British Columbia

Snow and ice disrupting traffic on major highways across B.C.

The Coquihalla Highway reopened today after snow conditions caused mayhem, stranding drivers for hours in their cars and trucks.

'Literal truck graveyard on the #Coquihalla last night,' said last driver let on before road closure Thursday

The Coquihalla remains white with snow and ice today, after closures yesterday left drivers stranded. (Keely Brandt/Twitter)

The Coquihalla Highway reopened today after snow conditions caused mayhem, stranding drivers for hours in their cars and trucks Thursday.

The treacherous roadway between Hope and Merritt, B.C., has already seen a northbound accident this morning, and more heavy snow — up to 20 centimetres — is predicted as the day progresses.

It's not weather as usual in B.C.

"We have not seen a winter like this in a while. This year it's coming on hard and fast and proving to be a good old-fashioned winter and it's catching a lot of people off-guard," said truck driver Theo Saber.

Watch out for ice when entering or exiting highways, he suggests.

Saber also urges people to have winter tires and to carry snow shovels and chains to help them get out of "binds."

"You just gotta keep your wits about you," he said.

"Don't panic. Don't step on the brakes. Just steer through things so that you maintain control rather than turn your vehicle into a great big toboggan where it's skiddin' all over the road."

Coquihalla mess

Thursday evening visibility and driving became so impossible the roadway closed, reopening around 10 p.m. PT.

But by then the road was littered with jack-knifed semi-trailers and covered in deep snow.

Snow and ice are creating havoc across the province with small ferries on the North Thompson River cancelled and some highways closed for avalanche control — which usually involves setting off a charge and starting a small controlled avalanche.

"When we think it's dangerous to the public, we initiate avalanche control, then we go in and clean it up and open the road again," said Val Visotzky, with the Ministry of Transportation's avalanche control for the Columbia District.

Technicians check the cornices or gaps, and if the snow is too deep they will use an explosive to release it, so that large avalanches can't form.

"We did explosives control today," said Visotzky, who said in some areas they used howitzers — a short gun that fires shells — to start the avalanche.

The Ministry of Transportation uses a variety of avalanche control systems, usually dropping explosives from helicopters, according to provincial highway officials.

​In some parts of B.C. they've even started using remote systems, as closing highways is inconvenient and expensive — at an estimated $500,000 per hour.

Cars were left temporarily stranded on the Coquihalla after the highway was closed between Hope and Merritt, B.C. due to poor weather conditions on Thursday. (Michael Czaja)

Avalanche control closures

  • The TransCanada Highway will be closed today in both directions 44 kilometres east of Revelstoke from noon until 1 p.m. PT to manage avalanche risks through a nine-kilometre stretch.
  • A section of the same highway east of Golden will be shut for two hours, from noon until 2 p.m. PT, also for avalanche control.
  • Highway 23 north of Mica Dam Hill will be closed for two hours Dec. 30 from noon until 2 p.m. PT to manage avalanche risks.
  • Highway 31 is also closed today because of an avalanche hazard.
  • Highway 99 at about 50 kilometres north of Pemberton at Duffy Lake is closed for avalanche controls.
Highways cameras show low visibility along the Coquihalla Highway on Dec. 29. (Drive B.C.)

More snow on the way

In the Lower Mainland snow has turned to rain, but the winter pounding has left several main routes — along the Barnett Highway and Vancouver's Oak Street bridge — with gaping, bone-rattling pot holes.

While some new snow is expected in parts of B.C. Saturday, the forecast is mostly for a mix of sun and cloud in the Peace Region and central Interior of B.C. Friday.

B.C.'s highways are treacherous this time of year. This rollover on Dec. 17 near Fort St. John left the driver with a broken collar bone. (Attilio Ravanelli)