Chilliwack winter storm a lesson on the value of preparation

Last week’s snowstorm, fast, furious and thankfully finished, came on the heels of what most of us were enjoying as a warm and balmy winter.

Last week’s snowstorm, fast, furious and thankfully finished, came on the heels of what most of us were smugly enjoying as a warm and balmy winter.

By Wednesday evening the maximum high temperature was -10.8 degrees C and the low -14.0 degrees C with wind chills at a bone-numbing -29 degrees C. That’s prairie winter stuff! According to Roger Pannett, volunteer weather observer for Environment Canada, last Wednesday Chilliwack experienced the coldest temperature since the low of -16 degrees C on December 29th 1990.

Snow drifts, white out conditions and dangerously cold temperatures virtually shut down the town. At one point all main north-south routes in Chilliwack were closed as were all schools and the UFV.

Then the ice rain arrived, coating trees and power lines and encasing the 30 cm to 90 cm drifts with up to 12 mm of ice in some places.

Compare the last seven days to December when Pannett said it was the driest December up until December 25th since 1914. “After the mildest Christmas Day since 2005, temperatures peaked for the month at 12.4oC (8.0oC above normal). Rainfall totals were 63.86 per cent below normal and as in December 1991 there was an absence of snowfall.”

Sounds like January was Nature’s catch-up.

Maybe the extreme turn-around from mildest to coldest is good reason to get up to speed and take stock of being prepared for sudden weather changes. There’s still a month or two of winter ahead and those Arctic outflows could return. It’s very easy to be caught with too few supplies of food, first aid, medications, candles and matches as well as flashlights and extra batteries if the power goes out,  extra blankets, firewood and kindling if you have a wood burning stove or fireplace, pet food, livestock feed, water, and a battery-powered radio.

The City of Chilliwack has some good, practical advice on its website www.chilliwack.ca under its General Preparedness link. And the B.C. government’s Provincial Emergency Program has a great on-line book entitled Individual and Neighbourhood All Hazard Emergency Preparedness Workbook (www.pep.bc.ca/hazard_preparedness/AllHazards_WEB.pdf). The link is also on the City’s website. The book was originally developed for earthquake preparedness but given the variety of hazards we can be faced with it also addresses floods, forest fires including interface fires, landslides, avalanches, severe storms, tsunamis and hazardous material spills.

The whole point to being prepared is having a plan on what to do in any eventuality and having a supply kit that contains everything everyone in the family will need to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours. Keep the kit accessible, review it every 3-6 months, refresh it as necessary and store it away from dampness or the potential for rodents to check it out. Everyone in the family needs to know where it is.

This is all well and good if everyone is at home during an emergency. But anyone commuting needs a travelling emergency kit in the event they become stranded because of snow, white-outs, freezing rain or power lines down on the road that prevent one from reaching a destination.

These kits should include a small first aid kit, medications, a notebook with contact phone numbers, bottled water, nutritious snacks, survival blanket, extra clothing, flashlight, sturdy walking shoes, hat, gloves, and a whistle (three short blasts mean help). And your cell phone should be fully charged

An emergency can separate families with everyone at work, school, university, home, or travelling. Reaching one another might be difficult if contact is broken..Consult with an out-of-town relative or friend who will act as a conduit to relay messages and information.

Last week’s storm was brief. But be prepared for those that aren’t.