Weather along the west coast in March?
January 28, 2011 11:50 AM   Subscribe

In late March, I'm going to drive from Seattle to Los Angeles via 101 and 1 (hugging the coast as closely as I can while staying on highways). Are there any spots along that route which have the potential for bad weather?

I'm talking about freak snowstorms and the like, not just rain. I've looked at the terrain maps on Google maps, but it's pretty hard to get a sense of what the actual altitudes are through the entire route, and altitude isn't the only factor anyway.

I've driven various parts of the route over the years, but not the whole way (I've always used I-5).
posted by sharding to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to the rest of the route, but CA should be fine.

(And there's a great bookstore in Gold Beach, OR! I was kinda surprised to find it last week. It's right on the highway.)
posted by mollymayhem at 11:59 AM on January 28, 2011

There won't be any snowstorms in March on those highways, which run close to the coast. Your main weather concern will be fog.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:59 AM on January 28, 2011

Oh, and fog in Central California can get really, really bad. Don't fuck around with it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:00 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah. CPB is spot on about the fog. Or FOG, rather. Can't see to the end of block-style fog.
posted by mollymayhem at 12:04 PM on January 28, 2011

Yep, the central CA coast fog on Hwy 1 can be treacherous, especially given that it's a very windy road in spots. Be very careful if it rolls in.
posted by scody at 12:06 PM on January 28, 2011

Yes, Grants Pass can be nasty if you take 101 to 5N. 101 Can be nasty between Willets and Garberville, MAJOR rain can lead to land slides. I have seen all sorts of bad things happen there, Drive slow! It will take longer but you will live to tell about it.

Between Trinidad and Cresent city there are LOTS of elk. They are awesome, just try to not hit one. One time I was going too fast south from Cresent city, I came around a blind turn and almost hit a HUGE Elk standing in the middle of the road. I was going slow enough to slow down and advert disaster. Then the elk decided that my car did not belong and was pissed about it. He started to get angry and walk towards my car. I backed up a ways (on the freeway) until I could park around the corner and he could not see me. I had to wait until he left to continue.

Point being, 101 gets crazy north of Willets.
posted by Felex at 12:17 PM on January 28, 2011

The road through Big Sur has been known to be closed if there are mudslides, etc. So rain storms are worth keeping an eye on.
posted by snowymorninblues at 12:21 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Highway One in Marin County can be extremely curvy, surprise road debris, and road crumbling. Impatient morons will be pressuring you to drive too fast. Make sure you have good visibility and you are not tired. Pull over if it gets too beautiful. And it will. Oh, yeah, don't even think about a gas station.
posted by effluvia at 12:44 PM on January 28, 2011

Yeah, do not discount the danger of rain in CA especially on the 1; the road could be totally washed out in places.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:00 PM on January 28, 2011

Watch the weather and news reports for excess rain ->mudslides -> road closures and blocks, but the other main thing to watch for is, along that road, if the sign for a curve ahead says, say "25 MPH"... they MEAN it. Don't think you can whizz merrily around that at 40 the way you do in other places... it will be a very sharp, narrow turn and if you aren't careful you will go right over the edge and it's a long and beautiful drop. By the same token, adjust your projected travel time upwards, going along that route... between the slow curves, and the possibility of a roadblock/mudslide delay, or even just a big bumbling motorhome ahead of you, you will not go as fast on that road as you might think... but that's OK, because it's lovely.
posted by The otter lady at 1:08 PM on January 28, 2011

Can't see to the end of block-style fog.

More like can't see past the hood of your car fog. I've had to pull off the road a few times when it was so think I couldn't see. Pulling off to find a safe place well off the road (idiots will stop on the roadway, be careful of that) was a challenge as well. Better safe than sorry though.

On one trip between Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara it was foggy as hell. And at night a tumbleweed that had to be 7 feet call blew across the 101. I looked at the other person in the car and said, "did you see that too?" She did so it wasn't residual magic mushrooms from UCSC that were at at work.

As said above, along the coast rain (if it is heavy mudslides) and fog will be your only real danger. But the weather, at least the SF-LA leg should be nice.

If you have a smartphone bookmark the Caltrans and the Oregon transportation department's weather conditions websites and refer to them along the way (but not while driving!)

And if there's a freak snowstorm on the coast in late March it will mean something catastrophic happened to the planet's climate like in that movie with Dennis Quaid years back.
posted by birdherder at 1:25 PM on January 28, 2011

Thanks all. Great info!
posted by sharding at 1:57 PM on January 28, 2011

The fog is no joke. Every couple of years, there are news stories about multi-car fatality accidents here because (and I say this as a former PNW resident) "California Driving" counts as a "disaster" in my book.

Also, do not discount the effects of rain in central and southern California if it happens. In addition to possible flooding, erosion and debris, in many areas the presence of water on the roadway will prove that CalTrans has not noticed the invention of proper fucking drainage. Also, when rain is fresh on the road, there is a lot more build-up of oil, etc. accumulated on the normally dry roadway that becomes surprisingly slick and persistant compared to what you're probably used to.

If you're really worried, you can check road conditions by highway number.
posted by Hylas at 2:01 PM on January 28, 2011

I've heard that Bandon, OR, is the windiest area of the west coast, and I believe it. The wind is so consistently strong there that the trees grow twisted and short, like massive bonsai. Might buffet you about a bit, but should be safe enough, and it's very pretty.

Be aware that the 1 and the 101 go right through the middle of San Francisco, not around it - they both turn into surface streets as they pass through the city. Take the opportunity to pull over and stretch your legs.

Nthing the fog warnings - it gets totally nuts out there. Drive slow and pull over to let speed demons pass you up. Consider diverting to the 35 just south of San Francisco - you'll lose some time, but it's a nice twisty drive through the forest, and it drops you off more or less right back on the 1 when it's done.

Have a safe trip.
posted by Pecinpah at 2:55 PM on January 28, 2011

Just south of San Francisco on Route 1 is Devil's Slide. It's called that for good reason, and its inability to keep from falling into the Pacific or being covered with rocks and mud is why tunnels are being bored through the mountain.

Nthing the comments that driving down route 1 is spectacularly beautiful, and not a little dangerous; you will be on the ocean-side lane, and while there will often be several hundred yards of fields between you and the Pacific, there will also often be just a guard rail. Do not assume that driving will keep you from getting carsick - it's happened to me more than once when I've driven it.

That said, have fun! If the weather's good, you'll feel like you're in a car commercial.
posted by rtha at 5:37 PM on January 28, 2011

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