‘Operation Snowflake’: Grapevine reopens after shut down

Traffic backs up on the northbound lanes of Interstate 5 near Castaic Monday evening due to snow-related closures. January 25, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Both directions of Interstate 5 over the Grapevine remained closed Tuesday morning due to heavy snow and ice, with lanes reopening with California Highway Patrol escorts by the afternoon.

Caltrans crews closed the snow gate — which sits north of Lake Hughes Road in Castaic to allow drivers to turn around and travel back in the other direction — around 11:30 a.m., with CHP beginning to escort drivers through the pass soon after. 

As traffic began moving through the pass, Caltrans officials reminded drivers to proceed slowly and with caution.

Early Monday morning, “Operation Snowflake” went into effect and traffic through the Grapevine was shut down, prompting crews to open the snow gate, according to Officer Josh Greengard, spokesman for the Newhall-area California Highway Patrol Office.

Some lanes of Interstate 5 were reopened Monday, with CHP escorting traffic over the snow-covered pass, but a full closure was reinstated by the afternoon as heavy snow began to fall once again.

Caltrans crews worked overnight to clear snow from the road, as hundreds of big rig trucks lined up along Castaic roads awaiting the freeway’s reopening.

Stranded trucks sit on the sides of Interstate 5 as viewed from Hasley Canyon Road, with southbound in foreground. Dan Watson/The Signal

“There’s a little bit of snow up there on the Grapevine, but most of it is just really icy conditions,” said Ryan Kittell, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “Once the sun breaks through the clouds, we should see improvements. I would imagine it’ll reopen sometime today, hopefully later this morning.” 

Tuesday is set to provide a break in the weather before winter storms return through the remainder of the week, according to Kittell.

“We are tracking the next storm, which is really going to be focused, at least through Thursday morning, to areas north and west of (the Santa Clarita Valley),” Kittell added. 

Even so, some showers are expected in the SCV Wednesday, with more substantial rain beginning Thursday.

This heavier rain may have impacts to recent burn areas, such as the Elsmere burn scar, with Kittell advising residents to be prepared in the event of mudslides. 

“The one good news is that the snow levels should be above 5,000 feet, so we’re not really expecting any impacts to Interstate 5 with the storm,” Kittell said. 

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