Winter officially began at 11:02 a.m. on Dec. 21, and that became quickly apparent to residents of south Vancouver Island, when they awoke on Monday morning.
What began as an ordinary rainy west coast day quickly turned to heavy snow before 8 a.m. making morning commutes treacherous.
Environment Canada quickly issued a wind and snowfall warning for the region stating that a deepening Pacific low is making its way across Washington state today and abundant moisture associated with the low will result in very heavy wet snow over east Vancouver Island.
Heavy snow on trees causing branches to break and take down power lines was the main reason cited for the many power outages that began being reported at about 9:30 a.m.
In a noon update, BC Hydro said about 32,000 customers on Vancouver Island were without power. The hardest hit areas were: Duncan with 13,700 customers out; Gulf Islands with 6,800 customers out; Victoria with 5,600 customers out; and and Nanaimo with 3,800 customers out.
BC Hydro spokesman Ted Olynyk said he couldn’t give estimates as to when power will be restored to those areas, or how many other power outages will be expected during the day.
“We’ll have to wait to see how this progresses,” he said. “It’s not only the Cowichan Valley that is being hit, but Nanaimo, Comox and the Port Alberni areas as well. People are advised to stay away from downed power lines.”
For communities south of Comox, local snowfall amounts up to 15 cm are possible before the precipitation tapers off later today.
As the low moves inland this afternoon, strong northwest winds of 70 km/h and gusting up to 90 km/h will develop over exposed coastal sections of southwestern Metro Vancouver, southern Gulf Islands and southern portions of east Vancouver Island.
These winds will abate overnight.
Armel Castellen, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, called the unexpected snowstorm, just days before Christmas, a “really strange situation.”
“Generally, before we see significant snowfall accumulations like this, an Arctic front would reach the coast and precondition the ground to make it cold enough to hold snow,” Castellan said.
“But we’ve had a warm December to this stage. There’s been a number of storms this fall, but it’s been warm with near record-breaking temperatures for some areas of southern Vancouver Island in recent days. It’s striking to see snow accumulate like this on warm ground.”
Castellan said the south Island is in the thick of the weather system that is expected to last until about 6 p.m.
He urged drivers and pedestrians to be careful on the roads and sidewalks today and follow the instructions on Drive BC if they are planning any highway trips.
“The wet snow this afternoon will be mixed with the increasing winds, making visibility a factor in highway driving on top of the slippery road conditions,” Castellan said.
“The wind could also cause the snow on the trees to crack off branches which could result in power outages.”
Nanaimo RCMP say the snowfall in the north end of the city is heavy, “making driving conditions treacherous.” Police recommend that motorists avoid Rutherford Road and Turner Road, and say they will provide further updates throughout the day.
“If your vehicle is not equipped with snow tires and you do not have experience with winter driving, don’t drive,” noted an RCMP press release. “Additionally, ensure your windows are clear, lights are on and that you have supplies to assist if your vehicle goes off the roadway.”
Environment Canada reminds motorists that visibility is reduced in heavy snowfall.
“Surfaces such as highways, roads, walkways and parking lots may become difficult to navigate due to accumulating snow,” the warning notes.
But Castellan said the system will end Monday night and it will be followed by clear conditions that are expected last until at least Christmas Eve.
‘The temperatures at night during those days could dip to 0C,” he said.
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— with files from Black Press