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Metro Vancouver snowstorm: Power back for 95% of affected customers | Alex Fraser Bridge closure strands motorists | Plane gets stuck off YVR taxiway

It was mayhem on the roads and bridges as B.C.'s south coast was hit with its first major snowstorm of the season. Read more about the nightmare commute, school closures and power outages.

Burnaby residents clear sidewalks following the first major snow storm of the season. Temperatures are expected to rise on Wednesday.
Burnaby residents clear sidewalks following the first major snow storm of the season. Temperatures are expected to rise on Wednesday. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley spent Wednesday dealing with the aftermath of a snowstorm that dumped up to 20 cm of snow on the ground.

While Environment Canada has lifted the snowfall warning for Metro Vancouver, a weather warning is in effect until Thursday for the Fraser Valley.

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Across the region, there were delays and difficult driving conditions with snow, slush and icy patches on the ground. At one point, more than 30,000 homes were without power and some school districts closed on Wednesday.

Power back for 95 per cent of B.C. Hydro customers

B.C. Hydro said Wednesday that power has been restored to 95 per cent of the 93,000 customers affected by the snowstorm. Pockets representing about 1,500 customers are still waiting to get their power back, mostly in rural areas on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

“All available crews are working hard to complete the necessary work with the goal of restoring everyone this evening,” said Hydro spokesperson Susie Rieder in a 5 p.m. update.

“The snow weighed down trees and branches, many already weakened by a series of fall windstorms, causing them to contact B.C. Hydro’s electrical equipment,” explained Rider. “Unlike a windstorm, snowstorms can often mean large but slower-paced outages as snow takes time to accumulate on vegetation. That is why outage numbers spiked after the storm seemed to have passed in some areas.”

Customers can check for updates on at bchydro.com/outages.

Alex Fraser Bridge reopens after overnight closure strands motorists

The Alex Fraser Bridge has re-opened after crashes and snarled vehicles closed the bridge in both directions for several hours, stranding some commuters overnight.

The northbound left and right lanes re-opened around 11 p.m., and DriveBC reported the southbound lanes reopened around 3 a.m. on Wednesday. Many people reported being stuck in their vehicles on the bridge for hours.

Dianne Livesey left work in Metrotown at 3:30 p.m. for her home in South Surrey. But what was usually a 45-minute commute turned into a nightmare 12-hour ordeal — one of the many commuters stuck trying to get through the Alex Fraser, which links Richmond and New Westminster to North Delta.

“I’m shocked. I’ve lived here my entire life… and I haven’t seen anything like this,” she said. “It’s just not acceptable, especially when they have been forecasting this for days and days ahead of time.”

Livesey was stuck the longest near Queensborough landing. Surrounded by semis, many of which were clearly struggling on the slippery road, she waited for hours, alternately turning her engine off to save gas and on to stay warm as traffic inched slowly towards the bridge.

“Traffic was just stopped,” she said. “You can see people walking on the side of the highway. Semis were everywhere. Many were stuck on the bridge because they can’t get out.”

Around midnight, hope came in the form of two large snow plows coming up behind her. But the rescue was slow going as a driver had to walk out and direct cars to get out of the way so the plows could get through traffic onto the bridge deck.

Livesey said all the trucks shouldn’t be on the road unless they have better tires. She also questioned why the bridge and surrounding areas weren’t plowed. “They should be on their game, but they weren’t.”

North Delta resident Jennifer Walters Colonnello’s husband Massimo Colonnello was stuck for more than 10 hours trying to get on the bridge.

He left his work near Marine Way in Burnaby at 3 p.m. and got stuck near the Annacis Bridge on the way to the Alex Fraser and didn’t get home until 2 a.m.

“When he walked in last night, he said, ‘That was the craziest thing I’ve had to go through,'” said Walters Colonnello.

“He said it was like an apocalypse. People were completely stopped until about 1 a.m. Once it started moving, so many cars now couldn’t move and they were spinning out on the bridge.”

Luckily, Colonnello just had winter tires put on his vehicle the day before, and he had a whole tank of gas in his car and was able to stay warm.

Colonnello, who is used to traffic chaos in his native Rome, was shocked the snow could cause hours-long gridlock on a main thoroughfare. “Something like this happened years ago in Rome, and after that event it was mandatory to have chains in your car in the winter months,” he said. “Why isn’t that mandatory here?”

If this is what happens during a relatively ordinary snow storm , what would happen if a major disaster hits the region, asked Walters Connello. “It is crazy it took that long,” she said. “We live in a first-world country, and how could no tow trucks or plows get there? That’s the scary thing.”

Traffic along Highway 1 between Vancouver and Surrey was also restricted with several fender-benders.

Drive B.C. had issued widespread travel advisories for highways across the south coast and beyond on Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, motorists trying to head east on the Port Mann Bridge also faced lengthy delays after eastbound traffic was temporarily reduced to a single lane.

The lane closure was caused by a vehicle incident between United Boulevard and the bridge. By 10:15 a.m., DriveBC said the incident has been cleared, but warned drivers of heavy congestion.

Drivers can also expect wintry conditions on the Trans-Canada from West Vancouver to Hope, the Coquihalla between Hope and Merritt, and highways 17 and 99 from the ferries through the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.

Up to 20 cm has fallen on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, with another five to 10 cm expected Wednesday in some areas. Motorists should prepare for quickly changing, possibly deteriorating, conditions, and near-zero visibility at time due to heavy and blowing snow, said Environment Canada.

The advisories will be in effect until at least Thursday in parts of the region.

Read more commuting stories here.

Transit delays and issues

In Metro, several bus routes might be experiencing delays due to road conditions.

Last night, no buses to UBC were getting through. On Wednesday, the Commercial-Broadway Station B-Line/UBC B-Line is up and running all the way although TransLink asks commuters to allow for extra travel time.

HandyDART service will be pared back to essential service levels today, said TransLink.

Footage on the following tweet showed a TransLink HandyDART bus slamming into a line of cars involved in an earlier collision on Tuesday.

Some students are getting a snow day today. Public schools in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Langley, Mission, and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows are closed today due to weather and road conditions.

For post-secondary schools, SFU’s Burnaby campus is closed until 10:30 a.m. while its Vancouver and Surrey campuses are open. In Vancouver, UBC’s Point Grey campus is closed until 1 p.m.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University will be closed for the day. Douglas College is closed Wednesday morning, but will re-open at noon.

The University of the Fraser Valley is open today, including its campuses in Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Its facility in Hope, the Hope Centre, is closed.

Here is a complete list of any school closures in Metro and the Fraser Valley.

Newspaper delivery delayed; ePaper access available

Note to readers about delays in newspaper deliver due to weather:

The snowstorm and road conditions in Metro Vancouver has delayed delivery of the Wednesday print editions of the Vancouver Sun and The Province. Delivery will take place on Thursday.

We have opened up access to the ePaper, a digital replica of the print edition. To access it, please click The Vancouver Sun or The Province.
We apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you for your patience.

Power outages

The heavy and wet snow Tuesday night came with high winds, leading to more than 93,000 households without power.

Crews worked through the night and Wednesday morning to restore power to most people, said B.C. Hydro.

As of 11:30 a.m., about 10,000 people were still in the dark, mostly on Vancouver Island. The hardest hit areas were Nanaimo, Courtenay, and Mayne Island.

About 4,7000 homes in the Lower Mainland affected by power outage have seen their electricity come back on.

Some of the delays are caused by crews having trouble reaching affected areas in rural areas due to road conditions. Ferry cancellations have also meant delays in restoring power to some of the smaller Gulf Islands, said Hydro.

There are also reports of downed power lines. Please call 911 and stay at least 10 metres away from a downed power line if you come across one.

An EVA Air Boeing 777 aircraft went off route onto snowy soft ground at Vancouver International Airport from Taipei.
An EVA Air Boeing 777 aircraft went off route onto snowy soft ground at Vancouver International Airport from Taipei. Photo by DARRYL DYCK Darryl Dyck/The Ca /THE CANADIAN PRESS

A plane went off a taxiway at Vancouver International Airport due to snowy and slippery conditions.

YVR said the EVA Air plane from Taipei landed safely shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday.

While exiting a taxiway to make its way to the gate, the plane got stuck in the grass adjacent to the north runway.

“Due to the incident, the north runway was unavailable for arrivals,” said YVR spokeswoman Megan Sutton in a statement. “However, the south runway remained open for both arrivals and departures and YVR continued to be fully operational.”

Passengers were stuck on the plane for three hours before they were able to disembark and taken to the terminal on buses. There are no reports of injuries.

B.C. Ferries, YVR flights cancelled

Dozens of flights out of Vancouver airport and all major B.C. Ferries sailings were cancelled on Tuesday as snow started falling across the Lower Mainland.

B.C. Ferries cancelled all sailings from 3 p.m. Tuesday between the mainland and Vancouver Island, including those between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay in Victoria, Tsawwassen and Duke Point near Nanaimo, and Horseshoe Bay and Departure Bay in Nanaimo. B.C. Ferries is expecting sailing to resume as normal on Wednesday morning.

YVR’s departures list showed nearly three dozen cancelled flights for Air Canada, Westjet and other airlines as snow began to accumulate Tuesday afternoon. Many other flights headed to Vancouver were also been cancelled. Monitor YVR’s website and check with your airline if you had planned to travel tonight or tomorrow.

On Tuesday night it was a mixed bag at YVR, with some planes departing late or being cancelled and some on time.

The airport said it anticipates flight delays to continue into Wednesday morning. Passengers are urged to contact their airline or check  the airport website for the latest arrival and departure information.

How much snow will we get?

Weather Network meteorologist Tyler Hamilton says up to 20 centimetres of snow would fall over the Lower Mainland over a 12-hour period.

North Vancouver, Coquitlam and Maple Ridge are expected to get the heaviest snowfall, with up to 20 cm forecast by Environment Canada, while Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford could get between 10 to 15 cm of snow.

The North Shore mountains could get up to 50 cm of snow. Whistler is also expected to get a massive dump.

Areas south of the Fraser River — like Delta and White Rock — will be spared the brunt of the impact and likely see around 10 cm of snow.

Vancouver weather forecast: Snow, rain, wind … more snow?

The snow is expected taper off to rain or flurries Wednesday morning for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley east to Abbotsford. For areas further east, however, the snow is expected to taper off Wednesday afternoon.

Temperatures are expected to rise above freezing on Wednesday, so there will be a lot of slush that is likely to lead to power outages.

In Vancouver, the weather forecast on Wednesday is for a mix of sun and clouds — no snow. Thursday is also expected to be dry and mostly sunny, but with temperatures cooling again, some snow or rain could be on the way late this week.

Hamilton is forecasting another snow event on Friday, which could also be significant.

“It’s not a one and done,” said Hamilton. “We are likely going to see a couple of snowfall events this week.”

Winter weather tips and tricks

Watch: Snow shovelling safety tips

Before you put on your winter woolies and grab that snow shovel, watch this video for tips on how to clear that driveway safely.

1. Walk like a penguin when the path is icy: Point your feet outward and relax your knees. Holding your arms away from your sides to maintain your balance, walk slowly and flat-footed, taking short steps.

2. Put Kitty Litter in your pockets or a zip-lock bag: If you find yourself faced with icy walks, icy steps or slippery slopes, sprinkle litter to improve traction. Sand works, too. Avoid commercial de-icers, which should be handled with gloves.

3. Get out the ski poles: They are a good way to add stability when you walk. Check the garage, there is nearly always a set of ski poles around. Buy ice picks if you use a cane.

4. Step to the side: If your path looks icy, you may get better traction by walking on snow or grass. If you have to climb on accumulated snow to get in the car, keep a good grip on the door.

5. Choose footwear with winter treads made of natural rubber: Avoid dress shoes with smooth soles, and put away your high-heeled boots, they can be deadly. Wear a long, heavy coat to cushion your fall.

— Postmedia files

6 tips for safe winter driving

Motorists who plan to travel by car during snowy conditions should pack an emergency medical kit that includes a supply of food, water and warm blankets. You should also have a shovel, ice-scraper and brush in your vehicle at all times.

Here are some other winter driving tips:

• Remove all the snow and ice from the car windows, tail lights and headlights before setting out.

• Go slowly. Never speed in wintry conditions. Give yourself extra time.

• Gradual starts and stops are the way to go when travelling in the snow. Never slam on the brakes. Instead, tap the brakes or downshift, gradually coming to a stop. This will prevent skidding as well as rear-enders.

• Avoid sudden acceleration. Flooring the gas pedal causes the wheels to spin in snow, often causing the car to get stuck. Avoiding complete stops can help drivers avoid getting stuck in the snow.

• Never try to overtake a snowplow unless you are certain it is completely safe.

— Postmedia files

Watch: Cold weather safety: 7 things to know

Even with central heating, some rooms can benefit from the use of space heaters. However, precautions should be taken to minimize fire risk.

Use space heaters in an enclosed space, in the corner of the room while keeping doors to the room shut to keep warmth in, according to B.C. Hydro. Never leave the device unattended or use within three feet of anything combustible. It should be plugged directly into an outlet.

To ensure it won’t tip over, use it on a level floor and never go to sleep with the heater on. Turn it off when you leave the room.

Check for drafts in the home and apply weatherstripping, as well as window coverings, to prevent cold air gusts coming in.

Watch these seven cold-weather safety tips from Environment Canada:

Sources: Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canada Safety Council, Marshfield Clinic.

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  3. Vancouver streets were somewhat treacherous last week.

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