December 22, 2008

Weather lull allows rescuers in

A San Bernardino County sheriff's helicopter crew patrols the area around Pioneertown, where several people have been rescued in the past several days after being trapped in deep snow.

The Press-Enterprise

Skies may turn sunny today, but Christmas Eve may bring heavy rain and more snow that could last into Christmas morning, forecasters said.

A weak weather system brought showers to the valleys Monday and winds in mountain passes, but no serious problems.

San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies used the lull between storms to continue checking on and rescuing people stranded in remote desert cabins or stuck on snowy back roads.

Two women in their 70s trapped by snow in a Pioneertown-area cabin north of Yucca Valley were rescued by sheriff's helicopter crews, said Flight Officer Mike Ells.

The team was sent to check on two families and the first was fine, he said. The women, however, signaled that they needed help.

"We landed in about a foot of snow and walked about 50 to 100 yards to the house," Ells said.

The home had no heat, no water and broken windows, and the women had been sleeping in their car to keep warm, Ells said.

The team -- Ells, pilot Alex Kahn and Deputy Heather Moon from the Morongo Station -- was greeted by the women's 24 dogs.

"Probably 10 of them were not happy to see us," Ells said.

They decided the women needed to be seen by paramedics, but a medical team was unable to drive to the area. A paramedic was helicoptered in, and then a larger helicopter was summoned to take the women to a hospital, Ells said.

"With the weather, and a new storm coming in, we said, 'We need to get them to a hospital,' " Ells said.

There still is quite a bit of snow in the higher desert regions, he said.

"For the past three days, we've been going after people that were stuck out in the desert in the snow," he said.

Several were off-roaders who underestimated the depth of the snow and became confused about their locations. They were found in good shape, he said.

Monday's storm brought 0.15 of an inch of rain or less, said National Weather Service forecaster Noel Isla.

The next storm "is going to be a little bit stronger," Isla said.

Valleys could see more than an inch of rain and there could be another foot of snow in the mountains above 5,500 feet, forecasters said.