Repairs may take weeks and months

At Bay Tree Springs, Highway 243 has totally collapsed. Another collapse, loss of both lanes, occurred about 1 mile north of this damage. Caltrans estimates repairs will take several months. For more photos of the storm and the damage, see page A2.        Photo by JP Crumrine

Roads into Idyllwild were closed for the second time in six months. This isolation is the result of an atmospheric river overflowing onto Southern California.

In late July and early August, the Cranston Fire caused the closure of highways 74 and 243. The latter was opened when the fire evacuations were lifted four days later on July 29.

The atmospheric river dropped record rain on Southern California, creating a wet, very wet Valentine’s Day.
Courtesy National Weather Service

These new closures will be effective for weeks and months for Highway 243, according to Cal Trans. Highway 243 has been completed severed (both lanes gone) in two places north of Lake Fulmor. On Friday, Feb. 15, Cal Trans issued an $8 million emergency contract for repair work on highways 74 and 243.

The rain started Wednesday, Feb. 13, and became heavier overnight. By morning, the town was drenched. Highway 74 west to Hemet was passable at 8:30 a.m., but at least six rock slides caused drivers to shift lanes. By 10 a.m., the highway was closed. 

Thursday’s rain damaged Highway 243 between town and lower Saunders Meadow Drive. But Friday, Feb. 15, Caltrans was already using a contractor to begin repairs. By Tuesday, Feb. 19, traffic could go both ways, but it was one lane with a flagman directing traffic.  Photo by Steven King

By noon, Highway 243 was closed at the bottom of the mountain in Banning.

On Tuesday, Caltrans opened Highway 243 between lower Saunders Meadow Road and town in both directions. Only one lane is open with a flagman while repairs continue.

The stonework at Bay Tree Springs was minimally affected by Thursday’s torrential rain. But Highway 243 in front totally collapsed.   Photo by JP Crumrine

“The California Highway Patrol is working closely with Caltrans engineers and contractors to minimize the negative impact on community members impacted by the Valentine’s Day storm. We are asking our community members to remain engaged with us on social media via our Facebook page (CHP – San Gorgonio Pass) and Instagram page (chp_sangorgonio). We will continue answering questions and concerns as they arise. Road closure and detour information can be found on Caltrans’ QuickMap mobile application,” wrote CHP Capt. Mike Alvarez of the San Gorgonio office.

Work on Highway 74 began last week. This is one of many places where a lane or more totally fell away. Caltrans estimates the road may remain closed between Mountain Center and Valle Vista for a month.  Photo by JP Crumrine

From 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, until midnight, the U.S. Forest Service’s Keenwild Ranger Station recorded about three-quarters of an inch of rain. In the next 24 hours, by midnight Thursday, Keenwild recorded 6 inches.

The boulder on the right moved lower toward Highway 243 in Pine Cove resulting in less support for the balcony of the house above the road.
Photo by JP Crumrine

Overall, from Wednesday through Saturday, Keenwild recorded 7.5 inches of rain.

Then from Sunday afternoon until early Monday morning, a massive snowstorm covered the Hill. More than 4 inches of snow fell in Garner Valley, and the National Weather Service reported 4 inches of snow in Anza. Nearly 8 to 10 inches were recorded in Idyllwild.

As a California State Park vehicle drives down Fern Valley Road, one sees the “flooded” signs were plentiful throughout town.  Photo by Jenny Kirchner

While the sun was expected to return Tuesday and Wednesday, another snowstorm of about equal strength is forecast for Wednesday night through Thursday. Next weekend is expected to be dry. However, temperatures in the 50s may be weeks in the future.

David Jason and Ellen Feeley’s vehicle was a victim of recent flooding as it sat on its parking spot at their Cascade residence.
Photo by thom wallace

Contributing to the presence of the atmospheric river over Southern California is a weather pattern called El Niño. NWS has officially announced that a weak El Niño has formed.

As the runoff from Jameson Drive flowed over Highway 243, a California Highway Patrol vehicle protects traffic from a possible road collapse.
Photo by Jenny Kirchner

In its February El Niño report, the NWS said, “El Niño conditions formed during January 2019 … Because forecasts through the spring tend to be more uncertain and/or less accurate, the predicted chance that El Niño will persist beyond the spring is 50% or less.”

This is the debris and remnants of Highway 243 where it collapsed at Bay Tree Springs (at around mile post 17).  Photo by JP Crumrine

Through Tuesday morning, Feb. 19, Keenwild has recorded nearly 24 inches of rain since Oct. 1, 2018. The long-term average rainfall during this five-month period is 16.3 inches and the March average is 4.1. So, Keenwild has received nearly a year’s worth of rain.

Pine Cove Water District General Manager Jerry Holldber jumped in to help move boulders fallen near Overlook Drive on Highway 243 Thursday, Feb. 14, during the many flooding incidents on the Hill.  
Photo by Becky Smith

Of note, the highest reported wind gust Sunday night was 75 mph at Mountain Center. The next closest on the mountain was 46 mph at Pinyon Pines.