Victoria Snowbound: Here's Everything You Need to Know

In a few hours, Victoria got more snow than it's seen in five of the last 10 years

By Capital Daily Staff
January 15, 2020

Victoria Snowbound: Here's Everything You Need to Know

In a few hours, Victoria got more snow than it's seen in five of the last 10 years

Victoria Snowbound: Here's Everything You Need to Know

In a few hours, Victoria got more snow than it's seen in five of the last 10 years

By Capital Daily Staff
January 15, 2020
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Victoria Snowbound: Here's Everything You Need to Know

Greater Victoria has been hit by an overnight dump of between 20 and 30 cm of snow; sparking snarled transportation and shutdowns across the region. To put last night’s snowfall in context, in only a few hours Victoria saw more snow than in five of the last 10 years. And, just as the snowflakes stop falling, Environment Canada is now warning of extreme winds. Below, The Capital's comprehensive guide to navigating the newly snowbound city.

All schools in the Greater Victoria School District are closed Wednesday. Although School District 61 had kept doors open as snows kicked up on Tuesday afternoon, by early Wednesday the district had definitively declared a snow day.

Not only are Victoria roads covered with snow today, but they’re covered with the worst kind of snow. Speaking to the Times Colonist, Environment Canada meteorologist Matt MacDonald said that the compact, slushy snow that typically strikes the relatively temperate Capital Region is much more treacherous that the dry powdery snow seen in colder areas. 

Courtesy of reader Gary Strickland, a scene of snow near Dean Park (note the palm tree).

BC Transit is warning that buses “can be expected late.” Nineteen routes were subject to some sort of cancellation as of Tuesday night, with more expected as the snow piles up. handyDART has also been moved only to essential services, with all non-medical trips cancelled.

BC Ferries are cancelling all sailings between Swartz Bay and the mainland for the remainder of Wednesday. It has nothing to do with the snow, and everything to do with high winds lashing the Strait of Georgia. This comes after days of suspended or delayed ferry service, either due to winds or, on Sunday, a serious collision on the Tsawwassen causeway.

Homeless shelters are filled to capacity. Even with emergency cold weather shelters opened and extra sleeping mats laid down at conventional shelters, homeless advocates are desperately seeking out more spaces for Victoria’s street homeless.

BC Hydro is reporting the province's highest-ever electricity consumption. Driven by furnaces and space heaters, Monday's 10,302 megawatts eclipse the previous record of 10,194 tallied on January 3rd, 2017. "With below-freezing temperatures and more snow expected over the coming days, the demand for electricity is expected to remain high, and BC Hydro is expecting peak loads between 9,800 and 10,600 megawatts," wrote the utility in a statement.

A lack of municipal plowing equipment has left roads impassable for a populace that still drives predominantly on winter tires, and sidewalks have been left to the fates of adjoining property owners. But as a post from Virgin Radio pointed out, Victoria's separated bike lanes curiously obtained top priority in getting the attention of civic plows.

CFB Esquimalt has been placed into a partial shutdown. Canada’s only Pacific naval base is being operated Wednesday with only “critical personnel” in order to protect the “personal safety for all Defence Team Members.”

A spate of flight cancellations have struck Victoria International Airport. As of Wednesday morning, two Calgary-bound WestJet flights were cancelled, as well as a number of connector flights to Vancouver. 

Victoria bird-lovers are jury-rigging ways to feed hummingbirds in freezing weather. Syrup in the feeders will freeze at below-zero temperatures, although it can be kept liquid by heating with Christmas lights or insulating the feeder with fleece or bubble mailers. However, don’t get too worried about the tiny birds. Anna’s hummingbird, a species common to the West Coast, is known to cope with cold weather by entering into a semi-hibernation state.

Victorians don't appear to be extending the same courtesies to their delivery drivers. Delivery services such as Skip the Dishes continued unabated throughout the depths of the storm. In a series of Tuesday night Tweets, one Skip the Dishes driver reported that his night of peril on Victoria roads was being rewarded with complaints and withheld tips.

Some enterprising drivers were using Victoria's slick roads as an opportunity to test the traction capabilities of their vehicle. The driver above was captured Tuesday evening on a DriveBC webcam.

Meanwhile, a Twitter account run by a Victoria paramedic was calling out drivers who failed to slow down in inclement conditions, even when passing a crash scene. "I'm utterly blown away by how many people aren't slowing down past a incident scene ... posted speed limits are for ideal roads, this [definitely] isn't," he wrote from a crash scene Tuesday night.

Victoria accountant Jeremy Cook used his car’s dash cam to record his snowy Tuesday evening commute down Sooke Road. The sped-up video shows small groups of cautious traffic navigating a snow-dusted winter wonderland that is admirably devoid of crashes. BC Agriculturre Minister Lana Popham similarly recorded her Tuesday night drive up the Pat Bay Highway just after the worst of the snowfall had abated, showing cars working their way along a tarmac still all-white with snow.

Butchart Gardens is still open. The attraction has just removed their Christmas lights display, but are reporting that paths are cleared for anyone who can make it out to Brentwood Bay.

A massive snowball fight took over the lawn of the BC Parliament Buildings on Tuesday evening. The battle had been pre-planned on Facebook, just like a similar snowball fight that capitalized on snow in 2019. 

In other legislature news, BC premier John Horgan joked Tuesday that the legislature “should have got a snow blower instead of a wood chipper.” The quip was a reference to the 2018 BC Legislature Spending Scandal which legislative staff ran up thousands of dollars in questionable expenses, including a wood chipper.

While the current snow dump is in the "once in a decade" category of intensity, it still doesn't hold a candle to the Blizzard of 1996. That particular snow storm, which effectively ground Victoria to a halt for several days, saw 65 cm of snow in 24 hours; more than double last night's tally.

For any Victorians tempted to complain about the weather to Canadian cousins, the B.C. capital remains by far the warmest place in Western Canada. All of Alberta is being swept by temperatures below -30, and the Chilcotin region of the B.C. Interior recently hit a record-breaking -48.5. As of Wednesday morning, the only major city in the entire country without freezing temperatures was Toronto, where the mercury hovered around one degree.

Courtesy of the BC Archives.

Victoria is hit particularly hard by snow due to a lack of the snow-clearing heavy equipment known in other cities. But take heart that the conditions outside are still exponentially better than 1916. An even larger dump of snow paralyzed the BC capital in February of that year, forcing the city to dig itself out using nothing but shovels. The photo above shows a work team slowly digging out the roads around the BC Parliament Buildings.

One thing's for sure: The snow will be short-lived. Environment Canada is forecasting a snow-melting high of 4 degrees on Wednesday, with Saturday yielding up to a balmy 8 degrees with rain. So, enjoy the winter wonderland while you can before it turns to grey mush.

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