British Columbia·Video

Commuters warned of icy roads after snowstorm brings Metro Vancouver traffic to halt

Thousands of commuters throughout B.C.'s Lower Mainland were stranded in their cars for hours Tuesday after the first major snowfall of the season created travel mayhem across the region.

Some commuters remained stuck until early hours of Wednesday after region's 1st major snowfall of season

Sliding cars crash into each other after snow hits hill in Surrey, B.C.

2 months ago
Duration 0:15
Half a dozen vehicles, including a TransLink vehicle, were stuck in an icy pileup on a hill in a Surrey, B.C., suburb after a snowstorm on Nov. 29, 2022. (Credit: Erica Kreeft)

Environment Canada is warning of icy road conditions that could affect Thursday morning's commute after a major snowfall Tuesday led to severe traffic delays throughout B.C.'s Lower Mainland. 

In a special weather statement, Environment Canada said some of Tuesday's snowfall would melt amid higher temperatures on Wednesday. Temperatures will then drop Wednesday night, the weather agency said, and "untreated road surfaces and sidewalks could become icy overnight," which could affect Thursday's commute. 

Frigid temperatures will remain through Thursday night, Environment Canada said.

The blast of wintry weather comes after thousands of commuters throughout B.C.'s Lower Mainland were stranded in their cars for hours Tuesday and into Wednesday after the first major snowfall of the season caused travel mayhem across the region.

Some drivers, furious and exhausted, were stuck overnight until Wednesday morning on an eastbound section of Highway 91 — a major commuter route connecting New Westminster, Delta and Richmond just south of Vancouver. 

By midnight, several roads were still as packed as a regular rush hour. Many of those trapped were concerned about running out of food, water or gas as their regular commutes turned into hours-long road trips. 

"It kind of felt like the apocalypse," said commuter Andrea Thamboo, who spent 12½ hours in gridlock on what should have been a 30-minute trip from Richmond to Surrey.

"I've lived in the Lower Mainland since I was six years old and I've never experienced anything like this."

Traffic on the highway began moving around 6:45 a.m. PT. 

Cars are stuck bumper-to-bumper on the Alex Fraser Bridge between New Westminster and Delta, B.C., on Tuesday after a major snowfall shut down the pass. (Supplied by Jane Tymos)

Nearly 10,000 homes were still without power midday Wednesday, largely in the north end of Vancouver Island. B.C. Hydro crews were unable to reach some outages because ferry service to smaller islands, like Hornby and Denman, was cancelled due to the weather.

That number was down to fewer than 1,800 customers across the province by 3:45 p.m. PT, according to B.C. Hydro. 

A one-two punch of strong winds and blowing snow swept across B.C.'s South Coast on Tuesday, arriving just in time for the afternoon rush. Travel by air and sea were also affected by cancellations from B.C. Ferries and several airports — including Vancouver International, where one passenger jet slid off a taxiway.

While snow tapered off in much of the region on Wednesday, weather warnings remained in place in many areas away from the water or at higher elevations.

Preliminary snowfall totals ranged from five centimetres in coastal areas like White Rock to more than 20 centimetres on parts of Vancouver Island, according to the weather agency. Wind speeds ranged from 70 to 100 km/h.

Some expressed their anger online about uncleared roads and an apparent lack of snow tires on many vehicles.

Mainroad, the contractor responsible for the maintenance of B.C.'s Lower Mainland highways, said its workers were stuck in the same mess as the public — especially on the Alex Fraser Bridge, which was shut down completely for several hours.

WATCH | Snowfall brought traffic chaos to B.C.'s South Coast:

Snow brings travel chaos, power outages to B.C.’s southern coast

2 months ago
Duration 2:33
The first major snowfall of the season created a nightmare travel scenario in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, with crashes and gridlock leaving some drivers stuck on the road for hours. Meanwhile, the storm took out power to tens of thousands across the region.

"There was a bus and a truck that spun out [at the bridge], and once that happens, it's kind of a domino effect. Other vehicles slow down, they start spinning out as well and they just became gridlocked very quickly," said Darren Ell, Mainroad's general manager.

"The unfortunate part is our trucks are stuck in the same gridlock that the travelling public is as well. They couldn't get out on the highway," he said, adding that abandoned cars created an obstacle even after traffic resumed.

  • We are looking to speak with people about their experience on the roads on Tuesday. If you have a story to share about your commute, email bcasks@cbc.ca.

Ell said it would take crews the "better part of the day" to clear roads and hoped the job would be done by Wednesday evening. 

New Westminster Mayor Patrick Johnstone agreed city crews were hampered by the sheer volume of vehicles on the roads.

"It got to the point where, at 10 last night, every road within a couple kilometres of the Pattullo Bridge was full — full of stationary vehicles, people stuck for hours, unable to move anywhere," Johnstone said, referring to the bridge connecting his city and Surrey. "Our crews couldn't move anywhere because roads were simply full of people.

"People are just not prepared to spend four hours on a cold day in their car. There's a lot of stressed people and worried people."

Thamboo, whose car had winter tires, snacked on mints for food. She said she and many others on the road didn't have any water or emergency supplies, having expected a quick trip.

"We knew this was coming and I felt like we weren't prepared. The bridge wasn't ready, the roads weren't ready, and we just got stuck," she said, speaking from her home Wednesday.

"It's definitely a lesson for me that to have a survival kit in my car going forward."

Vehicles were stuck on the Alex Fraser Bridge, which connects Richmond and New Westminster with North Delta, on Tuesday night. (Shane MacKichan)

Snow, wind through Wednesday 

Environment Canada said more snow and winds between 40 and 70 km/h are expected again Wednesday and that non-essential travel should be avoided. 

A snow day was declared in school districts across the Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver, as well as in a few Metro Vancouver cities.

TransLink said it expected "significant delays" again Wednesday and advised passengers to sign up for transit alerts.

On Wednesday night temperatures across southwest B.C. are expected to drop below freezing, with strong outflow winds creating windchill values down to -10 C and -15 C in the eastern Fraser Valley, Environment Canada says. 

Delays also expected on flights

Several flights leaving Vancouver and Abbotsford airports Tuesday and Wednesday were cancelled due to the conditions.

The north runway at Vancouver International Aiport (YVR) was closed after an Eva Air plane slid off a taxiway while making its way to the gate and ended up stuck in snow around 7 p.m. PT.

No one was hurt and the passengers and crew were bused to the terminal after a three-hour wait on board. The north runway, one of two at YVR was closed until the plane was removed Wednesday morning.

YVR has asked travellers to leave extra time to get to the airport and check with airlines for updated flight information. 

An uprooted tree on top of a white car in a snowy street at night.
A tree uprooted by the weight of wet snow fell on a car at Nanton Avenue and Arbutus Street in Vancouver on Tuesday. (Allison Rutherford)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhianna Schmunk

Staff writer

Rhianna Schmunk is a staff writer for CBC News. She is based in Vancouver with a focus on justice and the courts. You can send story tips to rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca.

With files from Jessica Cheung, Courtney Dickson, CBC's The Early Edition and the Canadian Press

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