Know Before You Go

Weather AlertThe beginning of this month was not a good one for many road users in the province with the weather related closure of 3 major east - west highway routes. Road maintenance contractors generally maintain our roads in good condition for safe driving, but when weather overwhelms their resources it should not be a surprise when road closures are the result. If you choose to travel during major weather events your mantra should be Know Before You Go or perhaps even simply Don't Go.

One news report that I saw found a television reporter interviewing eastbound motorists who were stuck in a closure waiting for the Coquihalla Highway to reopen. The reporter asked one person if they had sufficient notice of the situation. There was a short pause and then a shake of the head. No, "they" could have done a better job was the response. Another related that they were keeping hunger at bay by eating chips and cookies.

This significant weather event should not have been a surprise to anyone. It was not the first storm in recent days and was warned about by every weather report I saw in the days prior to it. DriveBC had a travel warning posted on their web site. Social media was full of stories.

I wonder what the overhead variable message sign had to say for points east of Hope, but I'm guessing that it was not encouraging everyone with a report of good winter driving conditions.

Having chosen to continue the voyage after some consideration, the first responsibility for your health and safety falls to you. Proper winter clothing, food, water, sleeping bags or blankets, flashlights, candles and matches are a few personal supplies to have along. True winter tires, a shovel, tow rope, triangles, flares and some spares would be good choices to add to your vehicle.

Stopping in Hope to top up the fuel tank would have been a good choice to make too, especially if you don't follow the precautionary habit of operating on the top half of the tank.

Regardless of your state of preparation, continued assessment of conditions is mandatory. If you anticipate problems then that is the time to either turn around and head for home or at least find the nearest motel to wait for improvement. Being warm and dry with a full stomach beats sitting on the highway idling your fuel away wondering what will happen.

In a major weather event like this one, "they" are overwhelmed trying to do their jobs to keep you moving or get you moving again. "They" don't have the time or the resources to hold your hand and make sure that you are all right. If you need it, rescue could be a long time coming. First and foremost, it's all up to you.



Also worth mentioning that keeping your fuel tank fuller, rather than emptier, reduces the amount of condensation that can build up in the tank and reduces the chance of the inevitable sludge that forms at the bottom from getting into your fuel system.

Meanwhile, all you need is a computer (like the one in front of you) to take a look in real time at what's going on on the roads around the province - same website.

How embarassing to be interviewed on TV, and knowing it is WINTER!, and saying that you did not get enough notice.

Chips and cookies, Now that is a meal to satisfy a hunger.

I remember years ago leaving Christina Lake heading east. It was snowing quite heavily, and I was going up hill. Then I found myself following a snowplow, and that was it. The snow was so churned up, I had to turn around and spend the night in beautiful Christina Lake.

Nice article with sense included. Here we have no real choice but to tackle the terrain. Latvia is just a mud bowl after heavy snows have melted. Slow and in high gears hope to make it to town via back roads to main. Yes main road is tarmac with no water shed just flat built so large lakes appear in dips. Back roads are sand based and ice over hard. One can drive without much worry then. Once the ice melts the soggy mass of sand and earth mixed by heavy traffic make it deep mud. Up to axles in places. One is on the edge of driving here. Maybe Canada is same? Town is some 12 miles off one way. Takes an hour if lucky longer if we have to dig out the wheels. We go or starve as we are 12 miles from shops and people. In summer it is like living in India so hot. Go with God my friend and trust only in your determination to carry on in conditions so rough.

Correct, it is up to us to check. Some people do not have data on their phones though so when they are travelling they are relying on their radio, if they are in range. They may be the few who had no idea they would be stuck on the roads. I did notice that DriveBC operate, for the most part, during work hours. There have been many times during the night I have tried to check on road conditions in adverse weather for updates and found little updated info. Social media is great for weather and traffic info but again one must have data. Check before you go :)

As it happens my partner had been trying to travel to Vancouver on one of those recent days where the highway ended up being closed. Luckily she did not get stuck in the middle of nowhere, but it was close, and a lot of our time was wasted somewhat unnecessarily. But that's just as an intro to what I wanted to say about "Know before you go".

In an effort to re-schedule the trip we paid particularly close attention to the weather and the highway reports for the next couple of weeks, and I noticed on at least two occasions where the forecast was clearly leaning to definite road closure, but neither DriveBC nor Environment Canada were actually issuing proper alerts until after the road was closed.

So, at least in some recent instances it was a guessing game that relied on personal experience and knowledge of weather patterns and history of particular road conditions to make the go/no-go decision. I suspect this is generally the case too. While anyone with experience was able to avoid getting stuck in the middle of nowhere when the roads closed, there actually weren't any weather alerts in place in sufficient time to warn anyone less experienced with BC driving conditions and so the backups of stuck vehicles were entirely predictable to me.

There was the one case of unexpectedly heavy freezing rain getting ahead of the sand and salt trucks on #5, exacerbated by the large number of big rigs who seemed to be incapable or un-willing to chain up, apparently, and thus causing blockage that prevented maintenance trucks from getting through, but that was the only case were there might have been an excuse, but even then the forecast seemed dodgy enough to me to justify a warning that could have been issued as many as 4-5 hours prior to the event.

All of this is hindsight now I guess, and probably only a fraction of those who got stuck would have heeded any earlier alert, but still.....

It seems to me that both Environment Canada and DriveBC could be much more pro-active at issuing alerts as far in advance as possible if the weather forecast clearly shows the mountain weather will make driving conditions hazardous or even impossible. Such alerts should also be posted directly on those dynamic message signs instead of the mostly useless "know before you go -- check conditions" generic message they have been posting. If I assume the online display of those signs matches reality, they've been entirely useless for warning of potential problems and future conditions, and in some cases they don't even warn of closures far enough in advance of where the road is closed (e.g. Coquihalla highway is closed, but there's nothing about it on the DMS at West Kelowna -- you have to waste a drive all the way to Merritt to find out).

As an aside I have also been repeatedly surprised over recent years that when the road is finally closed and hundreds of vehicles are trapped that whomever is managing the closure isn't actively encouraging everyone to get on a U-turn route and head back to civilization.

Lastly I've also wondered if maybe the apparent lack of data sharing between different agencies may be a contributing factor to this lack of advanced alerts and warnings.

Some time ago I did a bit of research to try to find out if all those weather stations installed along our roads in recent years were feeding data to Environment Canada or not, and so far as I could find, they were, and are, not.

From what I understand one of the major factors meteorologists claim hampers their ability to create good local forecasts is lack of detailed measurements and weather history at these locations. However Environment Canada doesn't seem to have detailed local measurements and history from non-populated places such as mountain passes.

As a result we can get forecasts for Hope, or Merritt, or Kelowna, Kamloops, etc., but we cannot get a proper forecast for the mountain passes, despite the fact there are one or more automated weather stations directly along the roads in these mountain passes!

Of course I don't expect you or I can do much about any of this directly.

It is amazing the number of people involved in the Quebec debacle. Where does common sense come in? The extremely crappy weather should have been an indication that maybe staying in the city would be a good bet, especially being rush hour after work. When you have hundred(s) of vehicles trapped on the highways, can you really expect help out of the predicament in less than the 12 hours that people had to endure. And, that semi with the dangerous chemicals, I don't think should have been on the road. Not so much because that driver can't drive, but all the other vehicles around flying by and curling on the icy roads. The news segment I saw of people scrambling up the hillside as some car came flying into the back end of the pile up wouyld have been scary being among those on the road. Blaming authorities for the length of time that went by to get people out, well, I wasn't there, but seems to me that all the snow coming down and having to plow through it all would take quite a bit of time. People did run out of fuel and were cold, and a couple people did die , which is sad. That is where you definitely need to be prepared for the elements, even if you are close to home or civilization. And the incident on the 401, same thing happened just a month or so ago, didn't it? Leaving your vehicle on the highway and eventually having it towed because it is in the way, and receiving a $200+ towing ticket. Should the government really be paying, or should the owners/insurance companie pay, like all other people in an accident?