Storm batters West Coast for Christmas Eve

A stormy Christmas Eve is shaping up for B.C.'s southwest coast, with torrential rain and flooding, cancelled ferries, power outages and extreme avalanche risks.
A stormy Christmas Eve is shaping up for B.C.'s southwest coast, with torrential rain and flooding, cancelled ferries, power outages and extreme avalanche risks.

Environment Canada is forecasting up to 100 millimetres of rain in Howe Sound and on west and inland Vancouver Island. About 50 millimetres of rain is forecast for the Sunshine Coast, eastern Vancouver Island, the North Shore Mountains and the Fraser Valley west of Abbotsford.

Winds of between 60 and 100 km/h are also forecast across much of the region as the system continues to dump even more rain overnight Friday. Winds between 60 and 90 km/h were forecast for the Cariboo region in the B.C. Interior.

The frontal system is also expected to dump 10 to 20 centimetres of snow on Whistler and other areas of higher elevation. This will raise the avalanche risk to extreme on Vancouver's North Shore and high in other areas.

Tim Jones, the search manager with North Shore Search and Rescue, urged people to exercise caution in and around local mountains. Conditions now are too risky for rescuers, he said.

"At this point in time we wouldn't be going into a call," Jones said.

"If a person is trapped in there, they're trapped. We'd make an assessment, we have our local Canadian Avalanche Centre forecasters with us … [and] unless we could fly and get into areas safely that way, I would say it's a no go."

Jones called the high winds and precipitation levels "a perfect storm."

Ferries cancelled

The severe weather conditions forced the cancellation of some morning sailings on BC Ferries routes between:

  • Comox and Powell River.
  • Texada Island and Powell River.
  • Denman and Vancouver islands.
  • Hornby and Denman islands.
  • Cortez and Quadra islands.

High winds also knocked out power to about 1,900 customers in West Vancouver, about 5,000 customers between Sechelt and Powell River, about 1,600 on northern Vancouver Island and about 2,100 in Smithers.

Visitors to Tofino and other West Coast areas are warned to beware of dangerously large waves. The Rangers at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island issued a warning asking visitors to stay away from beaches and shorelines.

The park is expecting high tides, heavy rains and seven-metre swells, which could lead to flooded parking lots, floating logs, strong ocean surges and blown-down trees until Christmas Day.

Flood warnings and advisories

On Thursday, the B.C. River Forecast Centre issued flood warnings for the Tsolum, Oyster, Quinsam and Puntledge rivers, a flood watch for central Vancouver Island, and high stream flow advisories for south Vancouver Island and Howe Sound.

New snow has created great skiing conditions at B.C.'s Cypress Mountain resort, but avalanche officials warn of extreme risks for those who set off into the backcountry. ((CBC))

Officials in the Vancouver Island city of Courtenay are also warning residents to beware of possible flooding in low-lying areas.

Mayor Greg Phelps said the risk of flooding peaked around 8:30 a.m. when the tide reached its peak and strong southeast winds pushed water up the Courtenay River, causing it to overflow its banks.

"I'm down around the area of Courtenay called Lewis Park, sitting right near the boats, and where I am looking right now the water is actually starting to lap up onto the sidewalk," Phelps told CBC News.

"It's kind of an eerie feeling because I'm looking out the window of my vehicle and the boats are virtually level with my car," he said.

Phelp said officials are warning residents to be prepared to leave at any time.

"The businesses, most of them are starting to close now for the Christmas holidays, so what we have done is we've distributed between 1,500 and 2,000 sandbags," he said.

"So a lot of [business owners] have sandbagged their operations and simply headed home to ride it out and enjoy, perhaps, the Christmas holidays."

Meanwhile, farther north in the Vancouver Island city of Campbell River, there has been localized flooding on roads. Many ditches are at capacity and there is water on the road, particularly around Willis and Peterson roads.

Water is also pooling on Highway 19A between Parksville and Campbell River, and on Highway 4 between Tofino and Ucluelet.