Winter storm shuts down highways, leaves thousands without power as high winds forecast for South Coast

More weather alerts are in effect for several regions of British Columbia as winter storm conditions continue to wreak havoc on the province’s highway and utility systems.

Environment Canada says heavy snow is forecast for the province’s Interior on Friday and is warning drivers about hazards on major highway routes, some of which have been closed.

Much of the north has been placed under extreme cold alert and, as B.C. Hydro crews scramble to restore power to thousands of customers on the South Coast, a wind warning has been issued for Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria.

According to DriveBC, a high risk of avalanche has already forced the closure of Highway 3 at Allison Pass and Kootenay Pass, as well as Highway 1 north of Yale. Highway 5, which had been open to commercial traffic only, is currently closed between Hope and Merritt due to freezing rain. Highway 99 remains open despite an avalanche warning between Pemberton and Lillooet.

Snowfall and slick roads have prompted travel advisories in the interior for sections of Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton, the Trans-Canada from Eagle to Rogers Pass, the Coquihalla Highway between Hope and Merritt and the Yellowhead and South Klondike Highways.

Up to 25 centimetres of snow is possible for the Coquhalla Highway on Friday as an intense Pacific frontal system continues to bring heavy snow and freezing rain to the area.

Freezing rain is forecast for parts of the Fraser Valley and Howe Sound, prompting an advisory for the Sea-to-Sky Highway, as well.

Road conditions are available at drivebc.ca.

Schools have been closed for another day in the Mission, Chilliwack and Fraser Cascade school districts.

Wind warning

Environment Canada is forecasting strong winds for Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria starting Friday morning, which does not bode well for B.C. Hydro crews as predicted gusts of up to 90 km/h could cause more power outages.

More than 20,000 customers woke up in the dark Friday morning, primarily in the Lower Mainland, the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island.

“An intense low pressure system will generate strong winds to the region beginning this morning,” warns Environment Canada, which says the winds should ease through the afternoon.

The winter storm caused a tree to fall on a car in Vancouver on Tuesday. Environment Canada is forecasting strong winds for Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria Friday morning, which could topple trees and pose a problem for B.C. Hydro customers. (Ben Nelms)

Watch out for frostbite

On Thursday, temperatures in the north dropped below -40 C in some communities, with Dease Lake hitting -43.5 C, a record-setting low for the town near the Yukon border.

Extreme cold alerts have been issued Friday for Dease Lake, as well as the Peace River region, Cassiar Mountains, Haines Road, Muncho Lake Park and Williston.

According to Environment Canada, a very cold air mass hovering over northern B.C. through Saturday, combined with moderate winds, could create wind chill values below -40 C.

The weather agency is warning people to watch for cold-related symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain, muscle pain and weakness, numbness and colour change in fingers and toes.

To find forecasts for your community, visit Environment Canada.

For a list of shelters, including women-only and family shelters where people experiencing homelessness can get out of the cold, visit B.C. Housing.

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