Rains ease in southern B.C., but flood warnings remain in place for many

December 2, 2021
Rains ease in southern B.C., but flood warnings remain in place for many

The latest:

  • The third major storm in more than a week eased off in southern B.C. on Wednesday evening, but high temperatures and the risk of snow melt mean communities are still cautiously watching river levels.

  • Evacuation orders remain in effect for properties near waterways in the Fraser Valley, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and the Sea to Sky region. For more on evacuation alerts and orders, see here.

  • Highway 99 has been closed between Lillooet and Pemberton after a mudslide. Many highways in the province are still under travel advisories. For a full list of closures, see here.

  • West Coast Express trains were cancelled between Metro Vancouver and the flood-ravaged Fraser Valley because of a mudslide on the tracks.

  • Flood warnings are in place for the Coldwater, Nicola, Tulameen, Similkameen, Spius, Coquihalla, Chilliwack and Sumas rivers, as well as for lower Fraser River tributaries and the Sumas Prairie.

  • A flood watch has been issued for the South, Central and North Coast, as well as all of Vancouver Island. For all flood advisories, see here.

British Columbia is set to begin rebuilding from extensive flooding and mudslides after the last of three major storms eased off on Wednesday evening, but flood warnings remain in place for large parts of the province.

Communities battered by floods, including many in the Fraser Valley and the Nicola Valley east of Vancouver, remain under flood warning because of high river levels and elevated temperatures causing snow melt.

A flood watch means river levels are rising and may exceed their banks and flood adjacent areas. A flood warning means river levels have exceeded or will exceed their banks, and nearby areas will flood as a result.

A barn is surrounded by floodwater in the Sumas Prairie flood zone in Abbotsford on Monday. Even though rains eased in the drenched province, flood warnings remain in place for many parts of southwest B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Numerous highways also remain closed throughout the province, including Highway 99 between Lillooet and Pemberton because of a mudslide, as well as Highway 3 east of Princeton.

A mudslide on Canadian Pacific train tracks also led to West Coast Express commuter trains between Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley being cancelled, with further closures on Thursday morning because of a mudslide on the tracks.

View of a street sign as an evacuation order is issued for the Everglades Resort on Hatzic Island near Mission, B.C. Commuter trains to and from the community were affected by a mudslide. (Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters)

In Abbotsford, there are concerns that snow melt from Mt. Baker in Washington state could lead to more floodwater flowing into the Fraser Valley from across the U.S. border.

The storm systems that brought rain to much of southwest B.C. over the last two weeks of November also brought elevated temperatures, according to meteorologists.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said modelling showed water levels would subside toward the end of the week, but said the situation could change in minutes.

“I would like to stress that even though it may not be actively raining, there is a lot of rainwater and snow melt that is still making its way down from the mountains,” he said on Wednesday. 

“The situation still remains variable and we are continuing to monitor this situation very closely.”

WATCH | Higher temperatures from storms bringing risk of snow melt:

Snow melt the next factor for B.C. floods as rain subsides

The rain has started to subside in B.C., but unseasonably warm temperatures mean snow melt could still impact water levels and contribute to increased flooding. 2:45

New mudslides lead to highway closures

After numerous temporary highway reopenings, closures on Wednesday meant Metro Vancouver was once again effectively isolated from the rest of the province.

A fresh mudslide on Highway 99, in the Sea to Sky region, led to a closure between Pemberton and Lillooet. The stretch earlier saw a mudslide that left four people dead and one missing during the mid-November storm.

Highway 3 from Hope to Princeton is open for essential travel only. However, on Wednesday flooding east of Princeton forced a closure between Taylor Way and Old Hedley Road. There is no detour for commercial vehicles, but light vehicles may navigate around the closure using Old Hedley Road.

The stretch of Highway 1 between Abbotsford and Chilliwack in the Fraser Valley also remains closed, meaning transport to and from the Interior is once again constrained for those in Vancouver.

Extensive rebuilding on washed-out highways, including the Coquihalla (Highway 5), is expected to take a long time, further constraining the supply chain throughout the province.

WATCH | Supply chain snarled throughout B.C.:

B.C. floods take toll on local supply chain

Supply chains in British Columbia have been greatly slowed by recent flooding and residents are seeing the shortages play out on store shelves and in restaurants. 2:03

Report says flood forecasting centre understaffed

The River Forecast Centre, which issues flood warnings for the whole province, was found to be understaffed in a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on Wednesday.

Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the CCPA, said the centre in its current form is ill-equipped to anticipate and respond to flooding events.

The Similkameen River running through Princeton, B.C., on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the river was upgraded from flood watch to flood warning by the B.C. River Forecast Centre. A flood watch means river levels are rising and may exceed their banks and flood adjacent areas. A flood warning means river levels have exceeded or will exceed their banks, and nearby areas will flood as a result. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Parfitt said understaffing could lead to an inability to effectively communicate timely warnings — something he said happened in B.C. during these past two weeks.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth defended the institute, saying the centre “does an amazing job and we have extraordinary individuals that do amazing work”. 

However, he acknowledged that the government would be reviewing its response to the flooding emergency going forward.

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