California faces more blizzards, floods in multistate storm
A powerful winter storm that swept down the West Coast with flooding and frigid temperatures shifted its focus to Southern California on Saturday, swelling rivers to dangerous levels and dropping snow in even low-lying areas around Los Angeles.
The National Weather Service said it was one of the strongest storms to ever hit Southern California and even as the volume of wind and rain dropped, it continued to have significant impact including snowfall down to elevations as low as 1,000 feet. Hills around suburban Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, were blanketed in white, and snow also surprised inland suburbs to the east.
Blizzard warnings continued in the mountains and flood advisories blanketed the region, but forecasters offered some relief, predicting the storm would taper off later in the day.
After days of fierce winds, toppled trees and downed wires, more than 117,000 California utility customers remained without electricity, according to PowerOutage.us. And Interstate 5, the West Coast's major north-south highway, remained closed due to heavy snow and ice in Tejon Pass through the mountains north of Los Angeles.
Multiday precipitation totals as of Saturday morning included a staggering 81 inches of snow at the Mountain High resort in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles and up to 64 inches farther east at Snow Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains.
"There's already been reports of 2 to 3 feet across some of the higher peaks, and we're looking at an additional foot, maybe two, of additional snowfall through the rest of the day," said National Weather Service meteorologist Zach Taylor.
The Los Angeles River and other waterways that normally flow at a trickle or are dry most of the year were raging with runoff Saturday. The Los Angeles Fire Department used a helicopter to rescue four homeless people who were stranded in the river's major flood control basin. Two were taken to a hospital with hypothermia, said spokesperson Brian Humphrey.
In the Valencia neighborhood of north Los Angeles County, three motorhomes were swept into the Santa Clara River after an embankment collapsed, according to CBS Los Angeles. No one was inside at the time, and there were no injuries, the L.A. County Fire Department told CBSLA.
Early Saturday afternoon, all L.A. County beaches were closed due to lightning strikes.
"When thunder roars go indoors," the L.A. County Fire Department Lifeguard Division tweeted.
The Weather Prediction Center of the National Weather Service forecast heavy snow over the Cascade Mountains and the Sierra Nevada through the weekend.
Yosemite National Park in Central California announced Saturday that it would be closed through Wednesday because of the severe weather.
The low-pressure system was also expected to bring widespread rain and snow in southern Nevada by Saturday afternoon and across northwest Arizona Saturday night and Sunday morning, the National Weather Service office in Las Vegas said.
An avalanche warning was issued for the Sierra Nevada backcountry around Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California-Nevada border. Nearly 2 feet of new snow had fallen by Friday and up to another 5 feet was expected when another storm moves in with the potential for gale-force winds and high-intensity flurries Sunday, the weather service said.
In Arizona, the heaviest snow was expected late Saturday through midday Sunday, with up to a foot of new snow possible in Flagstaff, forecasters said.
Weekend snow also was forecast for parts of the upper Midwest to the Northeast, with pockets of freezing rain over some areas of the central Appalachians. The storm was expected to reach the central high Plains by Sunday evening.
At least three people have died in the coast-to-coast storms. A Michigan firefighter died Wednesday after coming into contact with a downed power line, while in Rochester, Minnesota, a pedestrian died after being hit by a city-operated snowplow. Authorities in Portland, Oregon, said a person died of hypothermia.
More than 350,000 customers were without power in Michigan as of early Saturday afternoon, according to reports from the the two main utilities in the state, DTE and Consumers Energy. Both said they hope to have the lights back on for most of their customers by Sunday night.
Much of Portland was shut down with icy roads after the city's second-heaviest snowfall on record this week: nearly 11 inches. While the city saw sunny skies and temperatures approaching 40 degrees Saturday afternoon, the reprieve — and thaw — was short-lived. More snow was expected overnight and Sunday.
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