Islanders survive first snowfalls

Advanced prep reduces potential strife

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Salt Spring Islanders came through the first blast of winter with few complaints, as prudence, preparation and favourable conditions combined to keep drivers largely out of ditches through last week’s snows.

The island’s new road maintenance contractor Emcon Services kept on top of snow clearing with 24-hour operations through the week, while abiding by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s road priority schedule.

“From the information that I have gathered, we feel that our crews have performed quite well. I have had some stakeholder input, and the majority was positive. So, kudos to crew for the long hard days that they have put in and big thank you to the public for expressing their gratitude,” said Emcon’s regional road safety patroller, Andrew Gaetz. 

Salt Spring Fire Chief Arjuna George reported the department had very few weather-related calls.

“It was fantastic to see people prepared and not driving on the roads unnecessarily,” George said. “I think the advanced warning and weather forecasting along with time of day really helped — it did not catch people off guard unlike other previous winter storms. The snow was a drier snow and less slippery as well, but our road crews did an excellent job keeping up with the heavy snowfall. Good job, Salt Spring.”

Bob Elsea is a Dukes Road resident who was impressed with new contractor Emcon Services when he found his road was plowed on Wednesday morning. 

“It hasn’t happened within the first three days of a snowfall in five years,” he said. “Not only had it been plowed but the operator understood the principle of leaving the snow from one lane on that side and the snow from the other lane on the opposite side rather than leaving a four-foot-high pile in front of the driveways on one side of the road . . . You guys rock.”

The snow lasted throughout the week but bad conditions peaked in the middle. Last Wednesday was a snow day for all Gulf Islands students and many other people who chose to stay home safe and off the roads. Several businesses on Salt Spring also chose to remain shuttered, including the three financial institutions.

BC Ferries took pre-emptive measures and cancelled all major route sailings from 3 p.m. onward last Wednesday, as well as on the Tsawwassen-Southern Gulf Islands route. Evening sailings from Salt Spring’s Vesuvius and Fulford terminals were also cancelled ahead of the major winds. 

“It was a highly unusual situation to cancel all three routes to Salt Spring Island on Jan. 15. However, the storm was that severe that we cancelled for safety reasons. On that day, we cancelled a total of 97 sailings across 12 routes, including Bowen Island and Langdale, which are two routes that rarely see wind cancellations,” reported BC Ferries’ public affairs director Deborah Marshall. 

“When we experience these severe weather events, we speak directly to meteorologists at Environment Canada. They use three different models to predict the weather. When all three models align and are telling them the same thing, they have high confidence of the timing, severity and duration that a storm is going to hit. This was the case on Wednesday, Jan. 15 so we wanted to make the call as soon as possible to give customers time to make alternate arrangements.”

Marshall noted that in other cases with less certainty to the forecast, the ferry corporation may wait longer to make the call, as there can be a strong possibility that sailings can go ahead.

Winds were again gusting and more snow fell overnight from Friday through the early hours on Saturday, but warming had already started and conditions turned to rain by Saturday morning. 

For more on this story, see the Jan. 22, 2020 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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