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Elk Valley digging out after record breaking snowfall

Drive BC is reporting that Highway 3 remains closed from Sparwood to Crowsnest Pass from Elko to 10 kilometers west of Fernie.  - Phil McLachlan
Drive BC is reporting that Highway 3 remains closed from Sparwood to Crowsnest Pass from Elko to 10 kilometers west of Fernie.
— image credit: Phil McLachlan

Traffic is once again flowing along Highway 3 after it was blocked at both ends of the Elk Valley by a record setting snowfall that caused travel delays, school closures and motor vehicle accidents.

From Friday to Monday, the District of Sparwood received an incredible 114 centimetres of snow. On Monday alone it received a little less than 65 centimetres, which came close to  breaking its single-day snowfall record, set on December 3, 1980.

“I don’t think it officially broke the record, but it was very close,” said Alyssa Charbonneau, a meteorologist with Environment Canada. “It was a significant snowfall amount either way you look at it.”

The storm was more than enough to break the town’s single-day snowfall record for February by more than doubling the 24.4 centimetres that fell on February 15, 1986.

Fernie got off comparatively easy, receiving about 40 centimetres from Friday to Monday.

Charbonneau said a number of elements came together to produce the record-setting blizzard.

“There was some really cold arctic air in place in the valley,” said Charbonneau. “Cold temperatures can lead to really light fluffy snow that accumulates quickly. For the same amount of moisture, it can give a lot more depth.”

Environment Canada reported the weather system traveled northeast through the United States before bringing heavy snow to the East Kootenay.

“You had wind sneaking in through the Rockies that met up with a low pressure system, which can really enhance snowfall,” said Charbonneau.

From Feb. 5 to 6, Highway 3 was closed in both directions from Sparwood through the Crowsnest Pass because of limited visibility and heavy snowfall.

The Elk Valley was truly socked in on Monday when Highway 3 was closed between Elko and Fernie due to a high risk of avalanches.

Avalanche Canada’s daily forecast showed an extreme danger rating for the South Rockies.

“We’re essentially cut off,” said Elk Valley RCMP Sgt. Will Thien on Tuesday. “The food trucks can’t come here, so the grocery store’s going to be cut short of supplies.”

Thien said most locals were used to extreme events and were probably prepared.

Asked if this was the worst storm he’s experienced since coming to Fernie four and a half years ago, Thien said, “I’ve had a couple [bad storms], but this is up there.”

On the roads, Thien said there were about five incidents over the weekend including single vehicle accidents on Highway 3 and on an industrial road access east of Fernie.

Many travelers were left stranded by the road closures. In response to the heavy snowfall, the RDEK’s Emergency Operations Centre was activated in the Elk Valley to help coordinate support efforts.

Emergency Social Services (ESS) volunteers opened warming centres in Sparwood, Elko and Fernie to help provide a warm shelter for stranded travelers.

On Feb. 6, RDEK information officer Loree Duczek reported that 38 people had registered at the warming centre in Sparwood and 11 were registered in Elko.

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