Freezing rain that settled onto roadways as black ice wreaked havoc across mid-Vancouver Island this week, with Oceanside RCMP logging more than a dozen motor vehicle incident calls from Monday morning through Tuesday morning.
“It definitely created dangerous driving conditions,” Oceanside RCMP spokesperson Jesse Foreman said Tuesday morning, when police, fire rescue and ambulance crews responded to at least six incidents in the local area. He said the detachment attended another seven accident scenes Monday morning, after overnight rain on the heels of a weeklong cold snap left a sheen of ice coating roads, sidewalks and other surfaces.
Warm temperatures Monday quickly thawed the roads, but another spate of rain and dropping temperatures overnight Tuesday restored the black ice conditions on highways and residential streets alike.
No hospitalizations or serious injuries were reported as vehicles slid from roads into ditches and roadsides.
In one incident Tuesday morning, RCMP and area firefighters responded to a scene on southbound Highway 19 in which two vehicles were found, one on right shoulder and the other in the treed median strip across the southbound lanes.
An RCMP officer on the scene couldn’t say whether the vehicles had collided before leaving the road, or if they slid off in two separate incidents.
“We don’t know yet; everybody was gone when we got here,” he said.
The officer described the highway condition farther north, near the Horne Lake Road exit, as “a skating rink.”
On Monday, the worst of the trouble seemed to be south of the Parksville/Coombs exit off Highway 19. A multi-vehicle incident on the northbound off-ramp from Highway 19 to Parksville, across from the weigh station, snarled traffic and drew first responders and tow trucks.
Dutton said his business picked up two weeks earlier, when the first substantial snowfall in five years blanketed Nanoose Bay and Parksville. He said drivers’ struggles with the conditions may have been compounded by several years without winter driving conditions on the mid-Island.
“I think it just caught everybody off-guard,” said Russ Dutton of Nanoose Bay Towing, whose company pulled four vehicles from ditches Tuesday. “You’ve got freezing temperature, then rain; you’re gonna have black ice. People are driving too fast. Just knock it back a couple of notches.”
Environment Canada is calling for continued precipitation this week, with daytime highs ranging from 7 degrees Wednesday to 4 Saturday and Sunday. Lows are forecast to remain above the freezing level but not by much — there will be a chance for snow flurries overnight Friday, Saturday and Sunday — so motorists should continue to be vigilant about conditions, leave more time to reach their destinations and follow other drivers at a safe distance.