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Escorts begin on Interstate 5; snow level could drop to 1,000 feet

January 3, 2011 | 11:44 am

163121.ME.0103.Weather.12.KDM The California Highway Patrol began escorting cars across the Grapevine on Monday morning, but thousands remained stranded amid a snowstorm that stymied traffic between Northern and Southern California.

Even with escorts, Interstate 5 remained jammed along with other routes into the Los Angeles area. While rains will die down this afternoon, snow is expected to continue not just in the mountains but in valley locations as low as 1,000 feet, according to the National Weather Service. In fact, the Santa Clarita Valley could see an accumulation of 4 inches of snow.

163121.ME.0103.Weather.14.KDM 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.

Hundreds of stranded cars and trucks were parked alongside I-5 in Castaic on Monday, waiting for the north-south freeway to reopen after being closed by snow and freezing temperatures.

Many drivers heading north said they were willing to wait rather than try slower options, such as the 101 Freeway.

"I could have taken the 101," said John Finnell, a physician on his way to Santa Rosa. "But it's one of those things: Do I want to take a chance on the roads, or do I want to drive for 10 hours?"

I-5 in Castaic was dry Monday morning, but the hills just north were still covered in snow.

Many other cars got off the freeway and parked at restaurants and gas stations. The parking lots of a Carl's Jr. and a Shell gas station were filled to capacity.

Finnell said he parked his Volvo station wagon along the freeway about 9:30 a.m. Monday. Others had been waiting much longer.

163121.ME.0103.Weather.01.KDM Juan Estrada had been stopped on the roadside with his family since 7 a.m. after spending the holidays with his brother in Pasadena. They were trying to make it back to Watsonville.

Estrada, who works at a surf board manufacturer, said he had already called his boss to say he would not be there Monday.

"It's going to be a long day," he said, standing outside his car in a ski cap and down jacket. He was chatting with Raymond Lora, who was on his way to visit his daughter in Tacoma, Wash.

Lora said he had made it to Southern California from Florida in just three days and was also determined to wait until Interstate 5 reopened.

"If I turn around, I'll just get lost," he said. "And I still have a long way to go."

163118.ME.0103.weather5.AC All 51 rooms at the Castaic Inn just off the freeway have been filled since 5 p.m. Sunday, said Nancy Acosta, a receptionist at the hotel.

Michael and Jennifer Prince said they decided to stop at the hotel Sunday on their way home from San Diego because they did not want to risk driving on the icy roads at night with their 4-year-old son, Jack.

They were trying to get back to Bakersfield, where they manage a theater, but have rented a room for Monday night.

"We booked another night just to be safe," Michael Prince said.

Alice Ramirez, of Hayward, said she had never seen as much snow as she saw falling Sunday afternoon when she first checked into the inn.

"That was the first time I saw snow like that," she said. "It was so exciting."

Ramirez said she was lucky to book one of the last available rooms at the roadside inn, but was unsure if she would stay for a second night.

Like many of the guests, she was waiting to see if the freeway would be reopened.


Storm photos from SoCal

Flooding hits Laguna Beach art community hard

L.A.'s ban on cyclists on trails generates controversy

-- Sam Allen in Castaic and Shan Li in Los Angeles

Upper photo: A California Highway Patrol officer removes barricades at the Lake Hughes exit ramp, where crowds of cars waited for Interstate 5 to reopen. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

 Second photo: Jose Rivas checks the flow of traffic as he waits his turn to gain access to Interstate 5. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

 Third photo: Hundreds of cars wait out the snowstorm and the closure of Interstate 5 at the Lake Hughes onramp. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

Lower photo: Northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 5 near Pyramid Lake as Caltrans works on cleaning up Interstate 5 through the Grapevine in Los Angeles County. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times