Travel chaos as heavy snow grounds flights at Vancouver airport

Authorities across BC’s South Coast urged residents to stay home on Tuesday after a rare, major snowfall choked virtually every avenue of transportation, from grounded flights at the airport to jammed traffic on the roads.

Heaps of blowing snow and unusually frigid temperatures swept the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island overnight and through the morning, leaving up to 37 centimeters of fresh powder in some elevated residential areas.

The weather led to “mass cancellations” at Vancouver International Airport (YVR). All flights were suspended at 7:30 am PT with only a handful of domestic and international routes being cleared for takeoff throughout the day. Virtually every flight set to leave Vancouver through to 5:30 pm was either canceled or delayed Tuesday, during the airport’s busiest week of the year.

Terminals were filled with exhausted, frustrated passengers clamoring for customer service desks or sleeping on the floor with coats for makeshift pillows. One man rested his head on the baggage carousel, surrounded by a sea of ​​luggage left unclaimed in the confusion.

Several departing planes full of passengers were left sitting on the frozen tarmac overnight, unable to return to the gate to let travelers deplane.

“People were throwing up, people were yelling for a doctor or nurse because they were having panic attacks, there was a cat in there walking around and I think it used the bathroom as well,” said Jessica Campbell, who was stuck at the gate on her Toronto-bound flight for 12 hours.

“It was just a really traumatic, horrific scene in there.”

Travelers have been asked to check their flight status before leaving home and avoid the airport unless absolutely necessary.

Watch | Chaos at YVR as flights delayed:

Passengers at YVR stuck on plane for 12 hours due to snow delays

Jessica Campbell describes the panic felt on her plane as passengers were left in the dark and unable to leave their plane, which was grounded at YVR due to snowy conditions.

As for travel by sea, a spokesperson said BC Ferries canceled the majority of its sailings on all three major routes between the Mainland, Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and southern Gulf Islands because of poor visibility and difficulty reaching ferry terminals. Some shorter routes resumed sailing Tuesday morning while ships traveling between Vancouver and Victoria were still waiting for conditions to clear, according to the latest information on the BC Ferries website.

Police in Abbotsford, east of Vancouver, reported whiteout conditions on Highway 1.

Heavy snow covered parts of southern Vancouver Island in up to 30 fresh centimeters, while Metro Vancouver got as much as 25 centimeters — a rare event for a region that typically does not receive much snow.

“This might be the biggest snowfall since 2008 for much of the South Coast, particularly Victoria,” CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said from Metro Vancouver’s snowed-in North Shore.

“We just have this big Arctic air mass in place — any system that moves in from the Pacific is going to fall as snow and that’s exactly what happened.”

WATCH | Passenger stranded on tarmac for 12 hours describes the scene inside the plane:

Chaos at YVR as snow grounds flights

Hundreds of passengers have had travel plans thrown into disarray as heavy snow at the Vancouver International Airport results in delays and cancellations.

Environment Canada has weather warnings in effect for virtually all of BC, forecasting either blowing snow, extreme cold or Arctic outflow conditions. Winter storm warnings for Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands were lifted Tuesday afternoon but the agency said severe cold will stick around even after the snow stops on Tuesday.

  • Do you have photos or videos of the snow to share? Email bcphotos@cbc.ca.

“We do want to advise that after the system moves through, the Arctic [air] will really settle in over the region,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Jonathan Bau, referring to the South Coast.

“So we are forecasting near, if not at, record-breaking lows for tonight and Wednesday night.”

WATCH | Rare combination of snow, cold causes significant travel problems on BC’s South Coast:

‘A lot of snow for us in particular,’ says BC reporter

A rare combination of cold temperatures, ice and snow is causing significant travel problems on the South Coast of BC, says CBC News reporter Susana da Silva.

The University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of the Fraser Valley all canceled in-person exams on Tuesday.

Shortly before 4 pm PT Environment Canada gave an update on the unusually heavy snow that fell overnight into Tuesday in a number of places across BC:

  • Malahat Highway: 37 centimeters.
  • Victoria International Airport: 36 centimeters.
  • Nanaimo: 30 centimeters.
  • Pitt Meadows: 28 centimeters.
  • Downtown Vancouver 30 centimeters.
  • Vancouver International Airport: 27 centimeters.
  • White Rock: 34 centimeters.
  • Abbotsford International Airport: 19 centimeters.
  • West Vancouver: 16 centimeters.

The province said drivers in the Lower Mainland “are advised to stay off the road unless their vehicle is properly equipped with winter tires.”

For those with winter tires who must drive, a statement Monday said drivers should pack an emergency kit in their vehicles.

Elsewhere around BC, the ongoing deep freeze produced several daily minimum temperature records Monday, including a low of –46.8 C west of Williams Lake, while the Quesnel area broke a record set 78 years ago when it reached a low of –37.5 C.

Northern BC is covered in extreme cold or Arctic outflow warnings, with frigid conditions expected to continue this week.

WATCH | Tips and tricks for driving in the snow:

Tips and tricks for driving in the snow

CBC Vancouver host Lien Yeung takes a driving lesson at Mount Seymour with Driving Unlimited Academy instructor Patrick Ah-Yu, who shows her how to get a car winter-ready and provides tips on driving in snowy conditions.

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