British Columbia

Southern B.C. highways under piles of snow as winter storm hits ahead of Christmas travel weekend

More than a metre of snow has accumulated in some parts of southern B.C., closing major highways and causing chaos on the roads ahead of the Christmas travel weekend.

Drivers warned to avoid travelling on highway passes unless absolutely necessary

A snowplow working to clear the roads on the Coquihalla highway on Friday, near Box Canyon and Zopkios. (B.C. Ministry for Transportation/Twitter)

More than a metre of snow has accumulated in some parts of southern B.C., closing major highways and causing chaos on the roads ahead of the Christmas travel weekend.

The Coquihalla Highway, a portion of Highway 5, re-opened Friday evening. Earlier in the day both the northbound and southbound lanes between Hope and Merritt were closed due to spun-out semi trucks and other vehicle incidents. 

A travel advisory is still in effect as of Friday evening between Hope and Merritt because of the limited visibility and extreme snow, with up to 60 centimetres expected by Saturday. Delays are being reported on the roads as crews clear the snow. 

Farther south, Highway 3 is closed in both directions at Allison Pass as of Friday evening.

    It opened briefly after a nine-hour shutdown beginning Thursday night, but conditions forced the second closure Friday morning which is expected to continue into the night. 

    • See the full list of road closures here

    Highway 1 is also closed in both directions, with a travel advisory in effect between Eagle Pass and Rogers Pass. 

    The heavy snowfall has heightened avalanche risk across the southern regions. Avalanche control work has closed the roads on several sections of the highways, including parts of Highways 1 and 3. 

    Trucks sit, stuck, along Highway 5 on Friday after a winter storm hammered the area on Thursday night. (Submitted by Dave Duncan)

    Heavy snowfall continues

    Allison Pass, the highest point of the highway between the cities of Hope and Princeton, had up to 103 centimetres of snow by Friday afternoon, according to Environment Canada. On sections of the Coquihalla Highway, between Hope and Merritt, between 45 to 86 centimetres of snow had accumulated. 

    The heavy snowfall, caused by a frontal system stalled over the region, began late Thursday afternoon and is causing major traffic disturbances and delays. Thursday night's snowfall was the second most intense 12-hour period of snowfall since the late 1970s, according to the B.C. Ministry of Transportation. 

    Traffic slowed to a standstill on the Coquihalla Highway on Thursday night after more than 50 centimetres of snow fell in the afternoon and through the evening. (Jessie Austen/Facebook)

    All three major highways linking the Lower Mainland and the B.C. Interior are shut down in some way with the fresh snow created conditions so treacherous that drivers have been advised to stay home if they can.

    A woman in her late 30s was killed in a crash on Highway 3 near the community of Trail, according to the BC Coroners Service.

    DriveBC has posted a rare emergency message on its site, saying drivers who take Highways 1, 3, 5 and 5A "do so at risk of becoming stuck or exposed to avalanche hazards."

    The heavy snow brought travel on the Coquihalla to a standstill on Thursday night. Drivers sat stranded in their vehicles, watching snow pile up on their hoods and the road ahead, waiting hours for an update.

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

    "It was white-out conditions and heavy, heavy snow," said David McKay, who made the drive from Kelowna to Vancouver Thursday night.

    He's been making the drive multiple times a month for a decade and says he's never seen the roads so treacherous before. 

    Southbound lanes on the mountainous, winding stretch between Hope and Merritt reopened just after midnight PT and northbound lanes had reopened around 4 a.m. PT after the lengthy closure.

    WATCH | DriveBC webcams captured the deluge of snow at the Coquihalla Summit Thursday:

    Timelapse shows snow hammering Coquihalla Highway

    2 years ago
    Duration 0:30
    DriveBC webcams at the summit of the Coquihalla Highway show snow falling on the mountain pass for hours on Dec. 19, 2019, continuing the following day.

    Weather warnings issued

    The storm is expected to move on by Saturday night.

    "We're certainly not done with [the snow] yet — we're kind of right in the middle of it. For those who are looking to travel, it certainly may be best to hold off until the system has passed," Ross MacDonald, meteorologist with Environment Canada, said Friday morning.

    • Find the full list of weather warnings here.

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

    In Golden, one of the areas where avalanche control work is planned, the power was out for about 1,200 people, according to B.C. Hydro. Images from Friday evening show a snowy Highway 1, which passes through Golden, with the street lights out.

    Street lights are without power in Golden, B.C., along Highway 1, on Friday evening. (Curtis Young/Twitter)

    Staff with Yellowhead Road and Bridge, the local contractor responsible for maintenance on the Coquihalla, worked for hours to try to keep the road clear.

    "Crews have been out battling that all night long," said general manager Dave Duncan.

    Environment Canada recommends that 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. 

      ABOUT THE AUTHOR

      Clare Hennig

      @clare_hennig

      Clare Hennig is a web writer and digital associate producer at CBC Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @clare_hennig

      With files from Eva Uguen-Csenge, Daybreak South, The Canadian Press

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