Update: Highway 17 reopens as wild winter weather causes travel chaos across Santa Cruz County

Highway 17 at Summit Road on Friday.

Highway 17 reopened Friday afternoon in both directions after an hourslong closure. More storms hit Santa Cruz County on Thursday night, bringing 6 to 12 inches of snow to parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The storms closed three of the region’s major highways — 17, 9, and 152 — at one point during the day, causing travel chaos. Thousands were without power across the region Friday afternoon as heavy snow and fallen trees took out power lines and cut off public access to Bonny Doon.

A rare winter storm lashed Santa Cruz County on Friday, closing several major highways and bringing travel to a halt as it dropped nearly a foot of snow in some parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

County officials urged residents to cancel all travel except in cases of emergency. The county said road safety crews were strained and rescues and assistance migh not be available if travelers get stuck.

A bout of rain, wind, thunder, lightning and snow hit the region overnight Thursday into Friday morning. The storm dropped between 3 and 6 inches of snow across much of the Santa Cruz Mountains and up to 11 inches on Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose.

The frigid, moisture-laden weather system was wreaking havoc on roadways around the region. California Highway Patrol said in a tweet just after 3 p.m. that both directions of Highway 17 had reopened after an hourslong closure, though one southbound lane remained closed north of Summit Road.

Highway 17, the major artery connecting Santa Cruz County to the San Francisco Bay area, was completely shut down starting around 4 a.m. Friday amid heavy snow, downed power lines, fallen trees and an accident involving a tractor trailer.

About seven miles of Highway 9 were closed in both directions from State Route 236 at Waterman Gap to the intersection with State Route 35 in Boulder Creek due to downed trees and wires.

Highway 152, connecting Watsonville to Gilroy, was shut down for about five hours before reopening just after 11 a.m., per CHP.

Other major roads around California were also closed amid the latest inclement weather, including Interstate 80 in the Sierra Nevada, Interstate 5 along the Grapevine in Southern California and portions of Highway 101 in Sonoma County and points north.

(Get the latest on road conditions from Santa Cruz County here and from Caltrans here.)

Santa Cruz County reactivated its emergency operations center Friday for the first time since January’s series of atmospheric rivers. The center acts as a coordination and communication hub between agencies and services working to alleviate storm impacts.

County spokesperson Jason Hoppin said the center was working to make sure that crews were adequately prepared to respond to the conditions. He added that the center could activate state resources if needed, but it had not yet done so. The county was assessing whether to open additional emergency shelters.

Despite the flurry of road closures, Cal Fire spokesperson Cecile Juliette said she had not received any reports of major accidents as of early Friday afternoon. Crews have largely responded to the usual fare of downed trees and power lines. There have been no reports of injuries.

However, Juliette advised travelers to stay away from Bonny Doon because of dangerous road conditions.

“Bonny Doon currently has no access for the general public,” said Juliette. “The roads are covered with downed power lines, snapped trees and heavy snow. We’re asking people to please stay out of the area.”

There were 8,532 customers without power in Santa Cruz County as of 2 p.m., most of which were caused by fallen trees and branches hitting lines and transformers, said Pacific Gas & Electric spokesperson Mayra Tostado.

The wet weather will continue over the weekend and through next Wednesday, albeit in milder fashion.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Lorber said that Friday night and Saturday will be the driest stretch as the current weather systems make their way through the county. Still, mountain residents can expect up to an inch of snow Friday night, and residents living in lower elevations will see light rain amounting to a quarter of an inch or less.

More rain will hit Sunday, dropping about a quarter of an inch around Santa Cruz County. That will continue Monday and into Tuesday, when county residents can expect half an inch or so of rain at lower elevations, and up to an inch and a half in the mountains.

Lorber noted that temperatures could come close to freezing Friday night and might dip below that in the mountains, extending the already hazardous driving conditions.

Despite the widespread damage and travel disruptions from the snow storms, the winter weather did provide a stunning backdrop for photographs, like these taken by reader Sitah Cummings of Bonny Doon on Friday morning:

A snowy scene in Bonny Doon on Friday morning.
A snowy scene in Bonny Doon on Friday morning. Taken from across the street from Bonny Doon Union Elementary School near the intersection of Ice Cream Grade and Northwest Drive.
(Sitah Cummings)
A snowy scene in Bonny Doon on Friday morning.
A snowy scene in Bonny Doon on Friday morning. Taken from across the street from Bonny Doon Union Elementary School near the intersection of Ice Cream Grade and Northwest Drive.
(Sitah Cummings)


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