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Motorists stranded as rain, snow jam Southern California freeways

January 3, 2011 |  8:31 am

Rain and snow made for a rough first morning commute of 2011 as Interstate 5 remained closed and other routes were jammed for miles.

Some motorists reported driving for 12 hours or more to get back to Los Angeles from points north over the last 24 hours as snow levels dropped to below 2,000 feet, closing mountain pass routes such as the Grapevine.

As of 8 a.m., Interstate 15 was open, but the California Highway Patrol was running escort over the Cajon Pass southbound. Motorists reported backups of 20 to 30 miles.

Portions of Highway 58 were closed, and a major accident on Highway 138 near Palmdale was further jamming traffic.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of motorists were stranded along I-5 and other mountain and pass roads closed by snow.

The CHP said the best route to Los Angeles from the north is the 101 Freeway.

Scattered showers will continue to fall on the Los Angeles area until early Monday afternoon but should clear up and make way for “cool and dry conditions through the weekend,” said Bonnie Bartling, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service.

A low-pressure system brought cold air from the Gulf of Alaska and the most recent bout of drizzle, Bartling said.

“The rain is winding down though,” she said. “But we will still have snow in the mountains and the low valleys.”

The National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook Monday for area mountains and valleys.

“Travel through the mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, as well as the Antelope and the Santa Clarita valleys, will be very hazardous [Monday] due to moderate snowfall,” the outlook warned.

The CHP on Sunday sent tow trucks to help dislodge vehicles and escorted others through the Grapevine, Officer Krystal Carter said. But travelers heading north and south faced daunting delays, including a detour that took them to California 126, U.S. 101, California 166 and then back to I-5.

Matt Morrow, returning to Southern California on Sunday with his family after a ski trip to Lake Tahoe, described blizzard-like conditions and an element of chaos on the 5 as stranded motorists sought shelter and gas.

"The entire freeway came to a screeching halt," said Morrow, 47, an Internet marketer from Foothill Ranch in Orange County. "It was snowing like crazy right down there on the freeway."

Morrow, who was traveling with his wife, daughter and son, said it took nearly an hour for the traffic to move about 100 yards. Other motorists were driving onto the median to get around traffic.

"There were mild cases of road rage," he said.

Officials also issued a wind advisory for the 118 Freeway, saying campers, trailers and other high-profile vehicles should avoid the route.

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-- Shan Li and Sam Allen

Video credit: KTLA.

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