As Chilliwack continues to dig out from four days of heavy snow, what’s coming next could be much worse.
Residents across the Fraser Valley should prepare for possible power outages and localized flooding as heavy snow is expected to change over to freezing rain Wednesday night followed by “significant rainfall” on Thursday.
A Winter Storm Watch issued by Environment Canada early Tuesday stated: “Rapidly accumulating snow could make travel difficult over some locations. Surfaces such as highways, roads, walkways and parking lots may become icy and slippery. Localized flooding in low-lying areas is possible.”
Just before 4 p.m. that Winter Storm Watch was changed to a Winter Storm Warning with “[h]azardous winter conditions . . . expected.”
“Snowfall amounts will vary from around [five centimetres (cm)] near the U.S. border to 20 cm or more near Hope where snow may persist through the night.”
Environment Canada meteorologist Matt MacDonald said “a prolonged freezing rain event” is possible. In addition to turning roads into sheets of ice, the freezing rain could accumulate on power lines, leading to outages across the region.
MacDonald urged residents to ensure they have an emergency preparedness kit ready. They should also be prepared not to travel on Thursday, he said.
As of Tuesday, Chilliwack had a total of 88.2 centimetres (cm) of snow fall over five days, according to Roger Pannett, volunteer weather observer for Environment Canada. That volume of snow was packed down to 53 cm on the ground.
The large accumulation coupled with rising temperatures and significant rain calls to mind the perfect storm that arose in 2009 when there was 59 cm of snow on the ground on Jan. 5, 2009 followed by 83.7 millimetres (mm) or rain on Jan. 6 and 76.6 mm more on Jan. 7.
The extreme weather led to flooding, mudslides and nasty conditions all over the city. Greendale was hardest hit and city hall declared a state of local emergency for the area west of Lickman to the Vedder Canal and north to Highway 1.
Since then, however, the city spent $2.5 million on the Collinson pump station upgrade to increase flow capacity into the Vedder Canal.
The current storm led to district-wide school closures Monday and Tuesday, the cancellation of classes at the University of the Fraser Valley and intermittent closures at other city facilities such as leisure centres and libraries.
City crews have been working around the clock since Friday on main roads. They were directed to start clearing the residential streets Sunday, but it’s been slow going given the incredible volume of snow that hit the ground, said City of Chilliwack Operations staff.
By late Monday many residential streets had seen no snowplows at all, but passes had been made in some areas by Tuesday morning.
The 2017 snow removal budget is just over a million dollars, and it’s costing about $85,000 a day right now in materials, snow removal equipment and labour, estimated city reps.
– with files from Jennifer Feinberg and Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News