Winter’s wrath descended upon the Fraser Valley last week, freezing roadways, stranding drivers and dumping snow in its wake. The snow turned to rain over the weekend and calmed the chaos the cold snap brought to the Fraser Valley’s roads. As residents and commuters breathed a collective sigh of relief, Environment and Climate Change Canada worked to put the severe weather into context.
According to the agency, the local snowfall this past week amounted to more than 44 cm. With a week left to go in January, the snow dump from this past week alone easily eclipsed the monthly average of 20.3 cm.
“It’s been pretty relentless this past week,” said Meteorologist Matt MacDonald. “We had six storms in seven days. I think we’re all ready for it to be over.”
MacDonald said the current record for the biggest daily snowfall in Agassiz was back on January 3, 1984, when 45.7 cm fell in a single day.
MacDonald said the arctic air that swept in last Sunday was to blame for the sudden onset of winter weather, creating a flash freeze on roads and wreaking havoc for travelers everywhere. He added he was involved in a 20-car pileup in Hope. At one point this past week, there were at least 30 abandoned vehicles along Highway 1 between Chilliwack and Abbotsford.
“I have winter tires, but in those type of conditions, there’s nothing you can do,” MacDonald said.
An avalanche of calls flooded the ICBC dial-a-claim system with more than 12,500 motorists across the Lower Mainland between Jan. 10 to 16. More than 11,000 calls came to the centre Jan. 3 to 9. Last Monday was the busiest day with 3,530 calls made.
Snow removal crews all over the Lower Mainland worked around the clock to keep the streets clear, including the District of Kent.
“Crews are extremely responsive to snowfall events and work very hard with all our available resources to clear roads in a timely manner,” District research and communications coordinator Andrea Rendall said. Rendall added the high wind added to the challenge of keeping the streets clear, but the District was well prepared for the severe weather.
MacDonald said the frequency of blizzard conditions over the past week shocked him. The arctic air, which typically would have stuck around the area for maybe six to 12 hours, stubbornly lingered for days.
The snow ultimately tapered off during the weekend, with only a trace amount of snow falling on Friday, 0.4 cm on Saturday and due to milder, less frigid conditions, rain and in some areas freezing rain, on Sunday.
The worst of January’s snowy weather should be in the past, if forecasts are any indication. MacDonald indicated the air would likely switch to warm air above and cool below, which would change the snow into rain. The big concern now that the snow has fallen is the effect of the snow’s weight on certain structures as well as the increased activity for storm drains.
Gauging what this most recent snowfall means for the season ahead is difficult to predict, MacDonald said, stating temperatures are significantly more able to be estimated than precipitation on a seasonal level.
“People get caught up in thinking this is a harbinger of what’s to come, and it doesn’t really work that way,” MacDonald said.”Seasonal forecasts need to be taken with a grain of salt.”
This year marked the snowiest January in the past five years. There was not a single centimetre of snow in 2019 and only a trace in 2018. In 2017, it was a fairly average January with 21 cm of snowfall. The year 2016 once again saw only a trace of snowfall, and 2015 fell short of the average with 12 cm of snowfall that January.
MacDonald added that the most recent forecasts suggest this season will be colder than average as well.
Last week’s snowfall had its share of chaos to be sure, but it’s not all bad news. MacDonald said the snowfall was great for the snowpack on the area’s mountains. However, MacDonald added, while snowpack activity was up significantly from where it was last year, it’s still too early to predict what this will mean for those concerned about water shortages come the spring.
Elsewhere in the province, the cold snap shattered records extending back to 1916. Quesnel’s previous temperature record of -41.1 C dipped to 41.9 C. Comox also saw record snowfall recently with 34.8 cm covering the ground last Wednesday, breaking a 23.4 cm record set on the same day in 1951.
British Columbia holds the distinction of holding a few nationwide records when it comes to snowfall. In the 1971-72 winter season, Mount Copleand in Revelstoke still holds the record for seasonal snowfall, accumulating more than 2.4 metres of snow. Farther northeast, Tahtsa Lake is home to the greatest snowfall in a single day. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, February 11, 1999 saw a massive 145 cm of snowfall.
For up-to-the-minute reports on adverse weather conditions, follow Environment and Climate Change Canada on Twitter at @ecccweatherbc.