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Climate and Environment

Think Twice Before Driving This Weekend In Waterlogged California

Trees line what look like a brown river. The only signs it's actually a covered roadway are the metal guardrail along the bank and a strip of asphalt with yellow stripes disappearing into the water.
Northbound lanes of the 101 freeway were closed at Arroyo Parrida Creek and San Ysidro Creek bridges in Santa Barbara County due to flooding on Jan. 9.
(Courtesy of Caltrans via District 5 Twitter account)
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Yes, the snow conditions will be epic in the mountains this holiday weekend. But officials warn that traveling anywhere in California during the incoming storms could be deadly.

They urge people to stay off the roads up and down the state.

“If you can avoid travel, please consider staying home, watch some football, enjoy some time with your family," Caltrans Chief Deputy Director Mike Keever told a news conference Friday.

What Will Conditions Be Like?

Rain and snow are expected to hit Southern California on Saturday, then taper off in the evening or early Sunday before a second storm rolls in Sunday afternoon and carries into Monday. The National Weather Service is predicting about an inch of rain in valleys and coastal areas and up to 3 inches in the foothills and mountain areas.

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Snow is expected, from 1.5 to 3 inches, starting at around 7,000 feet of elevation on Saturday.

The second storm will be colder, said NWS meteorologist Alex Tardy, with snow expected at around 4,000 feet. That means the Cajon Pass in the San Bernardino Mountains and much of the road to Big Bear and surrounding ski resorts are likely to be snowy — and, Tardy said, both storms are expected to hit hardest in the evening, which makes driving more dangerous.

"If someone drives up to the mountain at 9 a.m. Saturday, everything's good, right?" Tardy said. "They leave the mountain at 6 p.m. Saturday, and it's not good because the snow is starting to accumulate in the upper elevations and it's getting slippery.”

Safety Officials Say Don't Drive If You Can Avoid It

Close to half of the 19 fatalities recorded statewide during the recent storms involved people in vehicles, according to California Highway Patrol Acting Commissioner Sean Duryee, who also spoke at the news conference. "Some of those were preventable,” he said.

"As drivers, as motorists, we tend to become complacent," Duryee said, warning that roadway conditions are "always changing. We've seen large sinkholes, we've had mudslides, rockslides, trees down, power lines down."

He and other roadway safety experts advised motorists to:

  • Check weather and road conditions all along your planned route
  • Slow down
  • Keep a wider-than-usual distance between your vehicle and the one in front
  • Don't drive through standing water
  • Make sure tires are fully inflated
  • Check windshield wiper blades and replace if necessary

Duryee also asked motorists to slow down and give room on the road to first responders and recovery workers. "Many of them are doing this important work alongside our highways and roadways in very dangerous conditions," he said. "Allow them to do that important work."
Doug Shupe, spokesperson for the Auto Club of Southern California, also advised drivers on slick roads to avoid quick stops and accelerations.

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"Always adjust your speed down to account for lower traction when driving on snow, icy roads, or even wet roads," he said. "We cannot drive in wet and winter weather conditions like we normally can when it's 72 and sunny here in Southern California. You need to slow way down."

Supplies You Need If You Decide To Drive

Caltrans District 7 spokesperson Jim Medina noted that chains will likely be required in some mountain areas. And he noted that some county roads in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties are still closed.

Medina advised mountain travelers to keep emergency supplies in the car, including:

  • Cell phone charger
  • Blankets
  • Snacks and water

Snow Levels In The Mountains

The Mammoth Lakes area is expected to get snow starting Friday afternoon, adding to Mammoth Mountain's whopping 159-inch base. Closer to L.A., Big Bear Mountain Resort is expecting on and off snow showers on Saturday, on top of a modest 24- to 36-inch base.

Mt. Waterman Ski Lifts reports that the latest storms have brought the resort more rain than snow, and lifts will be closed for the holiday weekend. Mountain High resort is reporting a 12 to 24-inch base with no new snow from the latest storm.

What questions do you have about the weather we're experiencing?
A massive winter storm is hitting Southern California. We're here to answer your questions.
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