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Blowing snow brings whiteout conditions and road closures to Abbotsford
The closure of three Abbotsford elementary schools, in the areas most severely impacted by the severe weather today (Tuesday), went "fairly efficiently and quickly," according to school district spokesman Dave Stephen.
He said many students attending Matsqui, Upper Sumas and Barrowtown elementaries were picked up by parents, while about 25 kids were transported by school bus to W.A. Fraser middle school.
The school district declared all schools open early this morning, but announced at about 10 a.m. that the three elementaries were shutting down due to high winds that caused white-out conditions from blowing snow. Drifts as high as five feet were reported on Sumas and Matsqui prairies.
In response to criticism from some parents that schools were opened at all today, Stephen said all emailed and phoned-in comments will be reviewed by staff.
He said transportation and facilities staff check bus routes and schools, starting at 4:30 a.m. on questionable weather days. A decision on whether to close schools is usually made by 5:30.
"This morning, the conditions appeared acceptable. Obviously, the situation deteriorated later in the morning in the areas around those three schools."
He said the final decision to send students to school resides with parents/guardians. Stephen also reminded parents to ensure their children are dressed warmly during inclement weather, as schools are sometimes cooler than normal.
It was also a busy day for Abbotsford Police. At about 9 a.m., they closed Whatcom Road south of Highway 1 to Vye Road due to white-out conditions. As of 4:30 p.m., the road was still closed.
Similar driving conditions on Highway 1 reduced traffic to a conga line between Chilliwack and Abbotsford during the morning commute.
Police also reported treacherous conditions on Highway 11 and Vye Road, and asked the public to avoid these routes.
Const. Ian MacDonald said officers spent the day dealing with motorists impacted by the severe conditions.
"We've had to rescue a number of people whose vehicles went into snowbanks, went off the road or were stranded," he said.
Many drivers did not have proper tires for the conditions, he added.
MacDonald said police reserved their four-by-four trucks for calls to outlying areas, and even called into duty the specially adorned 2004 H2 Hummer that is typically used only in anti-gang presentations to youth.
By 1 p.m., University of the Fraser Valley campuses in Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission announced they were shutting down, due to deteriorating weather conditions.
All classes with start times of 11:30 a.m. or later were cancelled. All offices and classrooms were shut down, and gathering locations were assigned at each campus for those who were unable to leave.
Winds hit speeds of between 60 km/h and 80 km/h, and temperatures dropped to -11 C.
Environment Canada issued an arctic outflow warning. The forecast called for blowing snow with accumulations of 5 cm today, a high of -11 C and a low of -14 C, which will feel like -26 C with the wind chill.
Thursday will bring a high of -7 C and a low of -14 C, again with strong winds.
Friday there will be a chance of snow or freezing rain, with a high of -1 C and a low of -8 C.
Abbotsford and Chilliwack HandyDart was running essential services only. Mission buses were running regular routing, but Route 32 had no service to Superstore due to road conditions, and Route 34 had no service to Alder street via James.
All Abbotsford buses were also regular routing.
Customers can call the transit office for the most up-to-date information at 604-854-5902 or 604-854-3232, or check the website www.bctransit.com/regions/cfv.
For road conditions see drivebc.ca.