An unexpectedly fast-moving storm hit the south coast of B.C., creating delays and disruptions throughout the morning rush hour.
The east coast of Vancouver Island was hit particularly hard by the storm Wednesday morning due to what the meteorologists call "lake effect snow." Within a couple of hours, up to 12 centimetres of snow accumulated in Victoria and other areas west of the Strait of Georgia.
"We had the cold arctic front push out to the coast last night," said Matt MacDonald, meteorologist at Environment Canada. "And this cold dry arctic air streamed across the Strait of Georgia and picked up moisture along the way, so when the cold humid air hit the eastern side of the island this morning, it created heavy flurries."
The snow storm has crippled the transit system in the island. Some bus routes have been cancelled in Sooke and Metchosin, and many other bus routes are experiencing heavy delays and detours in the area, said transit spokeswoman Maureen Sheehan.
These disruptions to public transit and other commuting routes are also affecting other areas in Southern B.C., throughout Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.
The Coquihallla Highway is now closed in both directions between Hope and Merritt due to the snow, with detours available through Highways 1 and 8, according to the DriveBC website. The routes are expected to re-open at 4 p.m. Visibility remains low due to blowing snow in the eastern Fraser Valley, particularly east of Abbotsford, and the road conditions are slippery and slushy along Lower Mainland's highways.
In Metro Vancouver, transportation authority Translink sprayed de-icing agent all over its trolley wires to make sure they didn't freeze over during the morning rush hour, said Drew Snider, Translink's spokesman.
Mr. Snider said the icy and snowy road conditions are affecting the entire transit system in Metro Vancouver. Buses are experiencing minor to major delays, and the 99 B-line bus that runs along Broadway Street has been hit the hardest, with queues much longer than usual. He said that the slushy snow on the roads is slowing down the traffic and making it difficult for the bus to get up the hill heading towards the University of British Columbia.
The Skytrain is also experiencing about 10-minute delays due to the cold temperatures and possible snow obstruction on the tracks which could cause the automated SkyTrains to stop.
The expected temperature high on Wednesday in Metro Vancouver is -6 C.
"The SkyTrain doors are freezing up because of the wind chill and we can't prevent that, but we have vehicle technicians stationed to deal with this situation," Mr. Snider said. "We have vehicle technicians stationed to deal with the situations as they come up."
The good news is the snow will dissipate by mid-day in Vancouver Island, Metro Vancouver and western Fraser Valley, and by the evening eastern Fraser Valley, according to Environment Canada.
But even though the snow will taper off, the cold temperatures will continue to affect those areas and it is unclear whether transit delays will persist throughout the day.
"While some Vancouverites might be complaining about the cold snowy start throughout the day, it's quite a bit worse in the eastern Fraser valley," meteorologist Mr. MacDonald said.
Cold arctic air and strong winds are creating a wind chill of -28 C in Hope, Chilliwack and nearby regions, where more than 40 cm of snow has accumulated so far this week. All schools in Chilliwack have been closed for Wednesday, as well as numerous others in Abbotsford and all University of the Fraser Valley campuses.
"They've really been hit the hardest with this whole week of winter weather," said Mr. MacDonald. "With all that cold air and now the windy conditions, it's blizzard-like in Hope and Chilliwack today."
Mr. MacDonald said the cold air mass is expected to completely pass through the province by the end of the week. This arctic air has created wind chills approaching -50 C in northern and interior parts of the province.
"That's all going to come to an end this weekend," Mr. MacDonald said. "We'll get into this onshore flow, and milder pacific air will wash all that cold arctic air out."
But he warned that "the transition period on Friday is going to be quite messy, because the precipitation is going to turn from snow to freezing rain and then to rain."