A cold front is set to blanket much of southern B.C. with snow over the weekend, potentially helping floodwaters recede in many communities devastated by floods and mudslides.
Environment Canada issued a snowfall warning for the Fraser Valley and Fraser Canyon east of Vancouver, as well as other regions in the province's Interior. Up to 15 centimetres of snow could accumulate near mountain passes, the agency says.
Armel Castellan, warning preparedness meteorologist at Environment Canada, says the incoming weather conditions will be challenging for drivers but might help flood recovery efforts in much of southwest B.C.
"The cooler conditions are actually helpful in stabilizing the environment," he said. "We are seeing the conditions ameliorate."
Andrew Giles, of the River Forecast Centre, said cooler temperatures are likely to reduce inflow into swollen rivers and also reduce snow melt at higher elevations.
He also said freezing temperatures in the province's Interior would bring down the water levels of the Fraser River.
Calmer river conditions would allow for floodwaters to recede in low-lying areas like the Sumas Prairie region of Abbotsford, southeast of Vancouver, which remains swamped after record-breaking rains in the middle of November.
The northern part of the region was taken off evacuation order on Friday as part of the city's "return home" plan, but most of the area's residents remain away from their homes.
"With the lifting of this order we are asking everyone to exercise extreme caution as they make their way through this newly opened area, especially over the next few days, as we have snow in our forecast," Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said on Friday.
All other areas of the Prairie will remain under an evacuation order until assessment teams deem it safe for residents to return, Braun said, adding that there is no set timeline yet. The region is also under a "do not use" water advisory.
On Saturday, Braun said floodwaters were still coming from across the U.S. border but that they were likely to stop on Sunday with cooler conditions.
He also said water levels in the Sumas Prairie had come down two feet (60 centimetres) over the course of two days, but damage to other infrastructure means the region will not be fully connected for a few weeks.
WATCH | Rebuilding from widespread floods could cost B.C. billions:
Trans Mountain pipeline to reopen on Sunday
The Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries fuel from Alberta to B.C., is set to resume operations on Sunday morning after being out of commission for three weeks.
A spokesperson for Trans Mountain said there was no indication of any spills or damage to the pipeline since it was closed on Nov. 14. It was the longest shutdown in the pipeline's 70-year history.
"We expect that all assessments, repairs and protective earthworks necessary for a safe restart will be completed by [Sunday], and plans have been developed and shared with the Canada Energy Regulator," the spokesperson said.
"Restarting the pipeline has required a significant, sustained effort to reinstate access lost due to damaged roads, changes in river flows and adverse weather."
The reopening of the pipeline is likely to alleviate B.C.'s fuel supply shortage. The province had earlier said it was shipping fuel from other jurisdictions, including the United States, to make up for the approximately 300,000 barrels of oil supplied by Trans Mountain.
Fuel rationing remains in place in the province, with a 30-litre fuel purchase limit until Dec. 14.
Province asks drivers to use winter tires
B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming asked residents to be cautious heading into the weekend, with numerous highways still out of commission due to mudslides and floods.
He stressed that drivers should use winter tires when driving on highways this weekend, with travel advisories also in place allowing only essential traffic on stretches such as Highway 3 through the Interior.
Highway 1 through the Fraser Valley, a crucial link between Metro Vancouver and the rest of the country, was reopened earlier in the week.
Highway 99 north of Vancouver has now been reopened between Pemberton and Lillooet after being closed due to a mudslide. The stretch earlier saw a mudslide that left four people dead and one missing during the mid-November storm.
Much of the Fraser Canyon route along Highway 1 remains closed due to slide damage. Highway 8 between Spences Bridge and Merritt was heavily damaged and remains closed indefinitely.
Fleming said the government is in the planning stages of determining temporary measures to open major arteries between B.C.'s Lower Mainland and the Interior, including the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5), which had five bridges wash out in November.