Higher than average snowfall increases highway closures

Ministry of Transportation, avalanche technicians use snow science, weather data to determine need for avalanche control

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Traffic congestion in the Blaeberry area late Saturday afternoon. PhotoL DriveBC Highway cam

Across the province higher than average snowfalls have led to an increased number of road closures due to avalanche risk or avalanche control. Closer to home, Three Valley Gap, just west of Revelstoke, saw 287 centimetres of snowfall during the month of December. That’s 171 per cent more than the 10-year monthly average.

Road closures during the winter months are common for Revelstoke and generally take place for three reasons: planned avalanche control, high avalanche risk, or due to a vehicle incident. A spokesperson with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said the process for road closures for planned avalanche control and high risk of avalanche are the same. In both cases the decision to close the highway is made by a team of ministry avalanche technicians who continually assess the conditions of the existing snow pack and evaluate incoming weather systems. Snow science data, along with along with real-time data collected from remote weather stations are used to decide the need for, and length of, a highway closure.

In the case of an accident on the highway, road closures are often necessary due to the dynamic of the situation. Revelstoke RCMP Staff/Sgt Kurt Grabinsky said when a vehicle incident occurs police work with the Ministry of Transportation and advise the local contractor if they require flaggers and assistance. The actual road closure is done by the MOT and the contractor (Emcon). The length of the road closure in these cases depends on number of factors. If a fatality has occurred, RCMP have to start at the highest level of a criminal investigation and work there way down from there, said Grabinksy. The road can only be re-opened once all of the evidence is gathered and any debris is removed.
Data available from the Ministry of Transportation shows there have been seven road closures for avalanche control between Sicamous and Revelstoke in 2020 as of January. There were 18 closures for the winter 2019 season.