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California on alert as heavy snow and rain bring continuing danger and delays

Extreme weather strikes across U.S.
Extreme weather strikes across U.S. 01:36

More snow and rain fell on California on Wednesday, causing travel disruptions on mountain routes and raising the risk of debris flows from wildfire burn scars.

Major highways through the snow-blanketed Sierra Nevada remained open, but chain requirements were in effect in many areas, CBS Sacramento reported.

Caltrans said snowplows were working around the clock and urged people to avoid all but essential travel in the Sierra.

Among staggering snowfall totals in the Sierra, the Northstar resort at Lake Tahoe reported 135 inches since Dec. 21. That's more than 11 feet.

Governor Gavin Newsom activated the State Operations Center to monitor storm conditions.

"I strongly encourage all Californians to avoid making the situation worse and refrain from traveling on mountain roads until conditions improve," he said.

A thick layer of snow is seen around Placer County, California
A thick layer of snow is seen around Placer County, California, on December 28, 2021. Picture taken December 28, 2021. JESSICA BOYLES via Reuters

Some people who visited Lake Tahoe for the Christmas holiday found the drive back slow and frightening because of the winter storms.

"It was probably the most terrifying experience that I've ever dealt with," said Emily Kelbatyrov of Sacramento, who spent 18 hours in the car.

"A lot of cars were slipping into snowbanks, she told KGO-TV. "We ended up losing control of our car and almost crashed into two other people coming the opposite way."

On the scenic central coast, a 10-mile stretch of often-troubled Highway 1 remained closed by a weekend slide in San Luis Obispo County.

In Southern California, residents were ordered to leave three canyons in the Santa Ana Mountains on Wednesday night because of concern about mudslides, CBS Los Angeles reported. The December 2020 Bond Fire burned away vegetation and this year's rains have triggered repeated evacuations. A recent rain sent mud flowing into several homes, making them unsafe.

Flooding in Silverado Canyon
Mitch Vincent keeps a lookout on a rising stream of water threatening his parents' home in Silverado Canyon, California, on December 29, 2021. Visiting for the holidays, Vincent, along with his wife, built temporary barriers behind a retaining wall, helping divert floodwaters from his elderly parents' home.  Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

People living in other Southern California burn areas were urged to leave voluntarily.

Residents of the Bobcat Fire burn scar area in Monrovia, east of L.A., were once again on alert as yet another winter storm moved across, CBS L.A. pointed out.

With more rain falling on the already soaked foothills, people worry that too much of it could trigger mud and debris flows.

"It's a love hate relationship" between the need for rain in the drought-stricken region and the danger too much at once could pose, resident Michael Kunch told the station.

Kunch and his daughter, Abigail, know the danger heavy rain poses for their community. Behind their home, a flood and debris basin filled up quite a bit in the last storm, Monday night, with logs, rocks and mud, all of which washed down from the Bobcat Fire burn scar. 

A flood watch was posted for much of the region from just south of Los Angeles County to San Diego and inland. Winter storm warnings were issued for many Southern California mountain ranges.

The Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park closed Wednesday due to the weather.

Forecasts called for California weather to generally dry out for the New Year's weekend before more storminess next week.

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