Winter storm unleashes its fury on mountain communities

Dec 30, 2021 | Front Page

By Douglas W. Motley
Senior Writer

Last week’s winter storm literally wreaked havoc upon the mountaintop communities, with hard rain falling and wind gusts estimated at up to 40 miles per hour, which resulted in many large limbs and branches falling into streets and homeowners’ yards.

On Highway 18, from Crestline all the way up to Big Bear, rocks and boulders were strewn across traffic lanes, as well as mud flows, resulting in severe damage, such as bent rims, broken axles and smashed fenders, to unsuspecting motorists as they rounded blind curves. All of this was especially prominent in the winding “Arctic Circle” area just south of Big Bear Lake, where these occurrences happen frequently during storms of last week’s magnitude.

One CHP unit was reportedly destroyed when it struck a boulder as large as Daimler’s Smart EQ For Two Smart Car. The officer told reporters that he was lucky to live through the incident.

Caltrans and California Highway Patrol units had their hands full on the evening of Dec. 22, when the outer downbound lane of Highway 18 collapsed just above the upper entrance and exit to Old Waterman Canyon Road, just below the Mormon Monument turnout, near the Bonnie Canyon Bridge. The incident – which resulted in the full closure of the heavily traveled mountain highway from 40th Street to the Crestline Bridge – was reported on most local TV station news broadcasts and was even reported on nationwide television broadcasts on Dec. 23 and 24.

Caltrans Public Information Officer Emily Leinen told The Alpine Mountaineer on Wednesday, Dec. 24 that Caltrans is looking for a contractor that can get the road, which is closed to all traffic in both directions, opened as soon as possible. “Residents only of Upper Waterman Canyon can get to their homes at this time,” added Leinen. She suggested that motorists traveling to the mountain communities can still get to Crestline, Lake Arrowhead and Running Springs by coming up the backside of Highway 138, which exits from the I-15 freeway and travels past Silverwood Lake until it comes into Crestline.

Leinen said other routes still open include Highway 330, from Highland to Running Springs, as well as Highway 18 from Lucerne Valley to Big Bear and Highway 38, from Mentone to Big Bear. Leinen said drivers coming up by way of Highway 330 will encounter a chain control check point in the lower passing lane. “Motorists with all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicles shouldn’t have any trouble taking this route, but they are required to have chains available in their vehicle, because they may encounter some icy spots.”

The Alpine Mountaineer learned on Dec. 26 that Caltrans has initiated a $4.2 million emergency project to make repairs on the washout section of Highway 18 near Panorama Point, between 40th Street and Highway 138 near Crestline. To expedite the repairs, the route will remain closed until further notice.

The CHP reported that the Arctic Circle segment of Highway 18 was re-opened to through traffic at 6:14 p.m. on Dec. 24. The long-range weather forecast for the San Bernardino Mountains communities, according to, includes scattered showers, mixed with heavy rain and snow through Friday, Dec. 31.

Sunny, but cool, weather is expected to return to the mountain region on New Year’s Day, Saturday, Jan. 1.

In addition to road problems, many residents reported leaking roofs and flooded basements from the heavy downpour of over seven inches of rain in a 24-hour period. With the recent drought and many new residents moving to the mountain communities, some were unaware of natural water flows through the forest, and some discovered they had creeks running through their yards. Others had installed landscaping over the last couple of years which did not take that natural water flow into consideration. In a couple of cases, that ended up diverting the water towards their homes and into basements.

The mountains have a long history of torrential rainfalls in short time periods that can wash out excavation and construction improvements when the flow of water is not considered. The atmospheric rivers of rain over the decades have caused washouts and flooding, including the filling of Lake Gregory in three days in 1938. Many residents discovered they had to, at the last minute, get sandbags and install them to divert the water flow away from their homes to stop or prevent flooding. Fortunately, many fire stations have the sandbags. Crestline resident, Jason Mcleod, who works for the Lake Gregory Company, brought hundreds of empty bags for those in need and left them for local use at the Crestline Post Office. Plus, sandbags were available with sand in the parking lot of Wildwood Park at 40th Street and Waterman Avenue in San Bernardino for those who bring their own shovels.

Travel to and around the mountain communities was further impacted by the snow that fell on Christmas night and on Monday, Dec. 27. As The Alpine Mountaineer went to press, additional snow was anticipated. Motorists who must venture out are urged to be prepared by carrying chains, blankets, warm clothing, water and snacks in their cars.



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