When I first moved to British Columbia’s “Lower Mainland,” I was surprised by how “a little snow”—something which is accepted as normal in other parts of Canada—brought everything to a standstill here.
Now that I have lived here a while, I understand a little better. The “Lower Mainland” or “Lower Fraser Valley” is the southwest corner of British Columbia. It is a long, broad valley through which the mighty Fraser River travels before emptying into the Pacific Ocean just south of Vancouver. It is called the “Mainland” to distinguish it from Vancouver Island, a large island which lies just offshore.
In the Lower Mainland/Lower Fraser Valley, we get two types of weather in the winter. Mostly we have winds off the Pacific Ocean (called the Pineapple Express) which dump a lot of rain on us. It snows only on the mountains and ski hills, which is the proper place for snow. It looks beautiful there. This year we had 27 days of rain in October and 28 days of rain in November.
Our other kind of winter weather happens when the winds shift to the northeast and strong winds drive cold air down on us from the mountains. The temperature drops below the feeezing level, and wind chill values can be quite high.
Snow only happens occasionally here, when the warm ocean winds push moisture up over the cold air coming down out of the mountains. That is, snow happens in the transition between our two types of weather. Then, one of two things happens. The usual thing is that the ocean winds take over and the rain washes away the snow in a day or two. The other possibility is that the northeast winds take over, which means the snow on the ground can linger for a couple of weeks.
What this means for people who live here is that snow only falls when the temperature is hovering near the freezing mark. The snow (sometimes mixed with rain) melts and freezes. The result is ice, or at least very slippery snow. This is quite different from snow on the Canadian prairies, for instance, which is like grains of ice. You can drive through a foot of snow in Winnipeg without slipping because it is like driving through beach sand.
Several factors here combine to make driving treacherous in the snow. First, the snow is icy and very slippery. Second, we have a lot of hills, steep hills. Third, most drivers here have little experience driving in snow, and few bother to buy snow tires—it’s not worth it for the few days it snows. (This is the same reason most people don’t have snow shovels.) Fourth, because there is not a lot of snow, municipalities do not invest heavily in snow removal equipment—it is cheaper to wait a few days until the snow melts. Combine these factors, and the result is chaos.
Last weekend, it snowed for three days (Friday to Sunday). Schools and churches and businesses were closed. There were numerous accidents on the roads. The wet snow seems to have killed some branches on one of our fir trees (it is no longer cone-shaped). It may also have killed off some of the local hummingbirds, which are at the northern edge of their range here. This was in spite of our efforts to keep switching feeders every few hours so the sugar water in the feeder wouldn’t freeze. And it killed our inflatable Minion Christmas lawn decoration because the pump became jammed with snow and ice. Our street (a cul-de-sac) was not touched by road crews over the three days. But I shoveled the driveway three times. Last night, the man across the road drove his 4X4 to the store to buy a snow shovel. He cleared a narrow path down his driveway to his door, went inside and stayed there. Wise man.