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One storm down, another to come

Southern Oregon drivers who struggled to cross the California border during one of the busiest travel days of the year could face more snow delays on their drives back.

The storm system that brought blizzard-like conditions to Southern Oregon and Northern California Tuesday has cleared the Rogue Valley, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Wright, but another storm system forecast to hit Saturday and Sunday is expected to bring more snow to Northern California over the weekend.

“We don’t think it’ll be as horrendous,” Wright said, contrasting the upcoming storm with Tuesday’s storm.

However, as of Wednesday afternoon, northbound Interstate 5 had hardly reopened north of Dunsmuir, California, following a daylong closure in the wake of a “bomb cyclone,” according to Oregon Department of Transportation and Caltrans reports. California Highway Patrol resorted to escorting traffic north of Redding to the Oregon border starting at 3:15 Wednesday, and Caltrans expects heavy delays into the evening.

The storm system also closed I-5 south of Ashland just before 10 p.m. Tuesday, forcing Jackson County Search and Rescue to assist numerous motorists on county backroads between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, according to a joint news release by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Jackson County Roads and Parks.

It took until 3 a.m. Wednesday for crews to attend to 13 stranded motorists who had diverted from southbound I-5 onto Colestin Road — a steep county road to the Siskiyou Pass that is not maintained after dark.

According to Jackson County sheriff’s Sgt. Shawn Richards, Search and Rescue personnel are noticing a growing trend of drivers “blindly following” GPS devices onto roadways they’re not familiar with. Most of the motorists who tried the backroads did not install chains, and multiple vehicles crashed or slid off the road.

Other motorists, including at least one semitrailer, attempted to travel to California by taking Dead Indian Memorial Road — another remote, steep and narrow road that is roughly 1,000 feet higher in elevation than Siskiyou Pass.

Drivers getting stranded by blindly following GPS is far from a new phenomenon. Mail Tribune archives showed that Apple Maps diverted a similar number of drivers during a January 2017 snowstorm that also closed I-5.

Tuesday’s storm knocked out power for approximately 19,000 people in Southern Oregon and Northern California, according to Pacific Power, with about 1,700 people in Del Norte County, California, still without power as of midday Wednesday.

Cold temperatures are in the forecast for Thursday, with wet weather predicted for much of the Rogue Valley, according to Wright.

Wright said that Thursday calls for a low of 23 degrees in Medford.

“It looks pretty much like low 20s throughout the Rogue Basin,” Wright said.

The Rogue Valley forecast doesn’t call for more precipitation, but the compacted snow already on the ground may have melted and refrozen, making ice a possibility Thursday morning.

Wright said snow isn’t expected on Sexton Summit or other passes north of the Rogue Valley.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Caltrans photo