UPDATED: Pineapple express follows polar express as ‘warmer than seasonal’ weather takes hold

Snowfall records set as seven storms cross region in one week

Rain and temperatures Environment Canada calls “quite a bit warmer than seasonal” have replaced snow and high winds in the Sunshine Coast forecast after a storm system that rolled through the area last week knocked out power, disrupted ferries and transit and closed schools, government offices, rec centres and libraries.

Environment Canada meteorologist Matt MacDonald said seven separate storms moved across the region from Jan. 10 to 17, bringing well over 30 cm of snow in the Pender Harbour area and more than 10 centimetres on other parts of the Coast.

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Gibsons had its biggest snowfall on Jan. 14, with 10.2 cm and set a record for Jan. 15 with six centimetres. Sechelt set new daily marks for most “snow on the ground” Jan. 15 and 16 with snow depths at the airport of 10 cm and seven centimetres. The Port Mellon weather station reported 27 cm of snow on the ground during the peak of the storms.

The strongest winds to hit the area came on Jan. 15, reaching nearly 90 km/h at the Merry Island lighthouse off Sechelt and gusting up to 150 km/h at Pam Rocks in Howe Sound.

At one point that night, trees brought down by the wind knocked out power to more than 4,000 Sunshine Coast hydro customers.

Although the worst of the weather had passed, road conditions remained an issue in some areas last Friday.

On Highway 101 in Sechelt, a sheet of ice formed on the hill between the Tsain Ko Centre and the intersection of 101 and Wharf Avenue. Transit buses were stuck at the top, and several vehicles slid off to the side trying to navigate the slick road.

Volunteers from the nearby NAPA Auto Parts store fetched bags of salt and got to work while waiting for plows and sanders to arrive.

Manager Kyle Eyfjord said, “We have a lot of bags of salt in our store and [we] jumped into action to make sure everyone could get down that hill. It was an ice rink and we felt we couldn’t stand there and watch and that we had to do something to help.”

The District of Sechelt also dispatched its crews, even though it’s not responsible for maintaining that section of road, which like all of Highway 101, is part of the Capilano Highways maintenance contract with the province.

“The DoS does not do highways – but today we did. For the safety of our citizens, we didn’t wait for [Capilano] Highways to do it,” said communications manager Julie Rogers on the district’s Facebook page.

Members of the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) transportation committee, which met Jan. 16, praised the efforts of Capilano Highways, which also maintains roads in the SCRD rural areas.

Some Pender Harbour residents, however, were not happy. One wrote Coast Reporter describing the maintenance of the highway and side roads as “abysmal” (see page 9).

BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) said one of its ambulance crews had to walk in to help a patient at a home near Dogwood Drive and Gulfview Road on Jan. 13 because they couldn’t get the ambulance in due to road conditions.

“The paramedic crew hiked up to the patient, who was cared for and walked back down to the waiting ambulance and safely transported to hospital,” the agency told Coast Reporter. “The crews reported snow-packed roads that hadn’t been plowed or salted.”

Capilano Highways said it had its full fleet as well as subcontractors in the field and dealt with roads in the priority set by the Ministry of Transportation, which puts highways and arterial roads at the top of the list, followed by other roads on bus routes and then local side roads.

“A challenge with these types of multiple snowfall events is that essentially the clock resets when the next snowfall occurs,” said Capilano’s manager of roads, Tyler Lambert, adding that means crews have to go back to clearing roads at the top of the priority list again.

“Picture it this way – if we over-prioritize the local side roads and neglect the higher class roads, you may get out of your street but you still won’t be going anywhere as those arterial roads that connect various communities will be snow covered, slippery, and can quickly descend to difficult to manage compact snow and ice,” Lambert said.

Lambert also said they will send plows to help first responders or BC Hydro get to the location of emergency calls or power outages if requested. “We did not receive any such requests in this specific series of events. I was, however, in regular contact with BCEHS regarding road conditions and plow locations as they moved ambulances up and down the Coast.”

Officials in Sechelt and Gibsons said their crews were able to stay on top of the snow clearing and road maintenance and have plenty of salt and sand still on hand for the next cold snap.

Sechelt and Gibsons also have bylaws requiring property owners to keep the sidewalks fronting their properties cleared and both municipalities report receiving one complaint each last week that were dealt with without having to issue any tickets.

– With files from Sophie Woodrooffe

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