Update 11:50 a.m. Friday Feb. 21: Highway 5 Both directions between Hope and Merritt is still closed because of a high avalanche hazard.
Highway 3, the Hope Princeton is still open. The other route to the coast, Hwy. 1, via Merritt and Hwy. 8, is also closed due to a vehicle incident.
DriveBC does not have an estimated time of opening for Hwy. 5 or Hwy. 1.
UPDATE 6:15 P.M. Thursday Feb. 20:
A major avalanche hit the Coquihalla Highway late Thursday morning, closing the highway yet again after recently being reopened from a previous avalanche.
The class four – on a five point scale – avalanche is blocking the highway in both directions approximately 33 km north of Hope.
“This current avalanche cycle resulted in slides on paths that have never before reached the road in the 27 years that the Coquihalla Highway has been open,” said B.C. Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Robert Adam.
An avalanche left a metre deep, 100 metre wide pile of debris blocking the Coquihalla Highway around 11 a.m. Thursday. Check DriveBC.ca for the latest details. (BC Ministry of Transportation)
Southbound traffic currently being stopped and turned around at Britton Creek and Box Canyon and sent north to Merritt. Northbound traffic is being stopped and turned around at Portia and sent south to Hope. (BC Ministry of Transportation)
Highway 5 is closed 6km south of Box Canyon due to high avalanche hazard. Too windy for helicopter bombing/avalanche control at this time. Assessment continues. Estimated opening time still isn't available. (BC Ministry of Transportation)
Crews were able to confirm no one was injured in the incident and no vehicles were in the area at the time.
Time-lapse video in the area shows near whiteout conditions at the time of the slide, which a left 1 metre deep swath of snow and debris covering a 100 metre stretch of the highway.
Once conditions allow, transportation ministry officials will carry out further avalanche control and start the cleanup.
The highway will remain closed until the risk of further avalanches decreases and the cleanup in finished – no word on when that will be.
The Canadian Avalanche Centre has issued a special public warning about the potential for large, destructive avalanches in all B.C. mountain regions, except for the area just north of Vancouver.
The centre's Karl Klassen says fresh snow is sitting atop one of the weakest surface layers they've seen in years after an extended dry period in late January and early February.
Klassen says the weakness is currently between one and two metres deep and could result in very big slides.
Continued low temperatures also create the potential for this new, dry snowpack to fall faster and further than usual.
The recent drought has created pent-up demand for powder by recreational backcountry users, the weak layer will persist for the foreseeable future, according to Klassen.
Everyone in a group venturing into terrain is being urged to carry an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel and have a good knowledge of rescue skills.
The centre is also recommending backcountry enthusiasts take an avalanche skills training course and check the avalanche bulletin regularly to stay informed of conditions in their area.
Transportation ministry officials recommend travelers check DriveBC.ca for up-to-date highway information.
-with files from Canadian Press
Update 5:26 p.m.:
The provincial government is warning motorists to steer clear of the Coquihalla Highway.
A high avalanche risk closed the road between Hope and Merritt on Thursday.
Robert Adam with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says the current storm cycle on the Coquihalla corridor has resulted in avalanche conditions that have not been seen during the 27 years the highway has been open.
"It is unlikely that the ministry will complete its assessment and control work before nightfall. Once conditions allow, avalanche control work will take place to ensure the safety of the traveling public," he says.
Detours are available via Highway 1 at Kamloops and Hope or via Highway 8 at Merritt.
Check DriveBC for updates.
Update 1 p.m.:
Highway 5 is closed again in both directions from Exit 202, Portia Interchange to Merritt (88.3 km) because of High Avalanche Hazard. Estimated time of opening currently not available; assessment in progress.
DriveBC has issued a travel advisory for Highway 5, the Coquihalla, between Merritt and Hope.
The advisory was issued in response to forecasts calling for heavy snowfall on the stretch of highway Thursday.
A special weather statement issued by Environment Canada warns of more heavy snowfall in the region Thursday.
Heavy snow expected this morning and early afternoon.
The last in a series of Pacific weather systems is currently over the Central Interior and producing snow over the mountain passes. Snow will continue through early this afternoon with further amounts of 10 to 15 cm for the Coquihalla Highway. The snow is expected to ease to scattered flurries later in the day as the system weakens and tracks into Alberta.
In the wake of this system a much drier northwesterly flow will become established bringing about an end to the recent bout of heavy snowfalls.
The highway had been shut down for about 24 hours due to avalanche concerns. It re-opened to traffic Wednesday evening.