Ministry staff and our highway maintenance contractors work around the clock to keep travellers on BC highways moving safely, but sometimes extreme weather (or other emergency conditions) create special circumstances that can pose challenges for motorists. When that happens we place a specific travel advisory on DriveBC to help bring attention to the event and help travellers make better plans based on those conditions.
We take a number of factors into consideration when we post a travel advisory, such as:
- What time of year it is (sometimes an early season snow fall can catch motorists off guard)
- What kind of event is forecast (extreme winter weather, freezing rain or heavy smoke can make driving really challenging)
- Previous weather events and outcomes (historical incidents in a given area due to the highway geometry and geographic location)
- The topography of the area in question (some spots get walloped more than others because of high elevation, proximity to water bodies, etc.)
- The frequency and duration of the event(s)
Who Makes the Decision to Post a Travel Advisory?
Local ministry staff is in constant communication with the maintenance contractor in their area and across other contract areas, if the event is larger. When a dramatic shift in weather is forecast or an emergency condition arises (for example: the first significant snowfall of the year, exceptionally large snowfall accumulation, blowing snow and reduced visibility, heavy smoke from forest fires), ministry staff and highway contractors will ensure the right kind of travel advisory is created and posted to the DriveBC website.
Where and When Do We Issue Travel Advisories?
Issuing a travel advisory that is timely, informative and effective can sometimes be as challenging as the event itself. Weather systems can move pretty quickly and can sometimes be highly variable in the amount and type of precipitation they deliver. We also recognize that the public needs to trust in the message we are sending, which is why we limit the length of time travel advisories are in place, putting them up on DriveBC only when they are required.
Depending on the time of the year, we may post a travel advisory to raise driver awareness at the beginning of the winter‘s first snowfall in order to help remind travellers to be ready to adjust their driving behaviours and to drive to the conditions. Those first flakes of snow can be a real rude awakening for drivers, but once they have adjusted to driving in the snow again, those same conditions won’t warrant an advisory, as folks have shifted into winter and adjusted their driving to conditions.
Keep it Simple
Being too wordy about anything can lead to confusion, which is why we try to keep our travel advisory language simple. In order to be sure that the public understands the highway reference points being used, we aim to reference local community names or easily identifiable landmarks.
We break our travel advisories into two categories:
- The first is a proactive advisory – one that gives the public advance notice of an anticipated or forecasted event.
- The second type of event is a current advisory. This is an immediate warning that an event is occurring.
We tailor our messaging to the type of event expected, but typical messaging may include language about: expected conditions, exercising caution, considering alternate routes, making alternate plans, preparing for delays and planning for closures or expecting detours.
All Advisories Are NOT Created Equally
While inclement weather forecasts should always be a consideration during highway travel, it’s important to note the difference between Environment Canada Weather Warnings and the Ministry of Transportation’s Travel Advisories. The expert team at Environment Canada produce detailed information about the type of weather that travellers can expect on their journey. Our staff and maintenance contractors work around the clock monitoring specialized weather reporting tools and forecasts and will issue a travel advisory if it is warranted based on road conditions.
We hope that this helps answer your questions about how, why and when we issue travel advisories for BC highways. If you have a question about this, or anything else we do, please let us know in the comments below.
A snapshot of the Coquihalla during a recent travel advisory period.