Northbound and Down: Truckers line Castaic roads, parking lots during Operation Snowflake

Northbound trucks park on the side of the Interstate 5 Freeway in Castaic as they wait for the Grapevine to open which was closed due to snow on Tuesday, 012621. Dan Watson/The Signal

Dozens of 18-wheelers lined the shoulder of Interstate 5 and filled the parking lots of Castaic on Tuesday, as the drivers waited out Operation Snowflake.

Each year, tens of thousands of truck drivers make their way through the Grapevine, the I- 5 pass that connects Southern California and the Central Valley.

However, during the colder time of the year, as snowfall begins to reach lower elevations, law enforcement and transportation officials sometimes implement Operation Snowflake, a process by which the icy roads in the mountain pass are either entirely closed to through traffic, or an official escort is required to make the drive.

Early Tuesday afternoon, California HIghway Patrol officials reopened the Grapevine in both directions, but between Monday and Tuesday morning, truckers stood idle in Castaic.

One such awaiting trucker, Gary Speer, said he has had 19 years on the job and that, from his home state of Mississippi to Montana, to even Southern California, weather delays such as Operation Snowflake are all part of the job.

“I got here midday yesterday, and I had a load that I was supposed to pick up around Bakersfield,” said Speer on Tuesday afternoon while sitting in his rig parked at the Castaic Truck Stop. “I’m just now getting ready to head out.”

Speer said he had been lucky to arrive early because, during these types of delays, the truck stops and parking lots big enough to accommodate big rigs usually fill up pretty quickly.

“I walked out (onto Castaic Road) and they (truckers) were parked all along down the street, four-deep,” said Speer. “If the cops are leaving them alone, you can usually find someplace to park just before the closure.”

Speer said all the truckers were either occupying their time by hanging out in their cabs, some coming complete with a satellite TV, video games and a bed, while others would be impulsively checking their on-deck computer system to see if the closure had been lifted. Others were fighting to find parking.

“When we close the freeway, all our manpower goes to either closing the freeway, helping stranded vehicles, or answering calls for service,” said Officer Josh Greengard, a spokesman for the CHP Newhall-area Office. “Most of the time we don’t have the time or resources to enforce the no parking signs.”

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