Rogue Valley residents planning to head out of town for the holidays should be prepared for heavy snowfall and high winds that National Weather Service officials say will likely greet them, especially if they are headed south.
Combine that with the 15.8 million year-end Pacific Region travelers AAA is projecting to travel 50 miles or more — a 1.8 percent increase over 2011 — and you have a recipe for disaster awaiting inattentive drivers.
"This is the time of year that you make sure you give yourself plenty of time," said Marie Dodds, director of government and public affairs for AAA Oregon/Idaho.
As of Wednesday afternoon, a winter storm warning had been instituted for western Siskiyou County, including Etna, Mt. Shasta and Fort Jones. The warning was in effect until 3 p.m. Friday. Totals of anywhere from 2 to 4 feet of snow are predicted for the area between last night and Sunday at elevations above 2,000 feet. All of the Northern California communities along Interstate 5, from Yreka to Shasta Lake, are well above 2,000 feet in elevation.
"That really doesn't stop until Sunday afternoon," NWS meteorologist Mike Ottenweller said of the Siskiyou County snowfall.
Travelers getting out of town early also may have high winds to tangle with. On Wednesday afternoon, weather officials issued a high wind warning for the Rogue Valley. Southern winds as high as 45 mph with 60 mph gusts are expected in Ashland and Talent, and in the hills surrounding the Rogue Valley. The high wind warning will be in effect until 1 p.m. today for the valley, followed by a brief lull before winds kick up again in the Shasta Valley and on the Oregon Coast.
"Anything greater than 30 mph is going to start to impede driving a little bit," Ottenweller said.
As much as an inch of snow may fall on lower elevations. Ottenweller said a brief window of calmer weather will occur between 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. Friday, but that snowfall should kick back up Friday night, dropping as much as 8 inches along the Siskiyou Pass by Saturday morning.
"I-5 is going to be quite hazardous as far as snowfall through the weekend," Ottenweller said. "Throughout the weekend, motorists need to be aware of icy patches and packed snow along the roadways."
Drivers headed east on highways 62 and 140 also should be prepared for snowy trips. Two to 3 feet of new snow is forecast for those areas between today and Sunday.
An I-5 pileup of around 60 vehicles in the northbound lanes five miles north of Yreka Tuesday night is a recent reminder of what slippery roads can do to travelers. Twenty-five commercial and passenger vehicles had to be towed from the accident scene, where the roadway was reportedly icy, and eight travelers had to be hospitalized, two with serious injuries. The series of collisions closed the northbound lanes for almost 11 hours.
"Your trip can be upended with vehicles and drivers ahead of you at any given moment," said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming. "Any kind of crash ahead of you is going to have a big ripple effect."
Motorists are advised to keep a flashlight, food and water in their vehicle, and to travel with properly-inflated tires, a full tank of gas and charged cellphone. Check www.tripcheck.com or call 511 for up-to-date road conditions before traveling.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at email@example.com.