Public Safety

Let it Snow

When big storms blow across San Diego County many of us head for the hills in hopes of finding snow and playtime in the cold. Because we’re not accustomed to real winter weather, we may forget how storms and snow affect the roadways until we slide into inches of wet, white powder or worse, black ice.

Then we might notice the signs on the side of the road that say “chains required.”  What does that mean exactly? That needs to be figured out and quickly. Failure to comply can cost you a ticket and substantial fine or worse, a car accident.

The decision to require chains on your tires or snow tires is made by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) or the County Department of Public Works. To ensure everyone’s safety the CHP will also set up check points or patrol the roads making sure cars have chains. If your car is stuck in the snow because you didn’t have chains when they were required, you can get a fine for that too.

Mountain roads can become treacherous in heavy rain or snow, especially on Palomar Mountain and Mount Laguna. Many accidents are caused by drivers going too fast or making sudden moves such as turning too fast or slamming on the brakes. The result can be that a car gets stuck in the snow, or worse, runs off the highway.

It is always good to drive slowly when there is snow in our mountains. DPW crews tell of drivers simply stopping in the middle of the roadway so they can get out to play in the snow. These cars have been left in the path of an oncoming snowplow or motorized grader used for scraping ice from the roadway. County crews have also seen youngsters, and even adults, sledding down a hillside and across the road right in the path of oncoming traffic.

There are three levels of chain control:  you must have them in your vehicle, the chains must be installed or snow tires are acceptable, but you must also carry chains in your vehicle.

Before you leave home you can check San Diego County websites to see if chains will be required, including DPW’s Facebook or Twitter. For all severe storms the DPW Emergency page link will give you information on road closures and other safety advisories. You can get to any County website from

County Public Works crews work throughout the year – and round-the-clock during storms – to keep roads open and cleared of snow, water or debris, but in our mountains weather conditions can change rapidly. A cleared highway can quickly become covered with several inches of snow, or if the temperature drops suddenly the melted snow can turn to ice, making driving extremely hazardous once again.

So exercise good judgment when driving on our mountain roads. Carry your chains when it’s snowing. It’s also always a good idea to take along extra equipment just in case: some food, water, blankets, a shovel and some sand just in case you do get stuck and need extra traction.

County Public Works crews are watching out for you by clearing the roads. Do the same for them – watch out for our County crews and equipment. And enjoy the snow.