The debate has begun: which was worse, the winter of 1996 or February, 2019?
Some argue we got more snow, and faster, back in 1996. They are right. But the snow is sticking around longer this year, others say. Four days or so into this blast of winter, as of Tuesday morning, there looks to be no relief in sight. Short breaks in the falling snow last just long enough for folks to get out and shovel before it starts up again. Thus far roughly 45 cm of snow has blanketed the greater Duncan area with more or less falling in nearby communities, depending which direction you go. Wherever you go, however, crews are scrambling to keep the roads clear — with varying levels of success depending on who you ask.
“We’re tracking a record-breaking year,” said Armel Castellan of Environment Canada Tuesday at noon. “You guys in the Cowichan Valley have been right at the epicentre of it all.”
It snowed enough in the Cowichan Valley on Sunday that even the municipal crews tasked with removing it had trouble.
And the snow just keeps coming.
Castellan said we’ve been whalloped by two styles of snowfall: the classic, in which high level areas take a real hit, but there’s also “ocean effect snow” which follows cold outflow winds and which has been pummeling the eastern side of Vancouver Island.
The Valley has averaged about 20 cm in this most recent fall but officially Cobble Hill has seen 22 cm; Chemainus, 30 cm; Shawnigan Lake, 33 cm; Duncan, 35 cm; and Ladysmith, 45 cm.
On Monday alone, Duncan saw 10-12 cm while the Malahat saw 22 cm of snowfall, Castellan said.
If this February is heading for the “snowiest ever” title, then 2014 was second, he said. It blasted past even such February weather as folks experienced back around 1910-20: notoriously white winters.
As for the Blizzard of ’96: that was 100 cm of snow over two and a half days: a huge fall but not in February, he said.
Castellan pointed out that this is “a fairly late arctic intrusion not interspersed with rain” which is uncommon here.
“Usually, the rain comes and we get into a slushfest,” he said. “However, the pulses from the Pacific haven’t been enough to do that this time.”
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring posted to Facebook a photo of a municipal truck stuck in the ditch at the intersection of Castley and Cowichan Lake Roads on Sunday evening, calling it “another indication of how sketchy the roads are,” and acknowledging that “yes… this appears to be one of ours.”
According to the Weather Network, 16 cm of snow fell on Duncan on Sunday — well short of the one-day record for February of 33 cm, set in 1989.
Most schools, both public and private, were closed on Monday and again Tuesday due to winter conditions.
The Malahat was also closed for a period of time on Sunday, and was limited to a single lane in each direction on Monday.
“If you have to drive, have your winter tires and chains and drive to conditions,” Mainroad cautioned.
Current road conditions can be found on drivebc.ca or at @DriveBC on Twitter.
Island Health spokesperson Maribeth Burton said Cowichan District Hospital is in “good shape” in spite of the weather.
“Our hospital is busy but we never turn people away,” she noted. “We are seeing a couple of injuries related to motor vehicle crashes.”
Burton reminded that people who want to see a doctor but who do not have an emergency medical condition should not head to the hospital’s emergency department.
Weather will start to change Thursday, according to Environment Canada.
“We’ll possibly see snow that day but it could switch to rain. It’s a very tricky forecast,” Castellan said, adding a warning for residents to watch out for problems caused by extra-heavy snow.
“This will get very soupy and messy. There will be move weight on roofs, and there will be lots of drainage issues, with localized flooding,” he said.