Over the Hill

It’s hot now, but do you remember when a snowstorm hit SLO County 30 years ago?

During the snowstorm on Dec. 15, 1988, Cal Abbott used a scooper to dish up food to a Barbados ram and a Welsh pony at the Weeping Willow Ranch on Nacimiento Road.
During the snowstorm on Dec. 15, 1988, Cal Abbott used a scooper to dish up food to a Barbados ram and a Welsh pony at the Weeping Willow Ranch on Nacimiento Road. The Tribune

I don’t need to tell you it’s been hot this summer, especially here in the North County where I Iive.

So it might be a relief if I remind you about that day and night 30 years ago when a deep, heavy, snow storm trapped thousands of people and animals and two white doves on both sides of the Cuesta Grade.

I was walking in Atascadero when the snow started falling.

Very soon it started getting into my loafers. So I got into my car and drove back to Paso. That was Dec. 15, 1988. The snow got deeper and deeper and trapped many people. (Around here nobody carries tire chains and snow shovels in their cars.)

Driving on roads covered with a deep layer of damp snow is dangerous. Out-of-town people got stranded here. Emergency shelters were set up. One was at Paso Robles High School. The refugees there included 138 men women and children and the two doves.

The birds belonged to Cosmo Salano, a magician from Northridge. He arrived at the high school at 2 a.m. He’d given a show in Bakersfield, and finding Interstate 5 closed, he futilely tried to make an end run through Paso Robles.

Also sheltering at the high school was Joe Casanova, from Selma. One of his family’s two cars ran off Highway 41 and got stuck, and some people pulled it free. “These are all good people,” he said. He and his family slept that night on the mats in the high school wrestling room.

Not everyone displaced by the storm did so well.

Consider Maxine Pope of Paso Robles. The storm trapped her in San Luis Obispo, where she had gone to the dentist early that morning. She said, “By the time they got my bridge in, the Grade was closed and the roads were closed shortly thereafter.”

And then there’s the case of Cheryl Gobel of Atascadero. She left her job in San Luis Obispo before noon and found Highway 41 blocked by a jackknifed truck. She then tried to take Highway 46 but found it was also closed. Finally at 3:30 p.m. she found herself back in San Luis Obispo bedraggled and facing having to spend the night south of the Cuesta Grade.

In Paso Robles and Atascadero all the motels were full by by mid-afternoon. Bill Brown, the manager of Motel 6 in Atascadero said, “We sent hundreds of people to shelters after we filled up.”

That snowstorm trapped many people, but that may never happen again these days. Scientists tell us the Earth’s climate is heating up . Our area may never again experience snow storms like that.

I wasn’t the only Telegram-Tribune reporter covering the storm. The others included Jill Duman, David Eddy and Mark Pratter. I’ve saved the clipping about that storm all these years to remind me that even when things seem to be going perfectly, everything can collapse in an hour.

But usually we survive.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to the Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades and his column appears every other week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or pmdirkx@sbcglobal.net.
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