Snow, rain and wind snarls California’s holiday traffic

By Jim Wasserman, Associated Press Writer
Monday November 26, 2001

Accidents abound on highways as harsh weather makes travel difficult 


SACRAMENTO – Thousands of California homes remained without power Sunday morning after a Saturday storm that blew down power lines, trees and light poles all over the state. 

The storm delivered rain, snow and wind that triggered hundreds of highway collisions around the state, but the weather was expected to be milder Sunday. 

About half a million Pacific Gas and Electric Co. customers lost power at some point Saturday, and about 63,000 of them remained dark early Sunday morning, utility spokesman Jonathan Franks said. 

The outages, concentrated in the San Francisco area and Santa Cruz County, were expected to be mostly corrected by later Sunday morning, but some remote areas might have to wait until Monday to get power restored, Franks said. 

Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power also reported storm-related outages, but lacked information on how many customers were affected. 

Heavy winds in the Antelope Valley knocked down a light pole that fractured the skull of a 10-year-old girl in a Palmdale supermarket parking lot. The girl was reported in critical condition early Sunday morning after undergoing surgery at Antelope Valley Hospital. 

The storm temporarily closed northbound lanes of Interstate 5 near Redding and sent hundreds of cars skidding into fender benders. 

“We’ve got a lot of tree limbs down and flooding. It’s a mess out there,” said Al Franklin, a communications operator with the California Highway Patrol in Sacramento. 

The CHP’s Southern California division logged 430 accidents between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., said Officer Spencer Ammons. Last week during the same period, but under dry conditions, there were 146 accidents, he said. 

In Beverly Hills, an Old Navy department store had to close due to flooding. A roof collapsed at a Kmart discount store in El Monte, but no one was hurt. 

Weather officials Saturday expected better weather for people returning home Sunday from the Thanksgiving holiday, 

“In general, if you’re not going into the mountains it should be relatively nice,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Baruffaldi in Sacramento. “If you are traveling in the higher elevations of the mountains, you’ll probably have to contend with some snow conditions and possible lingering chain requirements, depending on where you’re traveling.” 

Saturday’s storm hurled 60 mph winds and more than 1 inch of rain in parts of California; More than 2 inches fell in some parts of the Sierra Nevada and some Los Angeles County mountain areas. 

Redding saw 1.74 inches of rain, which broke the old record for the date by more than seven-tenths of an inch. Daily precipitation records also were set Saturday in Stockton, Torrance and Cuyama. 

Temperatures in the Bay Area were expected to drop and showers were expected throughout the weekend, with thunderstorms likely. 

Wind gusts recorded at San Francisco International Airport Saturday were more than 50 mph, while 61 mph gusts in Sacramento fell short of 1953’s record-setting 70 mph. 

The weather service issued high wind warnings for parts of Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties until early Sunday, especially in the mountains and deserts. 

Gusts over 60 mph were predicted for the mountains and valleys, and a wind gust of 92 mph was clocked in Burns Canyon in San Bernardino County. 

Drivers on Interstate 80 and Highway 50 experienced slowdowns in snow and heavy rain, said CHP officials in Truckee. Westbound traffic backed up for miles on both routes Saturday afternoon as holiday travelers headed for home. Southern California travelers using I-5 over Tejon Pass were buffeted by wind gusts. 

Baruffaldi said snow levels could briefly drop to 4,000 feet Sunday morning at Tejon Pass. Otherwise, he said Sunday’s traveling forecast calls for decreasing clouds and intermittent snow and rain. 

Sierra ski resorts reported several inches of fresh snow near Lake Tahoe. 

The coldest brunt of the storm landed on California’s northern counties, where jackknifed trucks closed the northbound lanes of Interstate 5 for six hours Saturday between Fawndale Road north of Redding and Mt. Shasta. 

Caltrans reopened its northern stretch of I-5 shortly after 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The CHP then began escorting traffic north, said Sgt. Doug Pappas. 

Pappas couldn’t estimate how many vehicles were held up by the temporary closure, but said, “There’s a long line behind me.”