California storm: Storm lashes California, but not a drought buster

California was lashed Friday by heavy rains that the parched state so desperately needs, though with the soaking came familiar problems: traffic snarls, power outages and the threat of mudslides.

Even with rainfall totals exceeding 6 inches in some places by midday, the powerful Pacific storm did not put a major dent in a drought that is among the worst in recent California history.

The first waves of the storm drenched foothill communities east of Los Angeles that just weeks ago were menaced by a wildfire -- and now faced potential mudslides. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for about 1,200 homes in the area. Small debris flows covered one street in Glendora, but no property damage occurred, police said.

Forecasters expected the storm to last through Saturday in California before trundling east into similarly rain-starved neighboring states. Phoenix was expecting its first noticeable precipitation in two months. The storm was projected to head east across the Rockies before petering out in the Northeast in several days.

The threat of mudslides will last at least through Saturday night. Tornadoes and water spouts were possible.

Rainfall totals in parts of California were impressive, especially in areas that typically don't receive much, but not nearly enough to offer long-term relief from a long-running drought.

Downtown Los Angeles received two inches before a midday reprieve, but remained about 12 inches below normal rainfall for the season.

"We need several large storms and we just don't see that on the horizon. This is a rogue storm," National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Boldt said. "We will dry out next week."

But for this rain, the service said, this would have been the driest December through February on record in Los Angeles.

Rain also fell in the central coast counties, the San Francisco Bay region and the Central Valley. Winter storm warnings were in effect in the Sierra Nevada.

About 15 inches of new snow had fallen by mid-day Friday at UC Berkeley's Central Sierra Snow Lab located near the Sierra summit at 6,900 feet above sea level.

"All these (storm) events move us a little higher up, but we're still well below average," said researcher Randall Osterhuber. Earlier in the week, the state Department of Water Resources found that the Sierra snowpack had water content at only 24 percent of average for the date.

Farmer Ray Gene Veldhuis, who grows almonds, walnuts and pistachios and runs a 2,300-cow dairy in the Central Valley's Merced County, welcomed the wet weather but knew it would not rescue California from drought.

"Hopefully, they keep coming," Veldhuis said of the storms. "If not, we'll deal with the hand we're dealt."

The storm did more than force Californians to reacquaint themselves with their rain gear.

Numerous traffic accidents occurred on slick or flooded roads across California, including one about 60 miles east of Los Angeles involving a big rig whose driver died after falling from a freeway overpass.

Two men and their dogs were rescued from the swift waters of the Los Angeles River. A few miles downriver, another man was pulled out and carried to safety. Hundreds of miles north in San Jose, firefighters also pulled a man from swollen Coyote Creek near a homeless encampment.

Power outages hit about 32,000 customers, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Southern California Edison said.

In Glendora, a city about 25 miles east of Los Angeles that sits beneath nearly 2,000 acres of steep mountain slopes stripped by fire in January, a muddy soup of debris began to fill catch basins. With the vegetation gone, little held the dirt and rock in place.

Homes were spared. Skip loaders scraped tons of mud off a road that funneled ooze, large rocks and other debris from a dam-like catch basin below the burn area down the steep roadway.

Andrew Geleris, 59, of Pomona, spent the night with his 87-year-old mother at her home near the catch basin. "I tried to talk her into evacuating yesterday ... but she's just stubborn."

Weeks ago, firefighters stopped the flames 15 feet from Dana Waldusky's back fence.

"This time there's nothing you can do. You can't stop water," said Waldusky.

Meteorologists posted flood watches for many other areas denuded by fires over the past two years, and also warned of potential coastal flooding.

The storm was good news for other Californians who didn't have to worry about mudslides.

Kite-surfer Chris Strong braved pelting rain to take advantage of strong winds that gave him about an hour of fun over the pounding surf in the Sunset Beach enclave of Huntington Beach.

"I don't get to kite here in these conditions very often -- only a handful of times -- but you put them in the memory bank," he said.

Surf schools in San Diego cancelled lessons,

and asked their customers to be patient.

"It's unruly out there now but when the storm settles and it cleans up, there will be the best waves in the next few days," said Rick Gehris of Surfari Surf School.

Storms this winter mostly began in the Pacific Northwest and followed a U-shaped path across the country. This latest storm originated farther south and is "taking a beeline across the middle of the country," said warning meteorologist Greg Carbin at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

"It's a different than other storms we've seen so far, but this is nothing all that unusual," he said.

Authorities in the foothill cities of Glendora and Azusa east of Los Angeles kept a wary eye on the barren slopes as rains moved through. Small debris flows covered one Glendora street but no property damage occurred, police said. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for about 1,000 homes in the area on Thursday.

A new evacuation covering 200 homes was ordered Friday morning in the nearby foothill city of Monrovia, where a wildfire denuded 170 acres of slopes above the city.

Numerous traffic accidents occurred on slick or flooded roads across Southern California, and a 10-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway west of Malibu was closed as a precaution against possible rockslides from a fire-scarred section of the Santa Monica Mountains.

In Los Angeles, rising water forced police to close major roads crossing the Sepulveda Basin. The flood-control area for the Los Angeles River on the San Fernando Valley floor is maintained as a wildlife refuge and recreation center but is otherwise kept clear of development.

A Fire Department swiftwater team rescued two men and two dogs from a perch on a tree trunk in the fast-moving Los Angeles River.

Power outages hit about 24,000 customers, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Southern California Edison said.

Rain was also falling in the central coast counties, in the San Francisco Bay region and in the Central Valley. Winter storm warnings were in effect in the Sierra Nevada for heavy snowfall.

Forecasts called for the storm to last through Saturday in California, bringing some relief amid a long-running drought, and to spread east into similarly parched neighboring states. Phoenix was expecting its first noticeable precipitation in two months.

Around San Francisco Bay, the storm led to an urban and small stream flood warning, as rain in excess of a half-inch an hour moved in, according to the National Weather Service. Wet roadways and crashes slowed the morning commute, and there were isolated power outages.

In San Jose, a driver had to abandon his vehicle after attempting to drive through a flooded street and becoming stranded, police said. The driver was not hurt. Firefighters also pulled a man from swollen Coyote Creek near a homeless encampment. He was treated at a hospital for hypothermia.

Some arriving flights at San Francisco International Airport were delayed by more than four hours, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Weather conditions at Los Angeles International Airport caused cancellations of nine arrivals and 10 departures, officials said.

South of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay pumpkin farmer Chris Gounalakis worked in a soft drizzle to make sure his plowed fields weren't being eroded by a creek.

"Our land can start funneling into the creek, it's happened before. Then we end up losing our little precious land, and right now we do need every little bit," he said.

The storm's full force was expected to be felt later Friday morning, with possible thunderstorms and rains up to an inch per hour, the National Weather Service said.

On Thursday, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for about 1,000 homes in Glendora and Azusa, about 25 miles east of Los Angeles that sit beneath nearly 2,000 acres of steep mountain slopes stripped by fire in January. People were not forced out, but some residents quickly heeded the call.

Dana Waldusky's home survived the fire, which firefighters stopped 15 feet from their back fence.

"This time there's nothing you can do. You can't stop water," said Waldusky, 22.

While concern was highest in the Glendora-Azusa area, meteorologists also posted flood watches for many other areas denuded by fires over the past two years.

California's rain totals are far below normal and it will take a series of drenching storms to make a dent in a statewide drought that is among the worst in recent history.

The state Department of Water Resources took a new survey of the Sierra Nevada snowpack on Thursday and found the water content at only 24 percent of average for the date. The northern and central Sierra snowpack normally provides about a third of the water used by California's cities and farms.

Farmer Ray Gene Veldhuis, who grows almonds, walnuts and pistachios and runs a 2,300-cow dairy in the Central Valley's Merced County, welcomed the wet weather doubted it will rescue California from drought.

"This is actually getting

back to normal rather than being abnormal," Veldhuis said in an interview Thursday. "It's kind of a blessing. Hopefully, they keep coming. If not, we'll deal with the hand we're dealt."

The storm also was good news for other Californians who didn't have to worry about mudslides.

Kite-sailor Chris Strong braved pelting rain to take advantage of strong winds that have him about an hour of fun over the pounding surf in the Sunset Beach enclave of Huntington Beach.

"I don't get to kite here in these conditions very often -- only a handful if times -- but you put them in the memory bank," he said.

In San Diego, rain was intermittent. Surfers stood on the beach and watched wind-churned waves roll in but did not dare go in because of the risk of getting a staph infection or other illness from the waters contaminated from runoff.

Surf schools cancelled lessons but asked their customers to be patient.

"It's unruly out there now but when the storm settles and it cleans up, there will be the best waves in the next few days," said Rick Gehris of Surfari Surf School.

 

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