivers not to travel in Metro Vancouver and in the Fraser Valley Wednesday if possible. A travel advisory also applied to Vancouver Island on Highway 1 from Nanaimo south to Victoria, as well as Highways 14, 17 and 18.

“Those who must travel are asked to use extreme caution and drive to the conditions. The ministry advises travellers to expect winter conditions for the rest of the week,” a travel advisory stated.

Several other highway alerts are in effect, including a blizzard warning for the Sea to Sky Highway.

“Blizzard conditions with gusty winds and visibility frequently near zero in snow and blowing snow are expected or occurring, warned Environment and Climate Change Canada on Wednesday.

Cold Arctic air will continue to funnel through Howe Sound producing strong northerly winds of 90 to 110 km/h near Bowen Island into the evening, the agency said.

The agency says drivers should postpone non-essential travel until conditions improve.

“If you become stranded in a vehicle do not leave. The vehicle offers a form of protection from the cold. A single person walking through the snow is harder to find than a stranded car or truck. Protect yourself from wind, cold and disorientation by staying sheltered, indoors or with your vehicle,” the warning stated.


BC Ferries cancels sailings

BC Ferries cancelled many of its Wednesday afternoon sailings, including routes between Vancouver and Victoria and West Vancouver and Nanaimo, because of heavy snow and high winds in the forecast.

Southeast winds of 70 to 90 km/h will develop in Greater Victoria early in the evening and spread to the Southern Gulf Islands, East Vancouver Island – Duncan to Nanaimo, southern and western sections of Metro Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast later in the evening, BC Ferries said, in a travel alert.

While BC Ferries cited “hurricane force winds” as the reason for cancelling its sailings, winds must be sustained for one minute at 119 km/h to be classified as a hurricane.

The company asked customers to avoid travel is possible, and to check the website for travel advisories.


Horgan picks snow blower over wood chipper

On a lighter note, B.C. Premier John Horgan tweeted out a photo showing the fountain frozen at the B.C. Legislature, saying that he hoped everyone was taking extra time with their travel and joking that the Legislature should have “got a snow blower instead of a wood chipper.”


YVR crews working to clear runways

At the Vancouver International Airport, crews worked to clear and maintain runways, taxiways and aprons to ensure planes could take off safely.

Passengers were advised to check their flight status before attempting to  make their way to the airport in case of delays and cancellations, and to allow extra time when making the journey.

Don Ehrenholz, vice president of engineering at YVR, said there were about 30 to 35 flight cancellations on Wednesday, but mainly regional airlines flying to Victoria or Seattle, where there was also heavy snow. International flights were unaffected by the snow storm.

He said they have crews working 24/7 to keep the runways clear, and they are ploughing and de-icing every hour.

Airline passengers were advised of delays because all planes had to be de-iced before takeoff, and Ehrenholz said anyone travelling through the airport should check their flight schedule and budget extra time.


Metro Vancouver school districts closed for the day

All schools in the region were closed Wednesday because of extreme weather, including all universities and colleges. Many daycares shut their doors as well.


ICBC provides tips for drivers

While authorities were asking people not to drive Wednesday, ICBC said those who do need to drive should follow these tips:

1.   Slow down. Posted speed limits are for ideal conditions only. Adjust your driving in winter conditions. Allow yourself at least twice the normal braking distance on snow-covered or slushy roads.

2.   Headlights on. Use your headlights in poor weather and reduced visibility – not only at night – to help you see ahead and be seen by other drivers.

3.   Watch for other road users.  Look twice for pedestrians crossing the road particularly when visibility is poor.

4.   Prevent a skid. Black ice is commonly found on roads with shaded areas, bridges, overpasses and intersections where car exhaust and packed snow freeze quickly. If you drive over black ice and start to skid, ease off the accelerator, and look and steer smoothly in the direction you want to go. Don’t brake—this will make the situation worse. You may need to repeat this manoeuvre several times until you regain control.

5.   Check your vehicle. Prepare your vehicle for winter driving. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Check the condition of your windshield wiper blades and replace them if they’re worn out. Top up wiper fluid for clearer visibility and carry extra washer fluid in your vehicle. Fill up your gas tank. Pack an emergency kit and make sure it includes a flashlight and extra batteries.

6.   Plan ahead. Check road and weather conditions on drivebc.ca before heading out.


BC Hydro prepares for possible storm events

While power outages in the Metro Vancouver area were at a minimum on Wednesday, BC Hydro is preparing for possible storm events heading into the remainder of the week.

“While we prepare for storm season year-round, we’ve taken extra measures ahead of this particular storm, and crews are on standby to restore power should the lights go out,” the company said in a statement.

“Because it is difficult to predict how much damage a storm may cause to the system and how long a power outage will last, it is important for customers to be prepared for an outage.”

Residents were reminded to check their emergency kits and ensure they are stocked with a flashlight, extra batteries, first-aid kit, three days’ worth of ready to eat non-perishable foods and bottled water.

Anyone who sees a downed power line is reminded to stay back and report it to 911.

-with files from Gord Hoekstra

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Upcoming bus, SeaBus shut down will hit harder than in 2001


The last major transit strike in Metro Vancouver was 18 years ago, and those who had a front-row seat say that with more people using transit now, the impact could be much worse if bus and SeaBus workers walk off the job next week.

Picketing is expected to begin on Wednesday, an escalation of job action that started on Nov. 1, with bus drivers refusing to wear uniforms and overtime bans for maintenance workers and later bus drivers.

Contract talks between Unifor, which represents the 5,000 transit workers, and their employer, Coast Mountain Bus Company, broke off for the second time last week, and no bargaining sessions are scheduled.

SkyTrain workers, who operate and maintain the Expo and Millennium lines, will return to bargaining with B.C. Rapid Transit Company this weekend ahead of planned mediation sessions next week.

As spokesperson for TransLink in 2001, Ken Hardie has clear memories of the last strike, which started when bus drivers and mechanics put up picket lines on April 1. That job action lasted for 123 days, until they were legislated back to work.

“It was a long one,” said Hardie, who is now a Liberal MP starting his second term. “There’s a significant loss in productivity when a major part of your transport network goes down like that, not only the fact that some people can’t get to work easily, but everybody else who will drive are going to see a lot more company out on the roads.”

Delta Coun. Lois Jackson was almost two years into her first term as mayor in April 2001, and recalls people walking, biking, carpooling and foregoing unnecessary trips during the strike.

“I think in the beginning it was kind of a shock to everybody, but as the days wore on, people found other alternate methods,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t easy, but people found their way, any way, to get to work.”

She said a lot more people will be affected and the weather and school breaks certainly won’t be in their favour this time around, but she believes, like before, people will adapt if the buses and SeaBus are shut down.

Metro Vancouver’s population has grown by about half a million people since 2001, and the transit system has seen double-digit increases in ridership in recent years, with 439.5 million boardings on the conventional system in 2018.

According to the 2001 Census, 11 per cent of people in Metro Vancouver used public transit to commute, and in 2016, the last Census, 21 per cent of commuters in the region took transit.

The bus system accounts for almost two-thirds of all transit journeys in the region.

Since the last strike, the number of daily bus boardings has increased by more than 60 per cent, from 570,000 in 2001 to an average of 931,000 each weekday in 2018.

The number of boardings for SeaBus has also increased, from 18,240 each day in 2001 to 19,690 on an average weekday in 2018.

Since the 2001 strike, TransLink has added three SkyTrain extensions: the Millennium Line, which opened in January 2002, the Canada Line, which opened in August 2009 and the Evergreen extension to the Millennium Line, which opened in December 2016. It has also since added about 500 buses and one SeaBus.

“Every year that goes by there’s more people relying on transit, and it’s always a real shame when the system doesn’t deliver to people who have come to rely on it,” said Hardie. “That’s very counterproductive because now people are going to be eyeing using the car again a little bit more if they can’t count on the bus or the SkyTrain to work.”

Ridership took a big hit thanks to the strike, with the number of boardings system-wide dropping to 160.9 million for 2001, compared to 229.7 million the previous year and 255.7 million the year after the strike.

Ujjal Dosanjh, who was the NDP premier when the strike started, remembers feeling helpless. Just two weeks after picket lines went up, a provincial election was called and his government was powerless to do anything. He said those who were hurt the most were those who could least afford it — students and workers with lower incomes.

“I don’t know why the new government didn’t deal with it quickly,” Dosanjh said.

His advice is to make sure this labour dispute doesn’t drag on as long as the 2001 strike.

“I know the rote response from any government, particularly from a social democratic government, is let the free collective bargaining work. There is some sense to that, there is no question, but if you have a much larger number of users now dependent on transit, then it becomes a lot more difficult to see it going longer than a few weeks,” he said.

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