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Ice From Hailstorm Shuts Down Stretch of Ventura Freeway : Weather: Slippery five-inch accumulation causes several minor accidents. Some motorists leave their cars to build snowmen.

February 28, 1993|TIMOTHY WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A fast-moving hailstorm dumped up to five inches of ice on the Conejo Grade in Thousand Oaks Saturday, creating snow-like conditions and forcing authorities to shut down the Ventura Freeway in both directions.

The accumulation created slippery conditions that led to several minor accidents on the freeway, the California Highway Patrol said.

CHP officials closed the freeway between Camarillo Springs Road and Wendy Drive at 4:35 p.m. for about an hour and escorted vehicles over the grade as hail battered cars and piled up on the road during the 20-minute storm.

Several motorists who were stuck in traffic by the freak weather ventured out of their cars to play, building snowmen and staging snowball fights with handfuls of the hard ice.

"This is great," said Jason Grant, 21, of Thousand Oaks as he scampered out of his car. "Who would have believed that it would ever snow in Southern California like this?"

Meteorologists, however, said because the snow level was officially at 2,500 feet, and the Conejo Grade is only about 700 feet above sea level, the cold white substance probably was only hail.

"While this is very unusual, this is not officially snow," said Steve Burback, a meteorologist for WeatherData Inc., which provides weather forecasts for The Times. "Snow would be fluffier."

Several minor accidents caused by cars skidding on the hail that accumulated on the freeway led to the decision to close the heavily traveled road, a CHP spokesman said.

Slippery conditions on the grade caused Stefany Wolfson to lose control of her car and crash into another vehicle.

As she waited for a tow truck to rescue her car, Wolfson, a Camarillo resident, marveled at the speed with which the storm struck.

"I was just going along, when all of a sudden, the sky opened up and started dumping hail," Wolfson said. "There wasn't very much time to react, and when I put on my brakes to slow down, I started hydroplaning and hit the car in front of me."

For Sylvia Benedetti of Simi Valley, who was involved in a separate minor accident, the hail that contributed to her accident seemed a lot like snow.

"I know what hail is, I know what snow is, and this was definitely snow," she said.

After the storm had passed, Barbara Erickson of Thousand Oaks looked at the piles of melting white stuff and got a little nostalgic.

"This reminds me of back east in Chicago--OK a little," she said, laughing.

The freeway was reopened after a Caltrans snow scraper removed most of the hail from the roadway, a CHP spokesman said.

Because of the hit-and-miss pattern of the storm, some areas were inundated with hail, while others reported only light rain showers, Burback said.

In Ojai there were reports of heavy hailstorms, while Simi Valley and Ventura had only moderately heavy showers. The precipitation was accompanied by thunder in some parts of the county.

Today's forecast called for lingering showers through the morning and partly cloudy skies for the remainder of the day and through Monday, Burback said.

Earlier in the day, East County sheriff's deputies responded to complaints of youths throwing packed hail balls at passing cars near the intersection of Old Conejo Drive and Jenny Drive in Newbury Park.

"I'm sure they think it's fun, but at the same time, if one of those things were to go through a windshield, it could cause a hellacious accident," said Sgt. Bruce Watlington.

Times staff writer Christopher Heredia and photographer Spencer Weiner contributed to this story.

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