Whiteouts, landslides and floods cut off California roads
California’s latest round of storms created harrowing travel conditions across the state on Saturday, with icy roads rumble through traffic in the Sierra Nevada mountains and downpours cutting off roads south of San Francisco along the central coast.
As of Saturday afternoon, mountain highways had been repeatedly closed after cars and trucks lost control and spun in high winds and heavy snow. In warmer parts of California, ground still saturated from the previous two weeks of storms created the conditions for landslides and flooding.
“During the height of the storms, stay home and watch the football games or relax,” Gilbert Mohtes-Chan, spokesman for the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, said in an interview Saturday.
Driving conditions were particularly dangerous in the northeastern part of the state. Late Saturday morning, the National Weather Service said it was “unsafe if not impossible” to travel to the Sierra Nevada due to whiteout conditions.
Earlier in the day and into the night, portions of major highways that run through the mountains, including Interstate 80 and Route 50, were repeatedly closed due to vehicle traffic jams and whiteout conditions. . As of 12:30 p.m. PT, a portion of Interstate 80 was closed due to low visibility and a section of Route 50 was closed for avalanche control.
At lower elevations, flooding, landslides, and falling trees and power lines cut roads.
In Santa Cruz, California Highway Patrol Warned people not to drive unless necessary and said threats included falling cables and trees, flooding, sinkholes and landslides. About 50 miles south of San Francisco in the coastal town of Pescadero, a landslide caused a road close indefinitely and a relative partially collapsed.
Areas scorched by wildfires were particularly vulnerable to heavy rains, including about 60 miles northwest of Sacramento at Rumsey Canyon, where a highway was closed on Saturday due to a landslide. Mr Mohtes-Chan said heavily burned areas were vulnerable to landslides because the burned layer of soil can be hard and shell-like. When the looser ground above the hard layer becomes saturated with water, it can slip.
Flooding and landslides were also a concern in southern California, although Saturday’s storm conditions were less severe than in northern and central California.
Mohtes-Chan said people who must travel should come prepared and be aware of the conditions, which could include traffic delays, flooding and blowing snow. Caltrans has an online map that shows live traffic conditions.
He also warned drivers to stay on main roads, even though navigation apps such as Waze or Google Maps advise drivers to use seemingly less busy and more rural roads. “There have been people who have gotten stuck in the snow and then cell service is spotty and they’re stuck because they’ve gone off the main roads,” Mohtes-Chan said.
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