3rd Southern California storm brings flooding, rockslides

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Evacuations and closures | Power outages | Gas advisory | Rainfall total | Drought effect

Southern California was pounded with rain overnight as the third and final storm in a series dumped more than 4 inches in some places.

Among the places hit hardest by Sunday's torrential downpour was Long Beach. The nearly four inches of rain it received was the biggest one-day downpour ever recorded in the city, breaking a record set in 1967. 

Several neighborhoods in Long Beach were inundated with several feet of water, inspiring some residents to take up surfing in the streets as seen on videos posted on social media.

But not everyone had fun. Eight people were stranded in their cars after rising waters overtook their engines and two teens needed rescuing from the Los Angeles River during an ill-advised rafting trip. They were transported to a local hospital.

Portions of both the 710 and 110 freeways were flooded. And a barge washed up on a beach in Belmont Shore.

The storms also damaged many of the region’s big trees, Cy Carlberg, an arborist who owns an L.A.-based tree consulting business, told KPCC.

Rain loosens the grip roots have in the soil and makes trees more likely to fall. In many cases, trees in residential neighborhoods are more prone to rain damage because their roots have been cut to make way for roads and sidewalks, she said.

“[Right now] there’s no cohesiveness between the roots and the soil,” she said. “This isn’t good. We need a break. We need this water to drain and the soil to dry out a bit.”

If a tree looks like it’s leaning more than usual or its leaves and branches look abnormally heavy, Carlberg advised calling to a tree service professional to protect your car — and your safety.

By Monday morning, the floods had mostly subsided — except in El Dorado Park, where a field and part of a roadway had transformed into a giant lake.

It was the perfect place to chase birds for Irene Aragon’s dog, Shadow. 

“So we always come here because he likes to go in the water,” said Aragon. 

The Long Beach emergency operations center was deactivated with no flood-related incidents reported by Monday afternoon. All major streets and freeways in the area were reopened.

"We were anticipating severe rain but not a record rainfall," said Jake Heflin, spokesperson for the Long Beach Fire Department, to KPCC.

Expecting possible debris and mudslides, residents near recent fire burn areas in Duarte, Santa Clarita and other foothill areas were under orders — some mandatory — to evacuate their homes in advance of the storm. But some of the heaviest rainfall hit the Westside, Long Beach and South Bay. 

"We were braced for the worst in some of the foothill communities, and it just goes to show you the unpredictability of the storm," said Helen Chavez, assistant director of the L.A. County Office of Emergency Management. 

Ojai saw the most rain, topping 4 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Sleet and hail contributed to a 15-car collision on the Grapevine just before 4:30 a.m. Monday morning, according to Officer Brian Moore of the CHP. The collision has since been cleared, with nine injured and five people hospitalized with minor injuries. Now, snow is falling and sticking to the road, with CHP officers escorting drivers through the Grapevine and keeping them bunched together – doing to generates more heat and helps melt the snow on the road, Moore told KPCC.

In L.A., emergency crews rescued 12 people and two pets from rain-swept flood control channels and riverbeds over the last 24 hours, according to L.A. Fire Department spokesperson Brian Humphrey.

Crews also responded to 172 weather-related incidents, including flooding, debris flow, fallen trees, and transformer fires. No serious injuries or loss of structures have been reported. Authorities are recovering a body found in dense vegetation in the Harbor City area, according to an alert, but it's unclear whether the death was related to the storm.

The immediate storm impact began to subside Monday morning, but the period after a storm ends has historically been the deadliest time, as people head to flood channels to watch the water flow, Humphrey said. 

A flash flood warning for much of Southern California was extended through 6 p.m. Monday. Isolated thunderstorms are possible, and rain was predicted to fall at rates of a half inch to an inch per hour, continuing the threat of debris flows in recent burn areas, according to the weather service.

Rockslides forced the closure of two different roads in Malibu. Topanga Canyon Road was closed from Pacific Coast Highway to Grand View Drive, and Malibu Canyon Road from Francisco Ranch to Piuma Road, according to the California Highway Patrol’s incident log. 

Malibu Canyon road is now open, according to the LA County Department of Public Works:

https://twitter.com/LACoPublicWorks/status/823657815772254209

The southbound lanes of State Route 14 were closed at Escondido Canyon Road, with reports of a boulder the size of a vehicle in the roadway. Flooding was reported in the 2900 block of San Franciscquito Canyon Road.

The 710 and 110 freeways were open again as of early Monday. Both had been closed due to flooding, with two to three feet of water reportedly covering the 710 at one point.

Some coastal areas in Orange County had minor flooding over the weekend that caused road closures and required pumping to remove standing water. The City of Seal Beach was pumping water Monday morning from a large pool of rainwater that had built up south of the Seal Beach pier between the sand berm and a row of homes along the beach.

The water reached above the gates of homes facing the beach but city spokesman Joe Bailey said Monday morning that the city had not received any reports of flooding from residents.  

Evacuations and closures by area

Duarte

  • 180 homes under mandatory evacuation orders near the Fish Fire burn area
  • Duarte Community Center at 1600 Huntington Drive has been set up as a shelter — meals are being provided and animals accommodated through a Los Angeles County Animal Control mobile shelter on site
  • Minor mud and debris flows reported along Melcanyon Road
  • Road closures: Royal Oaks and Greenbank, Bettyhill and Conata, Royal Oaks and Mel Canyon, eastbound Fish Canyon at Mel Canyon, westbound Fish Canyon at Mel Canyon, Mountaincrest and Deerlane, and Brookridge and Tannencrest
  • Valley View Elementary School closed for the day
  • Sandbags and sand available 24 hours a day at L.A. County Fire station 44, located at 1105 Highland Avenue
  • Residents have been encouraged to sign up for Nixle alerts here.

Glendora

  • The city downgraded its alert system from Orange to Yellow, which means voluntary evacuations have been lifted. The city advised that heavy downpours are still possible, but the most significant threat has passed.

Santa Clarita

  • Evacuations for residents in the Sand Canyon and other Santa Clarita Valley burn areas were lifted at 10 a.m. Monday morning.
  • A shelter has been set up at Canyon High School at 19300 Nadal Street. Small animals can be taken to the Castaic Animal Shelter at 31044 Charlie Canyon Road, while livestock can be taken to Pierce College at 6201 Winnetka Avenue in Woodland Hills
  • Road closures: Sand Canyon and Lost Canyon (soft closure), Placerita Canyon and 14 Freeway, Sand Canyon and Placerita Canyon into Bear Divide (hard closure), Little Tujunga Road is inaccessible. Roads leading into the Val Verde area are open.

Orange County

  • A voluntary evacuation order at the Silverado Canyon burn area has been lifted
  • Sandbags are available for residents in unincorporated county areas — call OC Public Works at 714–955–0200

Camarillo Springs

  • Voluntary evacuation order lifted Sunday for residents in Divisions A, B, C & D

Camarillo

  • Road closures: 101 northbound onramp at Springville, southbound Las Posas Road from 5th Street to Laguna Road, Cawelti between Las Posas Road to South Lewis Road

Oxnard

  • Road closures: Pleasant Valley Road closed between Wood Road and Airport Way, No. 2 Lane of East Vineyard Avenue between Lambert and Central

Ojai

  • Road closures: Highway 33 from Wheeler Gorge to Lockwood Valley Road

Riverside County

  • Numerous schools in Riverside County are closed Monday, including all of the campuses in Perris Union High School District, Val Verde School District, Nuview Union School District.
  • The county is updating a list of school closures here.

Power outages

Thousands of people were without power early Monday.

The storm knocked trees into electrical equipment, cutting power for thousands of L.A. Department of Water and Power customers. As of about 9 a.m., 8,500 customers were still without power.

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Southern California Edison reported roughly 7,000 customers still without power as of noon Monday — about 1,800 customers in Orange County and 1,700 in San Bernardino County, according to Edison spokesperson David Song.

Gas advisory

SoCal Gas meanwhile advised residents to conserve natural gas by lowering thermostats to 68 degrees, waiting a day to use major gas appliances and washing laundry with cold water.

The company's largest underground gas storage field is the one near Porter Ranch which sprang the nation's largest ever gas leak in late 2015 remains closed while it undergoes safety inspections.

Individual homes and businesses that are the core customers of SoCal Gas are not at immediate risk of having their supplies cut off. That's because it would take days or weeks to restore service to so many individual customers and their appliances.

But SoCal Gas is putting large gas users like refineries and power plants on notice that their supply of gas could be cut off if gas supplies fall too low. Those are so-called "non-core" customers who buy their own gas from out of state but receive it through SoCal Gas pipelines.

This is at least the second gas supply advisory that SoCal Gas has put out this winter warning big customers of potential cutoff and asking homes and small businesses to conserve supplies.

Total rainfall this season

So far this month, downtown L.A. has recorded a little more than 8 inches of rain, according to Stuart Seto with the National Weather Service.

The last time we had a month this wet was January 2008, he said. That January, 7.97 inches of rain fell in the region. The last time downtown L.A. had more than 8 inches, however, was even earlier — January 2005 had 9.32 inches of rain.

In the mountains, all this precipitation has translated to thick snowpack. Big Bear Mountain Resort reported 12 to 16 inches of new snowfall from Sunday night into Monday morning, bringing the total this season to 120 inches. That's more than all of last year's snowfall combined and far above the average of the past three to four years, according to the resort's marketing manager, Justin Kanton.

Bear Mountain is closed today because of wind, but Snow Summit is open.

How does this winter's precipitation compare to previous rainy years in Southern California? By one measure, it's the fifth-wettest year since World War II.

We've received around 88 percent of a normal water year's accumulation by Monday morning, according to a metric that factors in precipitation at gauges around greater Los Angeles.

"This is quite a wet year so far," said David Pierce, the climate researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who devised the metric. He explains that the number that would typically be around 100 percent on the final day of the water year—September 30th. So to be pushing 90 percent in January is far ahead of normal.

It's so far ahead of normal that the only years that were further ahead on this date were 1966, 1952, 1993 and 2005. Records stretch back to the 1946 water year.

Percent of a normal year's accumulation in SoCal by today's date and through the end of the water year (October - September)

Water year Percent on Jan 23 Percent on Sep 30
2005 131.02 225.77
1993 123.1 203.12
1952 105.34 169.36
1966 96.25 117.32
2017 87.53 ?
2011 87.15 143.97
1995 84.89 175.92
1978 81.26 229.71
1997 77.92 95.37
1967 74.44 137.92

Most of those years that were precipitation-heavy in January ended up well above 100 percent of a normal year's precipitation.

However, Pierce cautions that a wet January doesn't necessarily mean a wet February or March.

Drought effect

Despite the historic rainfall, pockets of Southern California remain deeply parched.

“We have a long way to go before we can declare ourselves out of this drought,” said Ron Merckling, the spokesman for the Casitas Municipal Water District, which supplies 65,000 people in Ventura County.

The weekend storms dumped three inches of rain on parts of Ventura, adding two feet of water to Lake Casitas, a reservoir in western Ventura County. But the lake, which is only 36 percent full, will need another 78 feet of water to fill it to the brim.

It’s a similar story in nearby Santa Barbara County, where Lake Cachuma is just 11 percent full even after the recent rains.

Meanwhile, some reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada are currently over 80 percent full.

According to the US Drought Monitor’s latest report, which came out before the weekend storm, parts of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties remain in “exceptional drought.”

Both counties are considering, or already are bringing on, expensive new sources of imported or desalinated water, which will make them less vulnerable to droughts in the future. 

 

This story has been updated.

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