Southern California snow: Nearly 200 drivers rescued

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Snow has also made driving difficult on some Southern California freeways. Nearly 200 drivers had to be rescued Tuesday night when the wintry weather moved into the region, bringing several inches of snow. A section of Interstate-15 in Riverside County also closed for a while because of the slushy conditions.

It's New Year's Eve and even though we are hours away from midnight, that didn't stop thousands of people from hitting the roads today. Action News talked to travelers and truck drivers here at the EZ Trip Truck Stop and Arco gas station on Herndon Avenue off Highway 99. Some of them just making a last stop before their final destination.

The weather is generally mild in Northwest Fresno, even though it's cold. But some travelers Action News talked to had just come up from Southern California where it is snowing and there are high wind advisories. One person said the wind over the Grapevine was really strong and that the traffic was "stop and go" for awhile.

"The wind was terrible. you could feel it on your car going back and forth and you could feel some of it was wet snow, some of it was dry snow and there was a lot of people pulling over to play in the snow! I wouldn't want to do that but a lot of people were pulling over and a lot of CHP, it was just kind of awful," said Samuel Cortez, Madera.

The snow in Southern California got so bad that at one point, both sides of Interstate 15 freeway were closed. Drivers there reported dangerous, slippery conditions from the snow. It is the main route from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

The gas station at Herndon and Highway 99 was still very busy with people filling up before they head out this New Year's Eve.


Wintry weather moved into the Southland Tuesday night, bringing several inches of snow and prompting the rescue of nearly 200 drivers, as well as the closures of at least two highways.

San Bernardino County fire officials said crews had to use snowcats around 10:30 p.m. to rescue about 136 trapped drivers along Highway 138 at Old Mill Road near Crestline. Another 50 people were left stranded in similar conditions on Mount Baldy. Rescue operations were completed by 3 a.m. Wednesday.

The dangerous driving conditions also forced the closure of Ortega Highway between Riverside and Orange counties. It was unknown when the road would reopen, authorities said.

On State Route 330, drivers had to wait it out in the cold after hitting embankments and getting stuck in the fresh snow.

"I tried to come around the corner...I didn't have the chains, so I hit the brakes and I went and veered off toward the other side," said Paul Lewis of Hemet.

VIDEO: Snow shuts 15 Freeway in Inland Empire

At one point, both sides of the 15 Freeway were closed because of the snow, but Caltrans said the lanes reopened just before 5 a.m. and drivers were escorted between Bundy Canyon and Clinton Keith roads.

Motorists traveling along the Grapevine on the 5 Freeway had to navigate through a steady snowfall and fog, but conditions didn't get bad enough to force a closure there.

VIDEO: Grapevine still open despite snow

"We will have units available to respond to the Grapevine, but in conjunction with Caltrans, the highway patrol will be making the decision with Caltrans whether or not they have to shut the roadway down based upon whether or not the roadway is treacherous, whether or not the weather conditions dictate so," said CHP Officer John Lutz.

Caltrans has crews standing by to jump into action if roads close.

"If there is snow or ice on the roadway our crews along with their plows will go side-by-side in three, and they'll distribute sand, cinders and ice slicer, which is kind of like salt but not corrosive, to make the salt melt away," said Patrick Chandler with Caltrans.

Drivers heading up to the mountain resorts are advised to bring chains and prepare for road closures.

PHOTOS: Wintry weather takes over Southland

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