The winter storm that blanketed southern British Columbia with snow Wednesday meant a day off work or school for some, but it had much harsher implications for those without a home.
Nicole Mucci, spokeswoman for the Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver, said it was struggling to keep up with demand for warm clothes and shelter spaces.
“Cold weather like this certainly can highlight the inequities that our community members are facing and face every single day,” she said.
Heavy snow in Metro Vancouver and southwestern B.C. shuttered schools, caused transportation havoc and triggered power outages across the region.
Parts of the Fraser Valley had almost 30 centimetres of snow by 11 a.m. Wednesday, said Environment Canada meteorologist Alyssa Charbonneau.
She said 27 cm had fallen in Abbotsford and 22 centimetres at Vancouver’s airport.
Charbonneau said the storm was likely to abate late Wednesday, but more snow was on the way for Vancouver Island on Thursday turning to freezing rain, and a mix of flurries changing to rain was in store for the Lower Mainland.
It’s all part of a brutal blast of winter that has also disrupted flights and workplaces across Canada, as multiple warnings of heavy snowfall and extreme cold blanket parts of the country.
As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, snowfall had ended and the temperature in Vancouver was -1 C. Environment Canada also ended its snowfall warning for Metro Vancouver and the Coquihalla Highway from Hope to Merritt.
The weather office is forecasting more snowfall Thursday afternoon, as well as a risk of freezing rain.
Mucci said the mission’s outreach teams were out on the streets of Vancouver Wednesday, handing out hot chocolate, toques, mittens, scarves and other winter gear but they’re running low on things like coats and decent shoes.
“Last night when the snow started to really kind of dump down here in Vancouver, we did fill up of course, but we didn’t actually go over our limit,” Mucci said.
“We didn’t have to turn anyone away and we didn’t have to try to make referrals, which was good news for us.”
All public schools in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley were closed Wednesday, while some universities and colleges in the Lower Mainland, including the University of B.C., Simon Fraser University and the B.C. Institute of Technology, also cancelled in-person classes.
BC Hydro said the snowstorm had downed lines around the province, with more than 15,000 customers without power in the Lower Mainland by 2 p.m., and about 6,000 on Vancouver Island.
More than 30 flights were cancelled Wednesday morning at Vancouver International Airport, and officials were telling passengers to check their flight’s status before going to the terminal.
The airport said 80 per cent of flights were operating as crews worked to clear roughly nine kilometres of runway.
Canada Post also suspended mail delivery around Metro Vancouver due to the snow.
Premier David Eby, who had been in Prince George to attend the annual Natural Resources Forum, said he arrived back in Vancouver Wednesday morning to winter conditions.
“It’s a challenging day for parents, but it’s a fun day for kids,” Eby said. “I hope everybody’s careful out there. I saw a lot of stranded vehicles, and please don’t go out if you don’t have snow tires right now in the Lower Mainland. Please stay safe out there and drive very carefully.”
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim said an extreme weather alert was in place until Thursday, with extra shelter spaces opened at 15 warming centres across the city.
Teacher Cameron Wolber, who was playing in the snow with his daughter at a park in South Vancouver, said he was grateful that there was plenty of warning about the “huge dump of snow.”
“Knowing it was coming was really helpful … it’s great that all the school districts closed and I think it makes the roads a lot safer,” said Wolber.
Environment Canada snowfall warnings remained up for the Cariboo to inland Vancouver Island and right across southern B.C. into the southwest corner of Alberta, where accumulations of heavy snow from Banff to Milk River could reach 35 centimetres before it tapers off Thursday.
DriveBC issued travel advisories for almost all major routes in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, as well as some highways in the B.C. Interior, while transit operator TransLink warned riders to expect bus and SkyTrain delays.
“Drivers are advised to stay off the roads unless their vehicle is properly equipped with winter tires,” the DriveBC alerts said.
A series of weather systems also brought extreme cold to northern Alberta and central Ontario, blowing snow advisories in Quebec and snow squalls and rainfall warnings in separate parts of Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday.
Northern Alberta remained under an extreme cold warning and temperatures could dip to -40 C through the rest of the week.
On Canada’s East Coast, a messy weather system coated the streets of St. John’s, with heavy slush as the city was pelted by snow and then by rain.
Schools were closed for at least part of the day across much of Newfoundland as Environment Canada called for high winds and snow squalls in the western part of the island, and a mix of snow and rain in the east.
Parts of the island’s Avalon and Burin peninsulas were also under rainfall warnings calling for up to 40 millimetres of precipitation.
David Neil, a warning preparedness meteorologist with the federal weather agency, said much of that sloppy wet snow could then freeze as temperatures dropped Wednesday night.
“It’s not a lot of fun,” Neil said.
Wind speeds hit 150 kilometres an hour on Wednesday morning in an area of western Newfoundland known as Wreckhouse, which is notorious for winds strong enough to knock over transport trucks, Neil added.
The same storm was set to dump up to 50 centimetres of snow on the northern coast of Labrador by Friday evening, Neil said.
The extreme cold forecast for southern Ontario warned with icy conditions expected from Windsor to north of Toronto, as wind chill values fall to -30.
Toronto’s Pearson Airport said Wednesday passengers were still “flowing smoothly,” with 437 planned departures and 450 scheduled arrivals, despite a “frosty day” with a wind chill bringing the temperature values down to -20.
The airport said some flights from Germany are cancelled due to weather in Europe.
For Mucci and others at Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission, this type of weather always brings challenges.
“Every winter when we have these snowfalls, you know, they’re some of the toughest days I think of the year for our team because the suffering that people are experiencing increases so exponentially,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2024.