B.C.’s coastal and island communities took a beating Monday with winds as high as 170 km/h tearing through parts of the province leaving 110,000 BC Hydro customers without power and crippling some communities as toppling trees made for hazardous travel.
In Kamloops, however, although winds caused dramatic swirls of dust and reports of barbecues and furniture tumbling over, the City fared well through the storm.
“In Kamloops, it was a windy day, but it wasn’t by any means anywhere near records,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Jim Steele.
The City experienced gusts that peaked at 83 km/h recorded at the Kamloops airport just after 1 p.m. Monday.
The east-to-west direction of the wind coincided with the runway’s direction, which made it possible for flights to land and take off without problem, according to airport operations managers.
And no clusters of power outages were reported in the City.
By late afternoon, winds had died down considerably in the hardest hit regions of the province, but in Kamloops, it was still blowing into the evening. By Tuesday, the weather was expected to calm down considerably.
“Looks like we’ll have winds at maybe 20 to 30 km/h (Tuesday) but that’s it,” said Steele.
Over the weekend, Environment Canada issued weather warnings for Vancouver Island, the Vancouver region and the Sunshine Coast, and those warnings proved accurate.
The weather agency recorded wind gusts of 100 km/h in some regions early Monday morning, topping out at more than 130 km/h on northern Vancouver Island.
And one lighthouse reported gusts of up to 170 km/h, said Steele.
By mid-morning, toppled trees and power lines left about 110,000 customers without power, with nearly 90,000 of those on Vancouver Island.
Those numbers began to fall by early afternoon, as the winds died down and crews repaired damaged lines, but BC Hydro said some customers on smaller islands could be in the dark until Tuesday.
BC Ferries cancelled sailings on most major routes to and from Vancouver Island because of the winds and rough seas. Service to those routes was gradually restored as the day progressed.
At least two debris-covered highways were closed for part of the day on Vancouver Island near Campbell River.
In Vancouver, the city’s Stanley Park was shut down briefly because of the high wind and falling tree debris — the first time weather forced the park to close since 2006.
And the power outages and ferry cancellations prompted school closures throughout Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.
BC Hydro crews were working to restore power, though David Lebeter, the Crown corporation’s vice president of operations, said some customers could spend the night in the dark.
“This is the largest storm of this season,” Lebeter said in an interview.
“It is looking like it will be possible that some of the smaller remote islands off Vancouver Island will be without power until tomorrow, if for no other reason than ferries aren’t sailing and we won’t be able to get crews there.”
Lebeter said BC Hydro was expecting the wind storm and had crews on standby to deal with any outages. He said those crews were dispatched immediately when reports of damage came in, but they were forced to stand down briefly as conditions became too dangerous.
The local school district in the Comox Valley area on Vancouver Island had closed all of its 23 schools, keeping nearly 10,000 students out of class.
School District No. 72, in the Campbell River area, also closed all of its schools. The district has 22 schools and more than 5,400 students.
Despite the chaos, the clouds did have a silver lining, said Steele.
“If it had tracked a little further south or hadn’t made the turn north… boy that would’ve been nothing but trouble because it would’ve been closer to main populated areas,” he said.
Winds also brought heavy snowfall to the Coquihalla, causing reduced visibility and blowing snow.
“(Monday’s) travel was probably not very nice out there at all,” said Steele. “An unusually strong and intense storm, no doubt about that. For this late in the season, wow.”
Snowfall was expected to continue overnight with the worst hit areas likely between Merritt and Hope. An additional 15 to 20 cm was anticipated.
VSA Highway Maintenance crews were at the ready, according to vice-president Bob Gilowski on Monday afternoon.
“Our maintenance crews are all full on deck, so watch for (them) over the next 24 hours of the storm and for the clean-up after,” he said.
Snow conditions were expected to ease down to flurries by Tuesday, but Gilowski still took the opportunity to remind people that winter driving conditions still apply in the mountains.
“Winter is far from over the higher mountain passes and people just need to be reminded of that as they travel, especially at this time of the year on spring break.”