Officials warn mountain roads still dangerous after snowy week

SAN DIEGO -- Roadways blanketed by heavy snowfall have reopened in the mountains east of San Diego, but with chain restrictions in place for the highway heading up to Palomar Mountain from Route 76.

The winter storm that hit Wednesday night and Thursday morning dumped more than a foot of snow at higher elevations, with a handful spots reaching nearly two feet. That sent snow-seekers teeming onto mountain roads.

Despite increasing its patrols this weekend around Palomar Mountain and in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park to enforce road closures and chain requirements, the California Highway Patrol had to assist dozens of motorists.

CHP officials said they received numerous calls for as many as 30 stranded vehicles strewn along roads around Palomar Mountain, many of which had breached closure signs or ignored chain restrictions.

"When members of the public ignore the chain requirements and vehicles become stuck, they place not only themselves at risk but also the public safety personnel responding to assist them," the CHP said in a statement issued Saturday morning.

In the Cuyamaca area, SR-79 was closed just north of Interstate 8 as Caltrans tried to clear enough snow to allow two-way traffic. CHP reopened the highway for full use at around 1 p.m. Sunrise Highway was also shut down before reopening with chain restrictions along its southern stretch, then closing fully to through traffic northbound to Julian.

As of 3 p.m. Saturday, chain restrictions remained in place on Nate Harrison Road up to the mountaintop.

The National Weather Service expects freezing conditions overnight for the next few days but no precipitation.

Though conditions have improved significantly since Friday, CHP is urging motorists to use "extreme caution" during the evening and early morning hours due to snow melt re-freezing along roadways and overpasses.

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