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COLUMN: Easy way to check roads before venturing out

If you’re wishing for a white Christmas, I’d rather you kept it to yourself, at least in the Lower Mainland.

If you’re wishing for a white Christmas, I’d rather you kept it to yourself, at least in the Lower Mainland.

The snow I’m looking at through the window this morning is anything but festive, deposited with a sloppy cold rain in a driving windstorm that knocked out power Sunday night and made driving treacherous.

I like snow; dry cold snow in the Interior that squeaks underfoot and actually provides some traction for the tires. The wet slop, and the mounds of slush it creates on the roads throughout the Fraser Valley, is none of that.

Yet this is the time of year when a great many people make the trek to and from points north and east of Hope to join friends and family for Christmas gatherings. Knowing beforehand what to expect on your travels is not only helpful, it can be lifesaving.

That is why the BC Highway Cams are a valuable, yet often overlooked tool for the traveller.

In the winter, and that’s almost anytime between September and June on the Coquihalla, Fraser Canyon or Highway 97 North, my first look at what may be on the road ahead is always a check on the “real time” highway cameras.

Every couple of minutes or so, they are updated with video snapshots of current road conditions as well as providing both air and road temperatures (indicates the potential for freezing rain) along with other pertinent information.

And with some 290 of them on roads near and far, there aren’t very many locations across this vast province that a ‘highway cam’ can’t deliver up-to-date data to your computer or smart phone.

Even if you’re not planning an epic road trip, when the weather is nasty here and that northeaster blows snow into white-out conditions, you can check out what’s happening on the freeway at your doorstep.

There is a camera on Sumas Prairie at Cole Road, three at Bradner Road, and four each at the Clearbrook and McCallum interchanges. All along Highway 1 from Horseshoe Bay to Hope, current images of road conditions allow you to plan (or cancel) your trip knowing what you are going to be up against, and to prepare for that by having in the vehicle what you need to keep warm should you find yourself in an inextricable snowdrift.

Anyone planning to attempt the Coquihalla this time of year without checking out the webcams that broadcast from nine weather-ugly points is a potential candidate for a starring role in the reality-TV series “Highway Through Hell.” That show, in case you’ve never seen it, features a Hope-based towing company that throughout the winter extricates wrecked and stuck vehicles all over the Coq and Canyon.

Interesting show, providing a vicarious visit to disaster scenes essentially in our own backyard, and definitely worth watching if you ever drive our mountain passes in winter (the program actually airs in the spring, following accumulation of suitable footage from the previous winter season of snow, slush and stuck semis).

In the form of a helpful hint to get you through winter driving on some of the most unforgiving roads in the world: simply ‘Google’ BC Highway Cams and click on the region or route of your choice. Forty-seven more were added this year to the array of cameras at strategic locations along most every highway in the province.

Safe travelling this Christmas, and please do all you can to avoid becoming front-page fodder as a highway statistic.