Snow Paralyzes Mountain - Mountain News : Localnews

default avatar
Welcome to the site! Login or Signup below.
|
Not you?||
Logout|My Dashboard

Snow Paralyzes Mountain

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 12:00 am

Up to three feet of snow fell on San Bernardino Mountains communities over a long and chilly weekend, stranding cars, knocking trees onto power lines, leaving thousands without electricity and making conditions generally miserable before the skies cleared to a crystalline blue on Tuesday morning.

But the worst may be yet to come, as weather forecasters are predicting a storm, beginning Friday night, that could last at least three days and bring still more snow to an already white-blanketed mountain.

The series of storms that began Thursday night kept emergency responders hopping, fielding countless calls from marooned motorists, working 24-hour days to keep highways plowed and scrambling to restore power where falling tree limbs knocked it out at more than 20 locations.

In the Arctic Circle area west of Big Bear, about a dozen cars were trapped on Highway 18 Monday by a pair of avalanches that shoved 15-foot-high piles of snow across the roadway.

The highway was closed and locked down from Snow Valley to Big Bear as Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and County Fire teamed up to cut a swath through the massive drifts and free the stranded vehicles. Caltrans officials said they hoped to have the roadway reopened sometime Wednesday.

After being closed for a snow day on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Rim of the World Unified School District said all the district’s campuses were expected to reopen today, after accumulations of snow were removed.

CHAIN CONTROLS

The CHP set up chain-control checkpoints along Highways 18 and 330, enforcing Caltrans’ declaration that all vehicles needed tire chains. At the height of the storm on Monday afternoon, buses and trucks were forbidden access to all state highways leading into mountain communities.

At some point during the storm, an estimated 10,000 mountain residents lost power for varying lengths of time, said Steve Conroy, a spokesman for Southern California Edison. As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, some 700 Edison customers remained without power, though seven additional line crews, brought up from San Bernardino, were aiming at a full restoration of service sometime Wednesday.

“We had everything from soup to nuts,” Conroy said, referring to the range of incidents that interrupted service to Edison customers. The incidents included a snow plow knocking down a power pole, trees or limbs falling onto power lines and the weight of ice snapping lines.

“Heavy snow is the problem,” he said. “There are access problems on secondary roads, so we can’t get to some of the problem areas. We’re busy. Our goal is always to get the lights on as fast as we can.”

Firefighters, too, have had their hands full during the storms. “They’ve been busy as heck,” said Steve Pangrazzi, a Crest Forest Fire Protection District (CFFD) division chief. Weather-related problems, including trees falling on power lines and onto houses, were especially bad in Twin Peaks, he said, owing to a heavier snowfall there than in Crestline.

LOST POWER

Pangrazzi said a tree toppled onto a power line in the Dart Canyon area Monday, leaving homes there and on nearby streets either without power or “in sort of a brownout,” with power reduced for most of the day.

Though Pangrazzi said CFFD performed no rescues he was aware of, it did handle “quite a few medical aid calls—shortness of breath, chest pains and heart attacks.” He did not attribute those responses to overly strenuous snow shoveling, though similar symptoms are often its result.

County Fire Battalion Chief Marc Peebles said his department “had a host of minor traffic accidents and the usual medical aid calls.” Though firefighters in the Lake Arrowhead area responded to no residential fires, Peebles said firefighters did have to ventilate one home after it became filled with smoke from its fireplace when the wind drove it back down the chimney.

Peebles said a power pole crashed to the ground Tuesday morning near Highway 173 and Walnut Drive in Cedar Glen, triggering a local outage. Because of driving snow and low clouds, he said, “there were whiteout conditions on Highway 18 a lot of Monday.”

With off-duty officers called back to handle the huge volume of calls, the CHP was kept busy responding to numerous fender benders, cars stuck on secondary roads and several over-the-side accidents on major highways, said Officer Gary Fernandez.

EXCESSIVE SPEED

No one was seriously hurt in the incidents, which included a head-on crash south of the middle passing lane on Highway 330, caused by a chainless four-wheel-drive vehicle taking a curve at excessive speed.

“We worked that accident for two hours in near blizzard conditions,” Fernandez said. He attributed the lack of serious injuries to vehicles traveling at low speeds, but added that the speeds “were too fast for the conditions.”

Fernandez, CHP’s mountain public information officer, was pressed into duty manning a chain checkpoint on Highway 330, and could not compile detailed accident reports.

Dripping water from melting snow on the roof frustrated the plans of personnel at the Twin Peaks sheriff’s station, as the facility’s backup generator—already in use because of a power failure—conked out around noon on Monday, the victim of an apparent short circuit.

“It was all black in here,” said Pat Essary, the station’s public information officer. “We couldn’t even use computers. We closed up and went home.” Deputies, however, remained on patrol, assisting the CHP and County Fire with medical-aid calls.

‘THE WATER BROKE’

One of those calls, Essary said, came as quite a shock to the responding deputy. “All that was called in was, ‘the water broke,’” Essary said. As a result, she said, Deputy Ishmael Diaz expected to find ruptured pipes. Instead, he found an expectant mother in the beginning stages of delivery. Diaz quickly summoned medical aid, she said.

Caltrans, perhaps the highest-profile public agency in this kind of storm, was kept busy, working around the clock to keep main traffic arteries plowed, said spokesperson Terri Kasinga.

To cover the 310 miles of state highways on the mountain, Kasinga said Caltrans has “only four to five plows in every office. They’ve done a phenomenal job.”

Kasinga said Caltrans officials estimate the total snowfall as ranging from some 18 inches in the Lake Arrowhead area to three and a half feet at the Arctic Circle. This weekend’s anticipated storm, which she said “will be a big one,” may bring mountain roads back to an R-3 chain condition.

“If you don’t have to travel when it’s snowing like it did on Monday, don’t,” she said. “The biggest problem (in snowy conditions) is traffic. It makes it hard to plow. Everybody and their mother is going to be up here this weekend” because of the Presidents’ Day holiday on Monday, she predicted, adding that the presence of many visitors would only complicate Caltrans’ tasks.

Kasinga said the storm “has used up all the resources we have. We don’t have enough to keep up. We don’t have storms like this in southern California very often.”

  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.