Winter storm knocks out power, closes schools, disrupts ferries

Schools still closed Thursday, other services back to normal

Sunshine Coast residents awoke to a major snowfall Jan. 15, with a wind warning in effect for the whole region and a blizzard warning in place for Howe Sound.

The winter storm, which had been expected for several days, led to school closures and ferry cancellations and disrupted transit and other services on Wednesday and Thursday morning.

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By Thursday the weather, described by Environment Canada meteorologist Bobby Sekhon as “unsettled,” had returned to a typical January pattern with rain or showers expected through the weekend.

Snowfall Tuesday and Wednesday varied, with amounts around 10 centimetres reported south of Sechelt and well over 30 cm in areas to the north.

Wind, not snow, was the major weather concern by mid-day Wednesday with the entire Sunshine Coast under wind and winter storm warnings as a low-pressure system crossing Vancouver Island was expected to bring southeast winds of 70 to 90 km/h and five to 10 centimeters more snow.

Forecasters predicted the wind would be even more severe in the Howe Sound area with cold arctic air funneled through Howe Sound producing northerly winds of 90 to 110 km/h near Bowen Island.

By noon Wednesday, winds at Pam Rocks had already hit 93 km/h with gusts of 107 km/h, leading BC Ferries to cancel all sailings after 3 p.m. on several routes, including Langdale-Horseshoe Bay. Service was running as usual on the route Thursday morning.

The wind also brought power outages Wednesday night, with more than 4,000 customers off the grid at one point. On Thursday morning, BC Hydro was dealing with 17 scattered outages affecting around 1,600 customers from Egmont to Gibsons. (check for updates)

“Crews made good progress overnight restoring power to most customers affected from yesterday’s heavy snow and winds,” BC Hydro said in a regional alert early Thursday morning. “Crews will continue to work to restore remaining customers throughout the morning and the rest of the day.”

There were several reports of trees down and debris on the roads from Wednesday night’s wind and Drive BC was reporting slushy sections on Highway 101 Thursday morning. 

Trees down
Trees down across utility wires at Rat Portage Hill on Highway 101. - Sean Eckford Photo

School District No. 46 cancelled buses and closed the schools Wednesday and Thursday. “The forecast and current conditions will create unsafe conditions for our school buses, staff and family vehicles,” the school district said Wednesday night.

On Wednesday, both the District of Sechelt and Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) closed their offices and the Sechelt council meeting scheduled for that night was cancelled.

The SCRD also shut down the Gibsons and Area Community Centre, Gibsons Pool, Sunshine Coast Arena, Pender Harbour Aquatic and Fitness Centre and Sechelt Aquatic Centre. It also cancelled a Thursday morning committee meeting, but the Field Road office was open as usual on Thursday and recreation facilities reopened at 9 a.m.

Transit was also back to regular service.

Gibsons municipal hall, which closed early Wednesday, was also reopened Thursday but the Gibsons Public Library remained closed.

Capilano University reopened Thursday, as did the Sechelt Public Library.

RainCity Housing’s homeless shelters in Sechelt and Gibsons were operating as usual throughout the storm.

Sunshine Coast RCMP said although there were instances of cars going off the road, especially on slippery secondary routes, the accidents weren’t serious enough to warrant a report to police. There was a single-vehicle rollover in Pender Harbour Jan. 15, but RCMP said there were no serious injuries.

Both the Town of Gibsons and District of Sechelt used the snow as a chance to remind property owners of their responsibility under local bylaws to clear sidewalks in front of their homes or businesses.

In Sechelt, “the owner or occupier of any real property shall remove the accumulation of snow and ice from the sidewalks and pathways bordering on the real property within 24 hours of a snowfall.”

The Gibsons bylaw is worded a bit differently and calls for property owners to have snow and ice cleared from all sidewalks bordering their property by 10 a.m. after a snowfall or before snow depth exceeds 10 cm.

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