A powerful and menacing winter storm moved into Southern California on Friday, pouring down mounds of rain and snow and triggering severe weather warnings not common in the region.
The storm, which has already left a mess in Northern California, gained strength and battled as it moved south off the Pacific coast. Forecasters on Friday said it attracted an atmospheric river system, an amplified plume of moisture that can bring large amounts of precipitation.
Several areas set new daily rainfall records, including Los Angeles International Airport. But the real pounding will come on Saturday, when forecasters say there is a chance of record snow and 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 one blizzard warning was in effect for the mountains of Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Bernardino counties. The National Weather Service also has one deluge 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 roads.
As the storm moved south from Northern California, it left behind some surreal scenes, including snow on Santa Cruz beaches, on the Napa Valley floor, and atop many peaks in the San Francisco Bay Area.
There was even enough snow in the Berkeley Hills for skiing.
A ramp at Berkeley’s Tilden Park was far from perfect, but it was a new experience that UC Berkeley doctoral student Jay Sayre couldn’t pass up.
“It certainly beats 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 LA area. By the time the current storm leaves, residents at elevations of 4,500 feet and above can see snowfalls of up to 5 feet, with some isolated instances of up to 8 feet of snow on mountain peaks.
The storm will also bring rain — from 2 to 5 inches in low-lying areas along the coast and in the valleys, or even 10 inches in foothills along the mountains, according to weather service meteorologist Ryan Kittell.
“It’s actually two separate events,” Kittell said. “When you’re in the mountains, it’s a huge blizzard. If you’re in the coastal or valley areas, it’s a massive downpour.
Like those who ski in the Bay Area, other area residents found reasons to enjoy 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 fresh powder to arrive on Saturday when Nathan celebrates his birthday.
Garza waited to pick up the kids from Monte Vista Elementary School. Around him sat parents bundled in hats and puffer jackets, umbrellas in hand. “It’s weird to think it’s snowing here,” he said, “but it’s happened before and they’re excited for it to happen tomorrow.”
One thing is canceled in the stormy weather: El Tráfico. Major League Soccer fans had cause for disappointment Friday morning when MLS announced that Saturday’s season opener between the Galaxy and LAFC at the Rose Bowl would have to be postponed. Saturday game tickets will be honored for the rescheduled July 4th game.
Of course, the precipitation brings dangers. Just north of Lancaster, heavy and disruptive snow fell over the mountains of Southern California, closing many mountain passes.
Other closures include 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 shouldn’t “go there to look at snow because then they just get turned away,” he said.
In parts of Ventura County, a evacuation warning would remain in place until 10 a.m. Saturday due to “expected flooding and debris flows” while an evacuation warning was in effect for the Burn area of Bond in Orange County. In western Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, the weather service warned of waterspouts that could become small onshore tornadoes.
Dangers were also forming within the city limits, with a steady downpour hitting Los Angeles on Friday. Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said crews were out due to storm-related issues, including a tree that fell on a house in Panorama City, though no one was hurt.
Firefighters had also responded to dozens of minor mudslides, including in the Hollywood Hills and Woodland Hills, but Humphrey said the agency was not aware of “any loss of life or life-threatening injuries that we can directly link to the weather.”
In northeast Los Angeles, sludgy rainwater sloshed down sidewalks and bubbled in gutters. The Los Angeles River roared to life and the water churned along the concrete channel.
Street flooding was reported in several areas, including near Hollywood Burbank Airport, where at least five cars were trapped in deep water, and Studio City, where videos were seen deep, running 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.
Things didn’t go well in other areas, either. In the foothills of the Mojave Desert, the National Weather Service said it received reports of drivers trapped in snow at Lake Elizabeth and Lake Hughes.
The agency warned that blizzards, including several feet of snow, strong gusts of wind and “almost white conditions,” could make traveling through the mountains of Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties impossible.
The snow in the mountains piled up “quickly.” according to Mt. Baldy Resort, which reported more than a foot of snow on Friday. The ski area has been closed since Wednesday, though officials hoped to reopen this weekend.
As the storm becomes more humid, the elevation at which snow will fall is expected to rise, possibly reaching about 4,000 feet during Friday — significantly higher than the rare low-lying snow and hail seen in California this week, forecasters said.
“It transitions into warmer air, and that raises snow levels,” said Eric Boldt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Oxnard. But a bout of low pressure entering the area on Saturday is expected to bring snow levels back to 2,500 feet, he said.
Wind gusts from the south are expected through Friday evening, with mountains and foothills of up to 120 km/h and coasts and valleys of up to 80 km/h. The Antelope Valley could experience extreme windswhile heavier rain and snow will move across the region.
The storm system originated in Canada and moved through Oregon, bringing more than 10 inches of snow in Portland, the second snowiest day on record. As it moved across the ocean, the storm brought snow to coastal cities in Northern California and to the Sierra Nevada.
California’s epic snowfall also comes as a separate formidable winter storm through the Midwest, leaving thousands of people without power, leading to canceled flights and road closures.
Still, some in Southern California looked forward to the storm.
“Things are looking good,” said John McColly, vice president of sales and marketing at Mountain High Resort in Wrightwood. “We already have 16 inches of snow on the ground, and I believe forecasters are expecting another 2 feet of snow by this time tomorrow.”
Garza, Lancaster’s father, said his family planned to attend Mountain High to celebrate son Nathan’s birthday.
The soon-to-be 6-year-old said he would mark the occasion with a snowman, and his sister hopes to throw some snowballs at her dad.
“It’s going to be the place to be,” said Garza.