Brace for it: Forecast calls for more snow, rain on Vancouver Island

Environment Canada expects another storm to hit Vancouver Island today, bringing with it a mix of snow and rain that could create a whole new set of problems for the region.

At 5 a.m. today, Environment Canada upgraded a special weather statement to a snowfall warming for Victoria and the Malahat. The weather agency says to expect five to 10 centimetres this afternoon, switching to rain overnight or Friday morning. Depending on the location, another dump of snow is possible overnight into Friday morning.

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In Greater Victoria and the Gulf Islands, the snow is expected to change to rain overnight, especially near the water. The precipitation combined with warning temperatures could cause havoc by speeding up the snow melt and adding weight to trees or other structures, the agency said.

B.C. Hydro has been dealing with a number of power outages, and spokesman Ted Olynyk said the worst might be yet to come. When it warms up and rains, snow-covered tree branches become heavy or freeze, bringing down branches over power lines.

“Ideally, we want to see a nice steady melt to the branches,” he said. “But what we’ve seen in the past, if rain happens or heavy snow, branches already heavily laden with snow and trees could fall and come in contact with our power lines.”

The latest low-pressure system is due to arrive with Greater Victoria and the rest of Vancouver Island still recovering from the last storm, which dumped 25 to 30 centimetres of snow in some areas.

Schools in the capital region reopened this morning after being closed for three straight days due to heavy snow and poor road conditions.

All three districts in Greater Victoria as well as in the Cowichan Valley and on the Gulf Islands cancelled school again Wednesday.

Greater Victoria school district superintendent Shelley Green said the district’s crews found side roads, especially hilly regions, to be “absolutely treacherous” and “pretty much terrible.”

“I believe this is unprecedented,” she said. “I don’t think anyone thought last night we’d do a third snow day [Wednesday]. We truly hoped we could open schools … but safety is our No. 1 concern.”

The Greater Victoria, Saanich and Sooke school districts all declared a snow day before 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, though some private schools remained open.

The districts received mixed reaction on social media, where some applauded the decision to keep schools closed, while others noted that main roads were clear and that parents were missing work and forfeiting vacation time to stay home with their children.

Adding to parents’ frustration was the fact that students will return for a single day before getting another four-day break, as all three districts have a professional development day Friday leading into the Family Day long weekend.

Saanich school district superintendent Dave Eberwein said cancelling school for a third day was “frustrating for everybody; we’d love to have our schools open.”

Eberwein said the amount of snowfall combined with its duration and the inability to keep roads clear led to the closures. “We’re certainly anticipating opening [today]; that’s our plan.”

Education Minister Rob Fleming, who represents Victoria-Swan Lake, said his kids were missing school as well.

“I understand the frustration,” he said. “People have to get to work and they need their kids to be cared for. So there have been some responses, non-profit societies have sprung to action, recreation departments and local government, and that is very much appreciated.

“We’re through this weather patch now,” he added, “so maybe it’s a lesson for some school districts and municipalities to respond a little quicker if they can.”

Fleming said cancelling a professional development day to make up for the lost school time was not an option.

“Those are regularly scheduled, they’re for teachers to train and in some cases learning how to teach the curriculum,” he said. “So, no, you can’t substitute the weather for a regularly scheduled professional development day. I know that teachers have strategies to make up for lost time.

“This is an exceedingly rare event in British Columbia.”

Mainroad South Island Contracting was working around the clock, with crews on 12-hour shifts, to clear roads. Highways and main roads were done first, followed by side roads.

Rick Gill, operations manager for Mainroad, said the main roads were in “good winter driving conditions” and the company was working on school bus routes, although side roads that feed the routes might have been “less than ideal.”

By Wednesday afternoon the Transportation Ministry had lifted travel advisories on all Island highways, but reminded drivers to drive with care. While major roads were bare and wet, some left-turn lanes, acceleration lanes, on and off ramps, and side roads might remain covered with snow.

Highway 14 between Sooke and Port Renfrew reopened after being closed for several days due to downed trees and power lines and treacherous road conditions.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

lkines@timescolonist.com

— With a file from Katie DeRosa

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