‘Please stay home’: Massive snowfall brings travel, services to a halt on Vancouver Island

'Please stay home': Massive snowfall brings travel, services to a halt on Vancouver Island

Public transit is suspended, ferries are cancelled, flights are delayed and post-secondary schools are closed as snow leaves thousands without power in areas on and surrounding Vancouver Island Tuesday.

Winter storm warnings in effect for much of Vancouver Island have been rescinded as of Tuesday afternoon, but the South Island in particular is still digging out from the remarkable amount of overnight snowfall.

The warnings were issued Monday for Greater Victoria and the Malahat, as well as east, inland and west sections of the Island, including Port Renfew, Lake Cowichan, Duncan and Nanaimo.

Environment Canada said those areas were expected to see around 20 centimetres of snow, but it actually turned out to be more like 30 cm and higher in some areas, said meteorologist Bobby Sekhon.

“Looks like even in Victoria we got reports of upwards of 35 centimetres, even more on the Malahat,” he told CHEK News Tuesday.

Needless to say, this snowfall is not like the usual light dusting southern Vancouver Island gets a handful of times per season.

“This probably will stand out to a lot of people even if they’ve been living in Victoria. On average, Victoria receives about 13 to 14 centimetres of snow in the month of December, but this year it’s obviously getting a lot more,” said Sekhon.

The snow was expected to taper off around noon but led to dangerous driving conditions, with both the B.C. government and local police asking drivers to stay home if possible.

“Please stay home if you can,” Victoria Police tweeted Tuesday morning, noting city crews are working to clear the roads. “The large amount of snowfall has led to poor driving conditions.”

While Tuesday’s dump of snow may have conjured up memories of the Blizzard of ’96, Sekhon says it was only around half the accumulation of that infamous weather disaster.

“In one day we saw 65 centimetres,” he recalled.

“That’s an incredible amount of snow and obviously, those who were around remember the impacts of that, including just crippling transportation, the weight on structures causing things to collapse, things like that. It was quite an exceptional event, that one.”

Transit, ferries, flights cancelled

Those hoping to instead opt for public transit were out of luck as bus service was suspended in both the Victoria and Cowichan regional transit systems due to the snow, according to BC Transit in a service notice.

BC Transit initially hinted that service might resume at some point Tuesday, but later confirmed it was cancelled for the entire day.

“This is not a decision that we take lightly as we know our customers rely on us to get to their destinations. Safety is our top priority and we appreciate your patience during this time,” the company said, referring passengers to check its website for the latest updates.

Nanaimo transit service was still running, but with delays, it added. HandyDART service is also running essential service only for medical appointments.

At Victoria International Airport (YYJ), some flights were landing and departing but there were numerous cancellations and delays earlier in the day, said airport spokesman Rod Hunchak.

“We’ve had over two dozen cancellations and around 18 delays,” he said, adding the airport typically handles about 70 flights daily.

“That will probably change as the day progresses. We’ve seen flights that were delayed turned into cancellations, so it’s changing all the time.”

Hunchak said airport crews worked overnight to keep the runways, roads and other airport areas clear, but the weather was challenging.

“Things are as good as can be expected considering the amount of snowfall that occurred,” said Hunchak.

“Certainly, we didn’t have the same operational impact that Vancouver is experiencing. Our crews have been working since yesterday and we do have flights that are taking off and landing and departing.”

Delays came as more than 6,200 people are without power across southern sections of the Island, including Victoria, Langford, Sooke, Metchosin and Duncan, with crews working to restore electricity, said BC Hydro.

It’s a similar story for BC Ferries, which cancelled numerous sailings to and from Vancouver Island departing terminals in Swartz Bay and Nanaimo, for example, due to adverse weather conditions.

“Right off the get-go this morning, we did suspend service basically from our Departure Bay terminal, right south down to Swartz Bay as well as the Southern Gulf Islands. That also included the Horseshoe Bay-Langdale route,” Deborah Marshall, spokesperson for BC Ferries, told CHEK News.

READ ALSO: BC Ferries scraps sailings to and from Vancouver Island due to heavy snow

Many sailings resumed service as of 3 p.m. including Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen, but the Brentwood Bay-Mill Bay route was cancelled for the remainder of the day, along with the Tsawwassen-Southern Gulf Islands and Campbell River-Quadra Island ferries

Meanwhile, although some students may be on winter break, others get a snow day as post-secondary institutions, including the University of Victoria, Camosun College, Royal Roads University and North Island College, closed their campuses Tuesday.

“Face-to-face exams are cancelled this morning. Online exams will proceed as scheduled,” UVic tweeted, while Camosun asked students and staff “to be safe, keep warm and take care if they have to travel.”

With files from The Canadian Press

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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