As the first significant snowstorm of the season receded from Salt Spring this week, islanders began digging out and schedules returned to normal.
All told, the two-part, multi-day storm — which began with swift wet flurries on Tuesday, Nov. 29, took a break and then returned on Friday night — dropped as much as 10 centimetres on some parts of the island, with slippery conditions sending vehicles off roadways as crews worked to clear snow and restore power.
While snow stacked up Tuesday afternoon, Gulf Islands Secondary School’s water taxi students left early to beat forecasted heavy winds, and SD64’s transportation department made the call to shift their buses to “main roads only” protocol. That meant amending or eliminating several bus routes to focus on getting as many students as close to home as possible along the island’s “backbone” roadways. Remaining school buses were packed, and staff at several schools said many caregivers picked up students early — particularly those who knew access to their own homes was deteriorating quickly.
By that time, “main roads only” had gone into effect for Salt Spring Transit as well. Assistant manager Brad Bunyan said while they had some of their “best and most veteran” drivers working and were able to continue through the afternoon, by 6 p.m. conditions had become so poor that evening bus service was suspended altogether.
“Our amazing drivers were up to keep going, but due to the inclement weather, and our large rural situation, sometimes the roads just become less than safe for the bus and passengers,” said Bunyan. “We haven’t seen roads this wet and icy in a long time, so it was deemed too dangerous to keep driving even on the main roads.”
Emcon’s work to maintain access along major roadways during Tuesday’s storm — and the speed with which they made roads passable as the snowfall eased — is credited with a return to nearly normal service Wednesday morning for most school and transit buses.
“By 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, almost everything was fully drivable,” said Bunyan. “There were a few side roads we couldn’t get to right away, but for the most part we barely lost any routing on Wednesday.”
The slow-moving storm gradually knocked out power — temporarily — for more than 2,000 customers on Salt Spring, and thousands more on nearby islands, although Pender and Galiano islanders seemed to be the hardest hit. Most lights were back on within a few hours, but some pockets lost electricity nearly overnight — and some more than once. Crews on Galiano worked during the storm’s second wave Friday to restore service to some 900 customers — who had previously lost power for five hours Tuesday night — until 2 a.m. Saturday morning.
“At the peak we had about 7,000 customers out in the Gulf Islands,” said BC Hydro community relations manager Ted Olynyk, who said the crews deserved praise but Mother Nature’s help was also appreciated.
“At the end of the day, it’s always up to her. She’s in charge,” said Olynyk.
BC Hydro officials said the snow gradually weighed down trees and branches, many of which were already weakened by a series of fall windstorms, until they contacted lines and equipment — often well after the snowfall had begun to subside.
“Unlike a windstorm, snowstorms can often mean large but slower-paced outages as snow takes time to accumulate on vegetation,” read an operational update. “That is why outage numbers spiked after the storm seemed to have passed in some areas.”