British Columbia

Highways close as winter storm blasts southern B.C. ahead of Christmas travel weekend

Environment Canada has issued weather warnings for much of southern B.C., including a number of major mountain highways, as hazardous winter storm conditions sweep through the province.

Snowfall warnings in effect for regions between Fraser Canyon and Elk Valley

Drivers saw long waits on the Coquihalla Highway on Thursday as the snow came down. (Judi Elgert)

UPDATES: Mountain highways in southern B.C. face closures amid heavy snow

The Coquihalla Highway has reopened after an overnight closure due to separate vehicle incidents amid heavy snow.

Southbound lanes on the stretch of Highway 5 between Hope and Merritt reopened just after midnight PT and northbound lanes reopened just after 4 a.m. ​​​DriveBC says to expect delays of up to an hour as traffic starts moving again.

Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton has been closed in both directions since 11 p.m. PT Thursday.

DriveBC said there is no estimated time of reopening yet.

Weather warnings issued

Environment Canada has issued weather warnings for much of southern B.C., including a number of major mountain highways, as hazardous winter storm conditions sweep the province ahead of the Christmas travel weekend.

The heavy snowfall hit the southern Interior late Thursday afternoon and is expected to continue overnight as a frontal system stalls over the region. 

Up to 75 centimetres of snow is expected to fall by Saturday afternoon in areas of the Fraser Canyon, Nicola and Fraser Valley.

Some commuters trapped on the roads during the delays reported snow rapidly piling up on windscreens and hoods.

Lloyd Bunce said Thursday night the snow was piling up on the hood of his vehicle as he waited on the Coquihalla highway. (Lloyd Bunce/Twitter)

Both directions of Highway 3 at Allison Pass Summit near Manning Park were also closed for several hours Thursday evening. Traffic was also reduced to one lane on Highway 5A near Princeton, in southern B.C. 

Environment Canada is expecting between 30 and 60 centimetres of snow in several elevated areas by late Friday afternoon, making travel and visibility difficult.

Lower elevations could see around 15 centimetres of snow.

Heavy snow falls on the Coquihalla highway on Thursday evening at 8:30 p.m. This shot is just north of Zopkios brake check, looking south. (DriveBC)

Two B.C. Ferries sailings between Vancouver and Nanaimo were cancelled Thursday afternoon due to bad weather and resumed with a modified scheduled by evening.

Meanwhile, rainy, windy weather in the Lower Mainland led to postponement of outdoor events like the Gastown Not-So-Silent Nights in Vancouver.

Looking north from the Coquihalla Summit from the Zopkios brake check just before 7 a.m. PT on Dec. 19. Snowfall warnings are in effect for the mountain highway as well as several other passes ahead of the Christmas travel weekend. (DriveBC)

The Coquihalla Highway and Okanagan Connector remain under winter storm warnings, as are parts of highways 1 and 3.

Wintry weather and sudden snow squalls can make mountain highways treacherous and drivers are reminded to slow down and drive for the conditions.

  • Find the full list of weather warnings here.

'Full-on winter conditions'

"We are looking at full-on winter conditions out there, so drivers need to be aware ... winter driving conditions will be in full effect," said Lisa Ervine, meteorologist with Environment Canada.

The agency recommends drivers pack an emergency kit in the car with water, food, medications, first-aid kits and a flashlight in case they get stuck on the road. Winter tire regulations are also in effect with mountain-snowflake tires recommended for rural highways and mountain passes, and mud and snow tires, marked with an M+S symbol, appropriate for most South Coast roads. 

A rainfall warning is also in effect for the Fraser Valley, with up to 70 millimetres forecast.

With files from Eva Uguen-Csenge and Clare Hennig


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