I’m In Rain & Thankful For It – California Snow Halt

Well, that was fun… NOT!

I’ve just done a marathon 3 day coast-to-coast drive. Why? Tax schedule interactions with weather. There’s a couple of boxes in storage in California that I need to get to the Tax Guy in time for taxes to be done by April 1 (or he assures us big penalties will arrive due to the large capital gains taxes on selling the house in California). OK, so a run to California…

I’ve got a new (to me) FORD Expedition tow vehicle and a new trailer… except both need to be registered and the truck needs new tires, and I need a couple of days to get familiar with both. Then there’s the added couple of days crossing the country in a trailer at 55 to 60 MPH…

So I checked the expected weather. Oh My God. Massive snow was expected about 4 days out. The only way to beat it was to “leave now” (last Monday evening) which I did.

But the FORD & Trailer were not ready… so I took my nemesis, the Mercedes ML. The car that was supposed to be my Tow Vehicle but in almost a year (and over $3000 of “repairs”) has been unable to properly function as a tow vehicle. But it ought to be a good enough 4 x 4 Station Wagon, so off I go.

It has done more or less OK, I guess. Getting between 21 and 23 MPG on Diesel at about 70 to 80 MPH most of the time. Big enough in back that I can sleep on an air mattress when I needed a nap. About 3500 lbs of four by four on bad roads.

Well, I was about 1/2 way from San Antonio to El Paso (i.e. middle of absolute nothing in nowhere West Texas) when the driver side rear tire starts to making rumble noises and the ride gets a bit rough. Checking it, I found a big goose egg starting. Incipient tread separation. Checking, the “compact” spare looks OK and I’ve got a tire pump with me to adjust pressure… but limping at 50 or so for 250 miles on a compact spare is not in the plan… So time to roll them dice.

I did adjust air down to the minimum for empty, and then cut back speed to about 65, and worked my way into El Paso. That was about 5 hours of not so fun. Oh, and the “Administratively shut off Turbo” problem returned during that time… I thought this had been fixed, but nooo… This is where it “hicups” a couple of times and then decides the air pressure in the turbo is not what was expected so the Engine Brain just shuts off turbo boost.

This is only really a big pain on hill climbs or when you want rapid acceleration. On the flat it will reach and hold 75 to 80 mph. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of hills in West Texas and more on the rest of the trip. It does reset to working when you turn off the engine, and sometimes I’ll get 50 miles of good operation before is again shuts down the turbo. Sometimes just one get up to speed…

In El Paso I was informed that ONE tire shop had the tire I wanted (told to me by the other three I visited). An hour or so later I was on my way with a new tire. Ride fixed. But the turbo not so much.

Oh, and there were wind gusts up to 50 MPH on the approach to El Paso. Some times on hill climbs into the wind I was down to 45 and downshifted from 7th gear to 4th… but I got there.

So now I’m sitting in the rain in a hotel about 1/2 way from Los Angeles to San Francisco on the 101 freeway along the coast of California. And I’m happy about it.


Because a Snow Storm Of Epic Proportions is happening BEHIND me.

Despite needing to use the Shift Paddles to climb hills by treating the ML like it was a 1970 VW MicroBus… Despite tire issues. Despite a marathon drive schedule. Despite flurries of snow in Arizona. Despite 2 bits of snow crossing the L.A. Basin. Despite all that, I’m still ahead of the Snow Closures.

I’ll post more details when I have time and access, for now I need to get moving again. This hotel was a very nice place to sleep, but “something in the air” from the heater is making my eyes turn red and burn. Could be pollen, or cleaners & sprays. Life of a highly allergic person… But it waited to morning to manifest, so I got a good night sleep, and a shower.

Somewhere about 2000 feet elevation above Tucson, on the way in, I was cozy in the sleeping bag in the back of the ML in a Rest Stop. At about 2:30 AM I woke up (no big surprise as I’d got in the sack about 10 PM and don’t sleep long). It was gently snowing and a modest wind was sticking it to the passenger side windows. OK, time to drop elevation…

After dropping about 500 feet, the snow was more slush. Another 500 feet (it drops fast on that approach to Tucson on I-10) it was mild rain. By Tucson it was dry. I’d gotten out of the weather. But still, it was snowing in Arizona. Another bigger storm entering Northern California…

I took I-8 “Phoenix Bypass” while contemplating “Go all the way to San Diego then up?” or “Rapidly cross L.A. on I-10”? Well, at the “return to I-10” turn, I took it. The added time to go through San Diego would put me late as the big snow hits Los Angeles today and I wanted to cross in the light precursor event.

As I dropped into the Los Angeles Basin, I’d guess at about 2000 foot elevation, there were snow flurries. The freeway came rapidly to an ALMOST halt. Folks in L.A. freak out a bit at snow… but started moving again fairly quickly. Dropping another 500 feet it was just light rain. (The freeway the other way was halted, as they were getting worse weather as they climbed into it).

I “hung it high” across the top of the basin on “The 210”. (In L.A. they don’t say “I-10” or “I-210” or “Interstate”… it’s THE 405, or THE 210… ) past Pasadena. This is higher than the valley floor by about 400 feet, I’d guess (details when I get map time). Once again, a few snow flakes showed up. Some of it more like graupel. (think of a snow flake a bit mushy and kind of like 1/2 melted hail). But it only lasted a minute or two.

Once I reached the 101, then over to the coast, things improved greatly. Sun breaking through scattered clouds. Not even rain. Temperature up to 55 F instead of the 33 in the mountains to the 43 in the L.A. Basin. It was a clean and easy run up the coast to where I’m now in a hotel. (I crossed the L.A. Basin between about 11 AM and 2 PM when traffic actually moves).

It was very strange in Santa Barbara. You could see snow on the hill tops about 500 feet up, and it was sunny and dry on the 101 freeway at sea level.

All the while the Radio KNX 10-70 AM telling folks what roads were shut down in the mountains due to snow, and maybe they ought to just stay home for the day… when it rains in L.A. they tell folks to watch out for oil / water emulsion on the roads, so snow had them just perplexed; even though it didn’t stick to the roads.

Now, the Accuweather TV channel is reporting California is increasingly cut off from the rest of the country. I-5 shut both in the Cascades up north and at the Grapevine into L.A. from the Central Valley. Roads through the Sierra Nevada closed (I-80, hwy 50, etc. etc.). I-15 to Las Vegas closed yesterday (worse snow today). Etc. etc.

Me? I’m in a rain band between here and Silly Con Valley, so it is just “load and go”. I’ll figure out later how to get back to Florida ;-) Likely via 101 to San Diego and then out I-8.

The things we do to meet a weather event driven driving schedule 8-)

So today or Monday the ML will visit my mechanic and I’ll find out if I’m driving it back to Florida, or the 240 D that I left there for some fixing up months ago…

Some history:

FWIW, one radio station was correctly reporting that this was just like the LAST TIME they had called a blizzard in L.A. That was in 1989. I remember it well as I took my son (then about 3 years old) up to play in the snow on the way to Santa Cruz and a local photographer put pictures of him in the local newspaper… You see, this isn’t “Snowmageddon”, and it is NOT due to “Globull Warming”. It is a CYCLE. Just one with about a 30 to 35 year cycle.

So, want to have an idea what’s next? Look at the weather of 1989 / 1990.

With that, time for me to get breakfast and get back on the road, in the rain. I’d like to get off the coastal highway before too much more rain, since a lot of rain starts to bring mud slides and road closures. So about 2 more hours and then I’m entirely in the clear.

Ah, the joys of knowing how the local area works, and planning routes around natural disasters “of epic proportions” (per the radio guy ;-)


About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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16 Responses to I’m In Rain & Thankful For It – California Snow Halt

  1. Keith Macdonald says:

    @EM – good to know your rescue mission is going well.
    Fingers crossed you get clear of Hotel California.

  2. jim2 says:

    It may be cheaper to fly out there, rent a truck, and drive it back.

  3. jim2 says:

    OTOH looks like not. Rates are astronomical moving OUT of Cali. If you want to move to Cali, it’s cheap.

  4. Graeme No.3 says:

    The ABC (that’s OZ) of all people broadcast “snow of the Hollywood sign and a blizzard warning for LA” and without any comments on Global Warming or Climate Change.
    Said it was the first such warning for 30 years – arithmetic (and truth) aren’t common in the ABC.

  5. saighdear says:

    @Graeme No.3, well the BBC this morning DID say / report ( with agreement of the breakfast time presenters) that it WAS another indication of GW… ..

  6. E.M.Smith says:


    Yeah, I did that once…

    The first run was with the ML towing a car hauler with a station wagon on it, both stuffed with just those things that can not be put in storage. Active clothes set, personal travel stuff, seeds, guns, ammo, etc.

    The second run was me and Florida Friend flying in and emptying one storage unit. That was a 20 foot box truck. It cost (at that time) over $9000 (once you added the $800 of California “sales tax” for a rental… surprise surprise…) That cut storage cost by $175 / month and got the remaining bulky stuff consolidated into one storage unit.

    It also got a load of basic household stuff into the new house. A couple of dressers. Some car stuff / tool box. Dishes & cups & pots & pans and more.

    So at present, the stuff in storage is “important and nice to have, but not urgent”… other than those tax papers… which is why I’m here.

    “The Math” on moving the rest of it is 2 x truck rentals at $9000 + about $1200 of gas each run, or $24,000 (minimum…) so the trailer ($8000 ish) and replacement tow vehicle ($5000) total to $13000 capital cost + about $1600 gas for 3 trips = $4800. All up about $18,000 or $6000 less than renting a truck.

    Note, too, that timing becomes much more flexible as there is no clock running on my capital stock, while rentals are for about 8 days each, then you get penalties.

    Also, at the end of it, I still have the $13,000 of capital stock… and I avoid gifting California another $1600 of “sales tax”…

    Also, I can spend more time at the storage unit, sorting some of this stuff into keepers and tossers. We accelerated the close of escrow to “get ‘er done” before the market cooled (and did just about to the week… hit the top). But that left some significant amount of stuff as “stick it in a box and sort it out later”. Well, later is arriving soon ;-)

    I went through all sorts of scenarios on how to get stuff moved. DIY was the cheapest By Far. PODs, for example, wanted $16,000 per pod and it would take 3 or 4 pods. Call it $48,000 to $64,000. Just crazy.

    As you noticed, prices to move TO California are vastly cheaper. For moving out, they have to pay to ship their rigs back to California for the next guy…

    Frankly, even with the ML having crapped out as a tow vehicle, I’m still ahead of the cost curve… (and if I can sell it for even 1/2 what I paid, I do better still…)

    In California

    I’m presently staying with a friend in California while I figure out when the snow will stop and I can plan an exit. At present, it looks like going through San Diego / I-8 will work, modulo a prediction of potential flooding / mud slides on the coastal highway south to Los Angeles. I’ll likely just wait for the rains to break and the mud to stabilize, or the Grapevine to be cleared of snow; then plot a path.

    It looks like Monday or Tuesday might be good “escape days”. But we’ll see.

    Prices here are a bit insane. I’d pushed them out of my mind once in Florida. Where I paid about $3.66 to $4.05 / gallon for Diesel across the USA, once in California it bumped up to $5.50 to almost $6.00 / gallon. Unlike the $10.50 “all you can eat” senior lunch at Golden Corral in Florida, it was $14 or so for a KFC lunch and about $11 for 2 Breakfast Jacks and an iced tea, IIRC.

    I think I can get out of California on just one tank of Diesel, but if not, I’m putting in just enough more to make it over the border… and likely will do the “bread, ham & mustard” lunch sandwiches until over the border too…

    As of now, it is mostly down to 2 things. Sorting through the storage unit to find the desired stuff to move; and the weather window opening.

    I did do a preliminary assessment of the storage unit. I’ll need one dry day (hopefully today) to set stuff out of it so I can find what I’m looking for.

    Then the run back to Florida (where it is warm and NOT snowing!). After that, future runs ought to happen in the FORD with a trailer…

  7. jim2 says:

    I never thought I would see the day when FORD was the vehicle of choice ;)

  8. another ian says:


    Looks like you might have done well with the Ford –

    “This past week brought another rise in wholesale prices at auto auctions. Black Book data shows that the increase is creeping into retail prices as well.”



  9. another ian says:

    Also wild weather from New Zealand

    “Mt Hutt skifield was OPEN today with chairlifts taking skiers, boarders, hikers and voyeurs to the summit to enjoy the half-metre deep SNOW which had accumulated over the past four days and nights. Calm, blue skies, fresh knee-deep powder – not how I remember ‘summers’ 😃

    Think I’ve lost a few friendships today by sending screenshot pics of happy skiers & boarders frolicking in the 97% out-of-season high-summer February snow to members of the Cult Of Climate Kookism – you can hear their heads popping 💥

    The chairlifts stopped at 4pm NZ-time but I’ll try typing the address as the view is spectacular: https://www.mthutt.co.nz [still no media mention of the 4-day snow storm last week by the useful idiot Cyclone Season Denying press].”


  10. David says:

    Hi Chiefio,
    Greetings from South Australia. I have been reading your articles with interest for some years, but it was a pain to reply. Got to create a WordPress acount, etc. However, a word about the ML. Some years ago we had an ML270 CDI (W163) with in-line 5, lots of torque etc. Until it didn’t because no turbo boost. The fault was intermittent. After a bit of interwebbing I fronted a local repair shop on the slow Friday afternoon, and pestered them until they found the fault.
    It turns out that the Exhaust Gas Recitculation (EGR) valve is electrically operated but with vacuum boost – what a kludge! Vacuum ‘pressure’ was marginal, eventually traced to a leaking brake booster. Mechanic went under the steering wheel to reconnect the diagnostic plug and heard a hissing sound. Doh!
    So about AUD1100 for the part and a bit of labour all was well. It could be that MB still have the same type of system in your vehicle.
    Anyway, warm regards from Down Under

  11. beng135 says:

    Judging from the way people even here in west MD drive in the snow, I can’t imagine what CA drivers would do. Mad Max?

  12. E.M.Smith says:


    It is a very odd mix. A lot of folks in the L.A. Basin run up to Vegas, even in winter. A bunch go skiing in the nearby mountains. Many are imports from elsewhere with snow. ALL of them deal with one of the most challenging places to drive in the USA. Then there’s the “Never seen snow, or even rain very often” group that doesn’t have a clue.

    So you are running along at 75 MPH with 3 car lengths (at most) between cars, and suddenly the “drizzle” becomes flakes. A bunch of the folks realize it isn’t hitting / sticking on the road and no action is needed. A bunch of others have the “What The Hell Is This?” reaction having not seen snow before (at all, or inside their memory limit… of a year…) and foot comes off the gas. A very few also put the foot on the brakes. Now this is a Very Bad Thing as you rapidly change from 75 MPH to about 20 MPH. The good news is that these folks are used to sudden halts in traffic jam Aw Shits, so nobody had a crash in the chunk of freeway I was on; and the news didn’t report excess wrecks in the snow zone.

    But it was clearly the case that enough of the other drivers on the freeway were a bit freaked by white fluffies.

    That was on the inbound.

    On the outbound I again hit a patch of flakes in the air. This time nobody reacted. It seems that after the prior exposure, the “WT?” reaction was gone and it was just “OK, ignore white fluffy bits”. Not even a slow down.

    It was a very strange experience driving in snow (even if it melted on contact with the road) in L.A. on 3 different times. 2 inbound, one outbound. Then the Coast Range having snow on it down to about 1000 feet ASL / 500 feet above valley floor sometimes; well, that was extremely different. Had never seen that in all my years in California. I’m sure it happened before, but I wasn’t driving the length of California at the time. (In the 1989 event, was playing in the snow with the kid in the Santa Cruz Mountains segment).

    I was a bit worried about the ability to avoid a weather Aw Shit Stuck. It was very gratifying to be able to plot a course through all this muck and through the 2 storms, such that I got in, got stuff loaded on the one dry day, and got out again. All without enough snow to slow me down.

    Note that ALL of the major mountain roads in/out of California were closed for snow. Including I-5 at both the Cascades (north end of the Central Valley) and The Grapevine (climb out of south end of the Central Valley and over the mountains to Los Angeles basin). At one point, at Paso Robles, there was a train of Semi Trucks coming in on a minor highway from the Central Valley to get to L.A. via The 101 (since the I-5 was blocked). On the outbound I asked the Truck Stop owner (at about 2 AM… if business was better. “Oh yeah. So much so I’m worn out” was her answer.

    This little ‘middle of nowhere’ truck stop, used almost entirely for local delivery and a few coastal run folks; was servicing a continuous arrival of big trucks escaping the Central Valley. Can’t get out North, East, or South, so they went West through a lower coastal pass that was open, then down the 101 to L.A.

    I’m just a little bit proud of having planned the route and times such that I got in, and out, during an epic snow event, and did it all without losing any time at all. Yes, some pure luck was involved (like the one dry day), but a lot of local knowledge and weather experience was involved too.


    You ought not need a W.P. account to comment. Just an email address. But welcome in any case.

    Does sound like the same system. There’s a suspicion that the EGR valve might be the culprit (but they are “back ordered” at present… a clue perhaps?). The brakes were inspected as there was a recall for corrosion on them (being a California Car this one had no corrosion). so a leak is less likely (but good to now about / check).

    For now, I’m just “moving on” to the Ford… The Mercedes is just too complicated and fragile a design to deal with at the moment. After I’ve “met goals” with the move, I’ll come back to it. It is good for going 2 miles to Walmart / Publics for groceries and then back home. It can do that for a year…

    @Another Ian:

    I’ll have to look into the N.Z. weather! They ought to be an early indicator of turns to the Cold & Dark.

    This particular Ford engine (5.4 L gas) is one of the better ones, per reports. The drive train is very sturdy (as it is in all sorts of 4 x 4 trucks all over the place) and parts are everywhere. Along with mechanics who can fix it. The biggest issue is just that is a PITA change the spark plugs, but that’s done already and likely I’ll never put enough miles on it to need another.

    IF it has problems, I know they can be fixed just about anywhere, and I know it will not cost anywhere near the level of the Mercedes.


    Unfortunately, yes. FORD is the “vehicle of choice”.

    The Mercedes has proven itself unreliable, impossible to fully repair (at least in an elapsed year), terribly expensive to fix, and overly complex in design (along with fragile design).

    The Dodge / Chrysler / Jeep family from an era I can afford is of 1/2 Mercedes design, so shares a lot of things. The “theft prevention” system is prone to bricking the vehicle (i.e. always carry 2 keys so you can get home… and Jeep forum full of “how to remove the engine disable device”). Older Dodge Cummins that are good and reliable are still very expensive to buy IF you can find one.

    Chevy / GM evaluations (for the Diesels at least, and for anything GM in my experience) just rated them all as “Avoid”.

    Anything Japanese tends to not have enough towing capacity.

    In the end, a Big Ford Truck looks like it is both affordable and reliable enough to get the job done. Oh, and it can be repaired if it breaks. (when it breaks? ;-)

  13. another ian says:


    Not what you wanted to hear re that EGR valve.

    I saw somewhere recently a mention of a drastic fall in container movements via Hamburg. AS opposed to a drastic increase via one in Thailand

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    I see your California Fleeing parody and raise you a Wish We All Could..

  15. Keith Macdonald says:

    “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is”

    Oh, wait!
    Snow and ice as UK records coldest March night since 2010

    You have to go almost to the end to notice this part:

    Yesterday the National Grid used its reserve coal power units for the first time ever, so extra electricity was available between 16:30 and 20:30 GMT. Two coal units at West Burton were sync’d into the National Grid during the afternoon and remained online until the evening. Now, this wasn’t the first time reserve coal power was ready to go, but it was the first time it had needed to be used.

    Prof. Carl-Otto Weiss, using solar cycles Fourier analysis, is predicting temperatures to continue to decline to c.2050

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