BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – More than 30 million people in 22 states are under winter weather alerts as much of the nation braces for a mix of heavy snow, rain and wind.
The National Weather Service says Southern California, in particular, will experience “the coldest storm of the season, and possibly of the last several years.”
That means, among other things, travel across the Grapevine between Bakersfield and Los Angeles will be treacherous, if not at times impossible.
Tuesday evening the sky was blue and traffic is flowing well, but a major storm is coming in and it could stick around for several days.
What happens if you have to make an unavoidable trip to LA and get stuck coming or going?
It means one, pack 24 hours worth of supplies. Two, don’t rush. Speed is dangerous under the best of conditions, but when snow, ice and wind are present, the slightest distraction or overcorrection can be fatal.
For that reason, the California Highway Patrol will very likely be escorting vehicles over the Tejon Pass and across sections of Interstate 5 affected by the conditions.
CHP Officer DC Williams said drivers should be patient.
“If you see CHP running traffic breaks where we’ve got the rear amber lights on, going back and forth, don’t pass,” he said. “Just stay behind, following traffic, and whatever they direct you to do, follow that.”
But if black ice buildup makes even a CHP escort untenable, be prepared for a complete shutdown. Worst-case scenario, you could end up spending the night on the freeway in your car.
That happened just a couple of years ago in Japan, where some motorists spent 20 hours at a standstill.
How does one prepare for that?
We asked a long-haul trucker, en route from Washington state to Arizona for advice.
“Don’t travel if you don’t have to, right?,” said Pat O’Brien, an owner-operator from Oregon. “And then bring a blanket, something to keep you warm, or your coat in case you’re low on fuel. Always fill your tank up. So you have fuel if you have to idle to stay warm.”
That’s right: With temperatures expected to drop below freezing, stranded motorists will need to periodically start their vehicles in order to use their heaters.
Bring what some refer to as a go bag – extra warm clothes, food, water, batteries, a flashlight – whatever might help you pass the time safely and as comfortably as possible.
Yes, you may be able to reach a hotel safely, but know that others will have the same idea.
“There’s a couple hotels (in the Lebec area) that will fill up kinda quick if we end up shutting things down,” he said.
Shutting things down entirely is a last resort, however. If at all possible, the CHP will try to get traffic over the summit.
“If you have to travel, give yourself plenty of time,” Williams said. “That way you don’t feel like you have to rush, you don’t have to speed.”
Some 1,300 people die every year — and nearly 120,000 are injured — because of crashes on snowy, slushy, or icy roads, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Every year, it seems, drivers somewhere are stranded.
In January 2022, for example, thousands of motorists in Virginia were stuck in snow on I-95 for 24 hours. Don’t think it can’t happen here.
It really just comes down to logic. Bring water, bring food, bring blankets and prepare for the worst and if you can avoid making the trip at all, that’s the best strategy of all.