Winter storm causes Cajon Pass closures, flooding

Snow piled almost 2 feet high borders the edges of Highway 74 to Mountain Center just above the 3,000-foot level Saturday, Nov. 30, following the near record breaking snow and rainstorm on the San Jacinto Mountains. The snow is nearly melted by Monday, Dec. 2, but more rain and snow is predicted. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

RIVERSIDE (CNS) – A strong winter storm that arrived in the Inland Empire Christmas night generated rain and snowfall Thursday, forcing the closure of Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass and flooding other roads farther south, in Riverside County.

The National Weather Service extended a winter storm warning to 6 a.m. Friday as inclement conditions persist throughout the region, disrupting travel.

According to the NWS, as of 2 p.m., the Riverside metropolitan area had received roughly an inch of precipitation, while French Valley Airport near Murrieta had recorded just under an inch and Palm Springs International Airport had received about three-quarters of an inch.

The Banning Pass had recorded more than an inch of precipitation, but some of that was frozen, in the form of snow, according to the NWS. Chain controls were in effect this morning along state Route 74 near Mountain Center because of snowfall.

The Cajon Pass north of San Bernardino was blanketed with snow in the predawn hours, and snow plows couldn’t keep up, prompting the California Highway Patrol to shut down both sides of the freeway at the I-215/I-15 interchange.

Caltrans spokeswoman Terri Kasinga said the southbound side of the 15 was intermittently opened after daybreak, but about 9 a.m., another full closure was put into effect. Traffic emanating from Riverside County was turned back south due to the northbound closure, CHP Officer Dan Olivas told City News Service.

Kasinga said at 2:45 p.m., both sides of I-15 were reopened, but she warned that overnight closures may be required if the roadway surfaces ice over.

“It just depends on conditions and traffic,” she told CNS.

Flooding led to four roads being shut down in unincorporated areas of Riverside County, according to the county Department of Transportation.

Pico Avenue between Central Avenue and Nuevo Road in Nuevo was closed at 7:20 a.m. after pools of water created hazards, officials said. An hour later, Palomar Road between Benigini Avenue and Patti Lane near Menifee was closed due to flooding, and at 11 a.m., Painted Canyon Road between Box Canyon Road and Skeleton Canyon in Mecca was also coned off when water flowed over the road, making it impassable, according to the Department of Transportation.

Early in the afternoon in Whitewater, Indian Canyon Drive near Interstate 10 was closed due to flooding.

The center mass of the storm was moving steadily east by mid- afternoon. However, according to the Weather Service, isolated downpours remain possible as the instability lingers on the back side of the system.

“This could result in additional snow accumulation in the high deserts and San Bernardino County Mountains,” the NWS stated. “Additional light to moderate showers may wrap farther to the south over the Riverside and San Diego County mountains and deserts overnight.”

Snow levels were predicted as low as 3,000 feet.

A wind advisory is in effect until 6 p.m. for the inland area, with gusts up to 45 mph possible, meteorologists said.

Low temperatures tonight in the Riverside metropolitan area will be in the upper 30s, with highs Friday in the upper 50s, forecasters said. The Temecula Valley can expect generally the same, while the Palm Springs area will see lows around 40 degrees and highs in the low 60s Friday.

A weaker storm system is tracking toward the region from the northwest and is expected to make landfall Sunday night or early Monday morning, producing mostly light precipitation, according to the NWS.