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An estimated 3,000 people were stranded overnight at Vancouver International Airport after a snowstorm force the closure of all but one runway. ((Meera Bains/ CBC))

Weary travellers were happy to see blue skies over Vancouver on Monday afternoon after about 3,000 people spent the night at Vancouver International Airport because of a snowstorm.

The travellers were stranded after the airport authority shut down one runway as the storm walloped the south coast with up to 70 centimetres of snow.

At the airport, officials gave priority to larger international flights, which created a massive backlog of delayed and cancelled domestic and regional flights.

Airport vice-president of operations Don Ehrenholz said U.S.-bound flights flew out Monday morning, and domestic and regional flights within B.C. were expected to resume in the afternoon.

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Flights at Vancouver airport were cancelled or delayed due to snowstorms in Vancouver and at airport across Canada. ((CBC))

Air Canada was adding flights to help deal with the backlog, a company official said. But airport officials advised travellers to check the status of their flights on the airport website or with the airlines before heading to the airport.

The airport has about 85 pieces of snow-clearing equipment, but a single runway has five square kilometres of surface, making it a challenge to keep more than one runway clear between flights, said Ehrenholz.

In addition, several airlines had trouble keeping up with demand for de-icing their planes and snow on the roads leading to the airport also made it difficult for staff to get to and from work, he said.

"A lot of them didn't go home until late in the evening and so they are having some challenges getting crews in this morning, because of road conditions in the city … quite a few people called in and couldn't get out of their driveway and into the airport," he said.

White Christmas forecast

Across the south coast, residents awoke to 30-70 cm of accumulated snow on Monday morning, officially the first full day of winter, after the overnight storm left roads treacherous, closed schools, and cut power to thousands of residents.

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A bike rider braves the snow in Vancouver on Sunday. ((CBC))

With more than 30 cm on the ground in Metro Vancouver for the morning commute, plows struggled to keep major routes clear, and officials were recommending commuters leave their cars at home and take public transit if they must go to work.

But by noon, the heavy snowfall had given way to blue skies in some areas. Snow was forecast to return Tuesday and Wednesday, raising expectations the south coast could have its first white Christmas since 1998.

Over the weekend, many south coast residents dusted off their skis and toboggans to play in the snow but come Friday, temperatures are expected to warm to zero and rain could arrive to melt the winter wonderland.

Prepare for delays almost everywhere

In the meantime, the heavy use of transit was expected to create delays for commuters, and TransLink officials were warning people to dress warmly and to be prepared for long waits in the cold temperatures.

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As a heavy snowstorm pounded the south coast of British Columbia, police warned the public to stay home because of poor road conditions and extreme weather. ((CBC))

During the morning commute, bus service was stopped or delayed in many areas, particularly those routes with hills, but TransLink was expecting bus service to return to normal by afternoon.

HandyDART services were restricted to essential medical appointments for the North Shore, Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, South Surrey, Langley and White Rock and the Albion ferry service was not running because of ice on the Fraser River.

On the SkyTrain, problems with flooding at the Waterfront Station early Monday morning had been repaired and extra trains were added to try to meet the expected increased demand for the rush hour.

BC Ferries was reporting that morning sailings on the Coastal Celebration have been cancelled, including the 8 a.m. PT departure from Swartz Bay and the 10 a.m. PT departure from Tsawwassen because the crew was unable to make it to the ferry terminal due to the snow.

Power outages, closures affect thousands

Hydro crews spent the day repairing damage to overhead wires after more than 14,000 customers who lost power as a result of the storm, according to BC Hydro.

Affected areas included Saanich on southern Vancouver Island, the southern Gulf Islands of Pender, Saltspring, Saturna, and Galiano, parts of the Sunshine Coast around Sechelt, and the Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam.

Many post-secondary schools were closed for the day, including:

  • All BCIT campuses.
  • All Vancouver Community College campuses.
  • Langara College.
  • Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

UBC was advising that "Policy 68 guidelines" were in place, which means the "university will remain open during snowstorms but may cancel or reschedule wide basis and/or curtail non-essential services in response to the conditions," according to the school's website.

Highways open despite conditions

Across the province, highways remained open, despite heavy snow in some areas.

In northern B.C. and across the Interior, the snowfall was light or nonexistent, but plunging temperatures and high winds put the wind chill factor as low as -49 C in Dease Lake.