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UPDATED: Frigid temperatures ease, but snow, freezing rain, floods bring new risks to B.C.

A travel nightmare before Christmas in Vancouver, extreme cold warnings persist for other parts B.C.
A man wearing a Canadian flag stands in the middle of a snow-covered road while he waits for the bus in North Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, January 15, 2020. Vancouver and the lower mainland have been hit with cold temperatures and snow. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A near weeklong swath of extreme cold warnings is slowly being lifted across British Columbia, but as frigid conditions ease, new risks arrive in the form of freezing rain, rain and potential flooding.

Environment Canada is maintaining extreme cold warnings for parts of northern and southeastern B.C., where wind-chill values range from minus 35 to nearly minus 50.

Elsewhere, snow blankets most areas and snowfall or winter storm warnings are up for much of the lower two-thirds of B.C., with snow accumulations of five to 20 centimetres or more, depending on the region.

The weather office also forecasts ice pellets or freezing rain for much of the south coast, including Greater Victoria and Metro Vancouver, as a layer of above-freezing temperatures forms on top of the current arctic air mass.

It says those conditions could lead to ice accumulations of up to five millimetres around Victoria and the southern Gulf Islands, and as much as 25 millimetres in the Fraser Valley before heavy rain drenches much of the south coast, raising the potential for flooding as snow and ice clog storm drains.

The freezing rain has prompted advisories for travellers to stay off roads, including mountain passes to the Interior, while WestJet and Air Canada have cancelled dozens of flights and many BC Ferries sailings have been scrubbed.

Both the Port Mann and Alex Fraser bridges over the Fraser River were shut Friday due to winter weather and the risk of falling ice, adding to a day of travel woe in Metro Vancouver ahead of Christmas that also included major SkyTrain disruptions.

The Transportation Ministry said freezing rain caused ice to accumulate on the cables of both bridges, meaning they had to be closed for public safety until warmer weather improves conditions.

There was no estimate when either the Port Mann carrying Highway 1 or Alex Fraser carrying Highway 91 would reopen.

In another blow to commuters, TransLink announced Friday around 1 p.m. it was halting the SkyTrain’s Expo Line route that Surrey, southeast of Vancouver. The Millennium Line servicing Burnaby and Coquitlam to the east of Vancouver was also in trouble.

TransLink blamed “multiple track issues, caused by ice buildup,” and urged would-be passengers to avoid travel.

Restricted Expo Line service restarted after a couple hours, but terminated at Columbia station before the river.

“We are doing everything possible to resume service as quickly as possible, but our strong advice to customers is to avoid travel at this time,” TransLink said in a news release.

The Millennium Line was experiencing significant delays, with no service between Lougheed and Burquitlam stations. There were also delays on the Canada Line servicing Richmond and Vancouver International Airport

Dave Earle, president of the B.C. Trucking Association, said Friday that the next 24 hours were going to be incredibly challenging and many truckers chose not to be on the roads if their cargo was not essential.

“A lot of loads that had discretion in terms of being able to move either today or wait 24 hours, are just going to wait 24 hours,” he said.

Earle said the association sent notices out to members warning them to be prepared for lengthy stoppages at the side of the road.

“There’s a number of vehicles that are pulled over, not just in B.C., it’s right down the corridor, all the way down,” he said.

“I’ve seen pictures as far as southern Oregon, with vehicles just pulled over to the side of the road, recognizing there’s no way that they can travel safely.”

He said drivers recognize that what they’re carrying is important to people,, particularly during the holiday season, but the priority is to stay safe.

The freezing rain has prompted advisories for travellers to stay off roads, including mountain passes to the Interior, while WestJet and Air Canada have cancelled dozens of flights and many BC Ferries sailings have been scrubbed.

BC Transit announced that all bus services in the Central Fraser Valley had been suspended until further notice.

Buses were also cancelled in Greater Victoria until at least the early afternoon when BC Transit said it would be able to safely re-evaluate road conditions.

All scheduled WestJet flights in and out of Vancouver International and four regional airports have been halted until Friday afternoon, weather dependent.

In an update Friday, Vancouver International Airport said it was working with Air Canada and WestJet to safely restart operations after the widespread cancellations.

A total 39 flights between midnight and noon Friday had successfully been de-iced, including some U.S. and international flights previously affected by a two-day restriction put in place to clear congestion on the tarmac, the airport said.

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