Ferry cancellations, bus route and public facilities closures afflicted the Coast Friday as a winter storm bringing an unusual mix of snow, freezing rain and rain touched down – but road conditions improved slightly into the afternoon.
Environment Canada renewed a winter storm warning Dec. 23 for Gibsons to Earls Cove, advising that “travel conditions will be challenging due to heavy snow, ice pellets, freezing rain, and heavy rain on snow or ice.”
Service resumed for a Horseshoe Bay - Langdale sailing at 11:55 a.m., with the following sailing scheduled for 2:10 p.m. As of noon, the Queen of Surrey was running 20 minutes behind schedule.
BC Ferries cancelled its first Route 3 sailings, along with all major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland Friday due to the weather.
The corporation is “proactively” cancelling and refunding bookings made on cancelled sailings.
“Normally it’s the high winds that cause us challenges, but over the past several days it has been the weather conditions, the road conditions,” said BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall in a radio interview Dec. 23.
“Our employees are transiting the same roadways… it’s quite challenging for our employees to try to report to work,” she said.
BC Ferries' website also suffered an outage mid-morning Friday but had resumed by early afternoon. Sailing and advisories continued to be supplied on Twitter.
The corporation also advised the public of “high call volumes with longer than two-hour waits to speak to an agent.”
Sunshine Coast transit
At least two BC Transit bus routes closed due to poor road conditions Friday, including Route 3 servicing the Sechelt Arena, and Route 4, servicing Halfmoon Bay. Route 90 and 1 buses were running between the Langdale ferry terminal and Sechelt, with slight modifications: Route 90 was using the bypass and Route 1 was no longer running along Marine Drive outside Gibsons as well as Flume Road, Beach Avenue, Marlene Road and Lower Road in Roberts Creek. Chaster Road and Pratt Road were also closed to transit, as was Veterans Road in Area E, as were local Langdale routes Langdalge Heights, Forbes and Johnson Roads, as of 11 a.m.
Local government service changes
Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) facilities and services were also forced to curb operations Friday. The SCRD closed the Sechelt Landfill and Pender Harbour Transfer Station. Those in Roberts Creek and Elphinstone – called the “grey zone” in the SCRD’s collection map – scheduled for curbside waste collection, were advised that while the service is proceeding Dec. 23, “Due to winter road conditions, not all homes may be serviced.” Community centres remained open, allowing the Sunshine Coast Minor Hockey Association’s Blues Alumni game to proceed Friday evening at the Gibsons and District Community Centre arena. The Town of Gibsons closed its offices at 10 a.m. Friday “due to extreme weather conditions,” while the SCRD offices at Field Road were set to close at 3 p.m. The Gibsons Public Library also closed due to the weather.
Snow to freezing rain
Flurries were forecast for Sechelt and Gibsons Friday, with a risk of freezing rain, followed by periods of rain in the evening with temperatures expected to rise to 3 degrees Celsius by morning. Environment Canada meteorologist Louis Kohanyi told Coast Reporter Thursday the risk of freezing rain is expected to last from 4 p.m. Dec. 23 to midnight on the Sunshine Coast.
“Heavy rain” is anticipated for Saturday as another frontal system arrives, with Environment Canada warning of “localized flooding due to snow-blocked drains and melting snow.”
Crews in Gibsons have managed to keep roads in “very good shape” up until Friday, infrastructure services director Trevor Rutley told Coast Reporter.
“Today, with the freezing rain coming down now, it makes it a bit more challenging,” he said.
While stockpiles of sand and salt are plentiful and two operators are removing snow from the roads, as well as a salt truck in operation, sidewalk clearing along local government property will be more challenging due to staffing issues, said Rutley – affected areas include trails and sidewalks fronting government buildings along South Fletcher Road.
The Town is also preparing for potential flooding by ensuring catch basins are clear.
Rutley reminded property owners to be mindful of keeping drains clear. “It’s warming up and it should be getting to the point where hopefully… we can stay on top of this as it transitions to rain and it should ease the burden on the plowing crew,” which has been working intensively, said Rutley. District of Sechelt communications manager Lindsay Vickers said crews have been “brining, salting and plowing for a couple weeks now.”
Kirn Dhillon, director of engineering and operations for the District of Sechelt, said all arterial and collector roads have been cleared using the District’s five plows, and local road snow removal is underway. All five plows are equipped with salters.
As for the transition to heavy rains, the chance of localized flooding is “unpredictable,” he said. “I’m concerned enough that I’ve got my public works crews aware of it, but because Sechelt is so spread out, they can only be in so many places at once.”
Dhillon said crews are working as hard as possible to clear catch basins and is asking property owners to be vigilant about any culverts or storm drains and to clear them if possible or alert the District of Sechelt.
“Sechelt is a great place, we come together as a community in times of emergencies. That was on display during the pandemic, during the drought we had over the summer and into the fall and this is just one more case where residents can come together and help each other out.”
Tyler Lambert, manager of roads with Capilano Highway Services told Coast Reporter Friday the Coast “probably dodged a bullet” as the anticipated freezing rain event appeared to taper off quickly early Friday afternoon.
“Overall, having got 15 centimetres of snow, everything’s in pretty good shape,” said Lambert.
Most major roads are down to bare pavement, with some slushy sections on the bypass.
Snow switched to ice pellets during the day, but not enough to overwhelm the salt on the road, Lambert said, and with temperatures above freezing with more rain on the way, Tyler said he expects to “see a nice green Christmas.”