A view of VIU's Nanaimo campus library from the exterior with a snowed-in quad

Preparing for West Coast weather scenarios

November 8, 2022
Author: Samantha Allan

Extreme weather preparedness for on campus and in the community

Winter weather has arrived on Vancouver Island. As you may have already noticed, Island weather can be unpredictable. On the West Coast, sometimes fondly referred to as the “wet coast,” weather patterns like high winds, heavy rain, thunderstorms or snowstorms can happen in any season and without warning. Extreme weather can result in power outages and campus closures.

Whether you live on campus or you commute to classes and work, it is important to familiarize yourself with the procedures and resources for severe weather scenarios to keep you and your loved ones safe. Here is everything you need to know to be prepared for BC weather.

VIU’s Severe Weather Procedures

The University monitors severe weather conditions closely throughout the year and will at times close campuses and facilities to support the safety of students and faculty. Closure decisions are made by 6:30 am and announcements are made via the VIU’s Safety App, direct email and posted to the VIU website and social media platforms. Be sure to read VIU’s Severe Weather Procedures.

VIU Safety App

The best thing you can do to stay in the know with what is happening on VIU’s campuses is to download the VIU Safety App – the fastest way to get information during an on-campus emergency or disruption to campus operations. Here’s how to get it:

  • Download the SAFETY@VIU app on the Apple Store or Google Play.
  • Click on “Allow push notifications.” Having push notifications for the VIU Safety App means that emergency messaging will show up on your phone’s home screen as soon as it is sent out.
  • If you already have the SAFETY@VIU app but are not getting push notifications, go into your phone’s settings, scroll down and click on the VIU Safety app and enable notifications for the app.

Be prepared for a power outage

A power outage, whether resulting from severe weather or not, is a short or long-term loss of electric power to an area. You may find yourself without light, heat, internet and hot water. BC Hydro is the utility company that supplies electricity to most of BC, including Vancouver Island. The BC Hydro outage map will help you to locate confirmed power outages in your area. FortisBC and BC Hydro both offer tips and planning advice for power outages and other conditions that require emergency preparedness. 

Before a power outage make sure you have:

  • A flashlight with batteries
  • Warm blankets, gloves and a toque (winter hat)
  • Non-perishable food that doesn’t need to be heated/cooked and emergency drinking water.

Stay safe during an outage:

  • Never use a propane or gas barbeque or stove indoors, this can cause fatal carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Never leave candles unattended. Flashlights or battery-powered lanterns are much safer.
  • Never approach a downed power line. Call 9-1-1 and stay at least 500 metres away.
  • During a windstorm, avoid forests or heavily treed places where trees or branches could fall on you.

Build a grab-and-go bag and an emergency kit

During any extreme weather or natural disaster, you may need to stay at home with an emergency kit or leave immediately with a grab-and-go bag. Check out these kit-building guides from BC Public Safety, ensure that your friends and family have built theirs too, and organize a safe meeting place.

Create your vehicle preparedness checklist

Driving a vehicle during the colder months requires extra preparation in BC and severe weather conditions can make your commute unsafe. To check current road conditions and closures, use the Vancouver Island DriveBC Events webpage. Between October and April, Island temperatures are known to fluctuate from below-freezing to above-freezing throughout the day and night, and this often results in:

  • sudden rain, frost or snow conditions,
  • flurries and slush (a mix of ice or snow and water) on roadways, or
  • black ice (near-invisible patches of smooth ice on roads and sidewalks).

How to dress for winter weather

Woman wearing toque, mittens and winter jacket

Being savvy on how to dress for the wet-cold on the West Coast will help keep you comfortable and safe. Winter temperatures are cold, but windchill effects (the rate of heat loss from exposed skin) will feel much colder. Off Track Travel has a great guide for dressing smart for Canadian cold weather. Layering your clothes is so important so on the coldest days, try: 

  • A wool or fleece base-layer,
  • Thermal mid-layer (avoid cotton),
  • Insulated or down (goose-feather or synthetic) jacket,
  • Waterproof jacket or top-layer with a hood,
  • Toque or warm hat, mittens or gloves, and scarf,
  • Waterproof or insulated high-top boots with warm socks,
  • Umbrella

It’s also important to choose appropriate footwear for the conditions. Waterproof footwear will keep your feet dry and comfortable on rainy days, and for slippery conditions, choosing footwear with good traction is essential (avoid smooth-soled shoes). You’ll also want to take shorter steps and move at a slower pace.

More weather preparedness tips

Here are some other tips to keep you safe and prepared:

  • Always keep an umbrella handy to stay dry.
  • Accessorize with scarves, toques and gloves made from thermal, insulating materials like fleece or merino wool, and avoid cotton.
  • Specialty items like boot gaiters and single-use, air-activated heat packs are a great investment for outdoor enthusiasts.
  • Outdoor companies like Mountain Equipment Company and Mountain Warehouse offer good-quality, reasonably priced winter apparel, and second-hand stores like the Vancouver Island Thrift Store, Salvation Army or Value Village are a great place to find lower-priced winter clothing and accessories.
  • Check for utilities and other hazards created by extreme weather before heading out. Examples include trees that have fallen on power lines or flooding on roadways.
  • Check on your neighbours, friends and family who may need extra support.
  • During a power outage, switch off lights and appliances and plug your electronics into power bars equipped with a surge protector.
  • Know that certain highways require winter-rated tires during the colder months. See this map from DriveBC for routes.


Samantha Allan is a first-generation learner of Indigenous and British ancestry with home roots across the province of BC. She is currently a Bachelor of Business Administration, major in Management student at VIU and her long-term goal is to work in law and economic development.

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