Greater Victoria residents awoke Tuesday to a world of white, with more than a foot of snow in many areas that brought traffic to a standstill and prompted the cancellation of bus and ferry service along with many flights.
The snowfall was forecast to end overnight, but expect the snow and accompanying slippery streets to stick around as temperatures remain below freezing until at least Friday. Environment Canada has issued an arctic outflow warning, saying it could result in wind chill as low as -25 C between Wednesday night and Thursday morning; the temperature is forecast to drop to -11 C with a northeast wind of 50 km/h gusting to 70.
On Tuesday, drivers were warned to stay off snow-clogged and icy roads unless travel was essential, but several Victorians who absolutely had to get somewhere, somehow, got a lift thanks to an act of kindness from an unexpected quarter.
When Nima Alaghband, manager of Acer Heritage Limousine Service, started work at 7 a.m. Tuesday, he saw several vehicles already abandoned by the side of the road.
But Alaghband, who previously lived on the east coast, was ready — he’d had his mechanic install chains on his minivan the night before in anticipation of the weather.
“The road is my domain and I am always vigilant of road conditions,” said the Canadian Armed Forces veteran.
Alaghband picked up a fare early in the day, but saw so many people struggling along, he ended up offering free rides to about 14 people. “I had to do it because people had no choice,” he said. “There were no buses.”
He only stopped in the early afternoon when the chains on his tires started to cause a vibration on his minivan.
One of his passengers was an elderly man who was being discharged from the hospital but had no way of getting home. “A nurse overheard me offering a ride to someone else and asked if I could take him,” said Alaghband. “That trip took longer because I had to escort him to his door and call the nurse to let her know that he made it home safe.”
B.C. Transit suspended all service in Greater Victoria, citing unsafe driving conditions. On Wednesday morning, it said a limited number of bus routes were operating, and advised checking bctransit.com for updates.
HandyDART operated at essential-service levels, meaning most appointments were cancelled and drivers were focused on ensuring dialysis patients and those going in for eye surgery made their appointments.
B.C. Transit said HandyDART dispatchers called clients to check about access to their homes. “Drivers have shovels and will try to get as close as they can,” said B.C. Transit’s Tessa Humphries.
B.C. Ferries cancelled several ferry sailings Tuesday morning because of heavy snow on roads and at terminals. On Wednesday morning, it said a frozen throttle on its rescue boat led to cancellation of the Queen of Oak Bay's 6:15 a.m. sailing out of Horseshoe Bay and 8:25 a.m. sailing out of Departure Bay.
The 7:45 a.m. sailing from Duke Point to Tsawwassen was delayed for more than an hour after a water leak caused by a frozen drain pipe on the Queen of New Westminster.
Sailings between Brentwood Bay and Mill Bay were called off up to 11:35 a.m. due to conditions at the terminals and on area roads.
B.C. Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said wind is in the forecast for Wednesday afternoon and there could be freezing rain or snow, all of which could affect the ferry schedule.
“Our crews are doing their best to keep terminals clear, but sometimes the roads to get to the terminals can be a challenge and it’s a challenge for our staff to get there, as well,” said Marshall, who advised checking B.C. Ferries website at bcferries.com for updates.
The Coho and Clipper ferries were able to stay on schedule Tuesday; Black Ball Ferry Line president Ryan Burles said it was all hands on deck to make sure cars were able to make it through the parking lot.
Burles said the company had a plow working the loading area starting at 5:30 a.m. and then used shovels to keep it clear.
Elementary and secondary students are already out of classes on winter break. But some college and university students had exams scheduled.
Camosun College closed its campus, as did Royal Roads University and the University of Victoria. UVic said all in-person exams were cancelled Tuesday morning, while online exams continued as scheduled. Cancelled exams will be rescheduled.
Vancouver Island University also closed its campus and said exams are being rescheduled.
North Island College campuses in Port Alberni, Campbell River and the Comox Valley were all closed.
For some, the snowstorm brought power outages that peaked Tuesday morning at about 7,000 B.C. Hydro customers, with about 3,500 of those in capital region. The hardest-hit areas included Sooke, Metchosin and the Gulf Islands, said B.C. Hydro spokesman Ted Olynyk. Many of the issues were due to trees down across wires.
The utility said a record was set Monday for peak hourly electricity demand — the hour customers use the most electricity. Consumption between 5 and 6 p.m. reached over 10,800 megawatts, which B.C. Hydro said was the highest ever recorded. The previous record was set on Dec. 27, 2021, when consumption reached 10,762 megawatts.
The spike in use was driven by additional heating as frigid temperatures hit the province, B.C. Hydro said. In some areas, wind chill values dipped to -40 C.
Many flights in and out of Victoria International Airport were cancelled or delayed due to the heavy snowfall.
By noon, about two dozen flights had been cancelled and 18 flights had been delayed, said Rod Hunchak, airport spokesman.
Hunchak said Victoria’s airport was fairly quiet Tuesday morning, as air carriers did a good job of notifying passengers that flights were cancelled or delayed.
Crews started preparing Monday and worked into the night, he said, clearing runways and ensuring that roads and parking lots were accessible.
Harbour Air said many of its flights were affected by the weather, although Helijet was operating with delays.
Most municipal halls decided to close their doors and many shut down other services, as well.
Victoria’s city hall was open Tuesday, but with only limited services available. “We are encouraging folks to access online where possible,” said spokeswoman Colleen Mycroft, adding Crystal Pool was open, curbside garbage collection was cancelled and crews clearing roads were focused on emergency routes.
Saanich closed all four of its recreation centres as well as Cedar Hill Golf Course.
“We will re-assess tomorrow and open our facilities as conditions permit,” said Kelsi McLeod.
Halls were also closed to the public Tuesday in North Saanich, Highlands, Sooke, Metchosin, Sidney and Central Saanich.
Esquimalt’s municipal hall was open, but like Victoria, it was offering only limited services and garbage pickup was cancelled.
Oak Bay closed its public works yard and cancelled garbage pickup Tuesday, while its Henderson and Monterey recreation centres were closed. Oak Bay Recreation Centre remained open.
Michelle Mahovlich, Langford’s director of engineering and public works, said the municipality called in its auxiliary plow drivers overnight Monday and had two dedicated plows going all night just on Bear Mountain Parkway.
Mahovlich said police, fire or ambulance could contact the municipality directly for emergency access, and it would redirect plows to assist them.
Colwood city hall had limited staff on site Tuesday as employees stayed home and worked remotely. “The sledding on the hill at city hall for those who can walk over is excellent,” noted Colwood spokeswoman Sandra Russell.
In Nanaimo, all registered recreation programs were cancelled on Tuesday, but some drop-in programs and rentals remained open, including the Nanaimo Ice Centre, Cliff McNabb arena and Beban Pool. Garbage and recycling services were cancelled. The city said it will restore curbside collection as quickly as possible, depending on the weather forecast, and residents will be able to put extra recycling and garbage out on their next collection days.
— With files from Pedro Arrais, Jeff Bell, Andrew Duffy and Carla Wilson
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