Historic Blizzard storm batters California


A powerful and menacing winter storm moved into Southern California on Friday, dumping heaps of rain and snow and prompting severe weather warnings not often seen in the region.

The storm, which has already left a mess in Northern California, was gaining strength and moisture as it traveled south off the Pacific Coast. Forecasters on Friday said it was tapping into an atmospheric river system, an enhanced plume of moisture that can deliver large amounts of precipitation.

Several areas set new daily rainfall records, including Los Angeles International Airport. But the real pounding will come Saturday, when forecasters say there’s a potential for record snow as well as intense rain.

On Saturday morning, the California Highway Patrol closed Interstate 5 through the Grapevine and Highway 14 due to icy, dangerous driving conditions.

A rare blizzard warning was in effect for Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties’ mountains. The National Weather Service also issued a flash-flood warning for the valleys and foothills of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, warning of heavy rainfall and other potential hazards such as debris flow and flooded roadways.

As the storm moved south out of Northern California, it left some surreal scenes, including snow on the beaches of Santa Cruz, on the Napa Valley floor and atop many San Francisco Bay Area peaks.

There was even enough snow in the Berkeley Hills to ski.

A slope at Berkeley’s Tilden Park was far from perfect, but it was a novel experience that UC Berkeley doctoral candidate Jay Sayre could not pass up.

“It’s certainly better than the three-hour [drive] from the Bay Area to Tahoe,” he said. “It’s just wild to see snow in the hills.”

The unusual system rivals a storm that hit the region in 1989 — the first and only other time the weather service issued a blizzard warning in the L.A. area. By the time the current storm makes its exit, residents at 4,500-foot elevations and above could see snowfall totals as much as 5 feet, with some isolated instances of up to 8 feet of snow on mountain peaks.

The storm will also deliver rain — from 2 to 5 inches in low-elevation areas along the coast and in the valleys, or as much as 10 inches in foothills along the mountains, according to weather service meteorologist Ryan Kittell.

“It’s really like two separate events,” Kittell said. “If you’re in the mountains, it’s a huge snowstorm. If you’re in the coastal, valley areas, it’s a huge rainstorm.”

Like those skiing in the Bay Area, other area residents found reasons to relish the storm. In Lancaster, Obie Garza said he and his family, including 6-year-old Alina and 5-year-old Nathan, couldn’t wait for the arrival of fresh powder on Saturday, when Nathan will celebrate his birthday.

Garza was waiting to pick up the kids from Monte Vista Elementary School. Around him, parents were bundled in beanies and puffer jackets, with umbrellas in hand. “It’s weird to think of it snowing here,” he said, “but it’s happened before and they’re excited about it happening tomorrow.”

One thing that won’t be happening amid the stormy weather: El Tráfico. Fans of Major League Soccer had cause for disappointment on Friday morning as MLS announced that Saturday’s season opener between the Galaxy and LAFC at the Rose Bowl would have to be postponed. Tickets for the Saturday match will be honored for the rescheduled July 4 game.

The precipitation brings dangers, of course. Just north of Lancaster, heavy and disruptive snowfall was picking up over Southern California’s mountains, spurring the closure of many mountain passes.

Other closures included portions of State Route 2 in the Angeles National Forest and State Route 33 north of Ojai, according to Caltrans spokesman Marc Bischoff.

The public should not “go up there to look at snow, because they’ll just be turned away,” he said.

In portions of Ventura County, an evacuation warning was set to remain in place until 10 a.m. Saturday because of “anticipated flooding and debris flows,” while an evacuation warning was in effect for the Bond fire burn area in Orange County. In western Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, the weather service warned of waterspouts that could become small onshore tornadoes.

Hazards were also forming within city limits, with a steady downpour in Los Angeles on Friday. Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said crews had been out because of storm-related issues, including a tree that fell on a house in Panorama City, though no one was injured.

Firefighters had also responded to dozens of instances of minor mudslide activity, including in the Hollywood Hills and in Woodland Hills, but Humphrey said the agency wasn’t aware of “any loss of life or life-threatening injury that we can directly relate to the weather.”

In northeast Los Angeles, silty stormwater sloshed down sidewalks and bubbled in gutters. The Los Angeles River roared to life, with water churning along the concrete channel.

Street flooding was reported in several areas, including near Hollywood Burbank Airport, where at least five cars were stuck in deep water, and Studio City, where videos showed deep, rushing water around Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Multiple lanes of the 5 Freeway were closed due to “flooding and mud” around Lankershim Boulevard, the California Highway Patrol said.

Other areas weren’t faring well, either. In the Mojave Desert foothill communities, the National Weather Service said it was receiving reports of drivers stuck in the snow at Lake Elizabeth and Lake Hughes.

The agency warned that blizzard conditions, including several feet of snow, strong wind gusts and “near whiteout conditions,” could make travel impossible through the mountains of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.

Snow in the mountains was accumulating “rapidly,” according to Mt. Baldy Resort, which reported more than a foot of snow Friday. Its ski resort has been closed since Wednesday, though officials hoped to reopen this weekend.

As the storm gains moisture, the elevations at which snow will fall are expected to rise, possibly to about 4,000 feet throughout Friday — significantly higher than the rare low-elevation snow and hail seen this week across California, forecasters said.

“It is transitioning to warmer air, and that is lifting the snow levels,” said Eric Boldt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Oxnard. But a bout of low pressure moving into the area Saturday is expected to drop snow levels back down to 2,500 feet, he said.

Gusty southerly winds are expected through Friday evening, with mountains and foothills seeing up to 75 mph, and coasts and valleys seeing up to 50 mph. The Antelope Valley could experience extreme winds, while heavier rain and snow will move across the region.

The storm system originated in Canada and moved through Oregon, delivering more than 10 inches of snow in Portland, the second snowiest day on record. As it moved over the ocean, the storm brought snow to coastal cities in Northern California and to the Sierra Nevada.

California’s epic snowfall event also comes as a separate formidable winter storm tore through the Midwest, leaving thousands of people without power and leading to cancelled flights and road closures.

Still, in Southern California, some were looking forward to the storm.

“Things are looking great,” said John McColly, vice president of sales and marketing at Mountain High Resort in Wrightwood. “We’ve got 16 inches of snow on the ground already, and I believe forecasters are calling for another 2 feet of snow by this time tomorrow.”

Garza, the Lancaster dad, said his family intended to visit Mountain High to celebrate son Nathan’s birthday.

The soon-to-be 6-year-old said he would commemorate the occasion with a snowman, and his sister hopes to toss a snowball or two at her father.

“It will be the place to be,” Garza said.


Panorama Hispano is the regional news and information newspaper for Hispanic and other diverse communities.

US Hispanics are now the largest ethnic minority in the United States numbering 54.2 million as of July 2014. Serving: Buffalo, Rochester, Fredonia, Niagara Falls, NY and Erie, PA. Outside our Market area: Visit our affiliate at: http://www.impremedia.com/

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