Late-winter storm plays havoc in Southern California

Runners start the Honda LA Marathon in Los Angeles, on a stormy Sunday, March 20, 2011.
Runners start the Honda LA Marathon in Los Angeles, on a stormy Sunday, March 20, 2011.
AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

A powerful storm hit Southern California on Sunday, the first day of spring, as amateurs ran in the Los Angeles Marathon, motorists navigated flooded streets in the San Fernando Valley, and CHP officers kept an eye on road and wind conditions along the I-5 in the Grapevine.

"It's a little late in the year for this kind of thing, but we'd consider it a powerful storm any time of year,'' said National Weather Service Meterologist Dave Danielson said.

Instead of heat cramps and dehydration, paramedics were dealing with scattered cases of hypothermia as 25,000 marathon runners encountered temperatures in the 50s, heavy rain and winds.

The rain was something new for the marathoner who won the race in record time: Markos Geneti of arid Ethiopia. ``We are not used to running in the rain,'' a dried-off Geneti said at the Santa Monica finish line.

Paramedic supervisors along the race said unusual numbers of amateur runners were dropping out early, cold and wet. They called for buses to be sent east from the finish line into Los Angeles, to pick up thousands of soaked and chilled runners.

Firefighters said the Los Angeles River was running heavily enough for engineers to begin holding water in the Sepulveda Basin. That forced the routine wet-weather closure of both Burbank Boulevard between Encino and Van Nuys, and Woodley Avenue near Lake Balboa.

Heavy rain in the Castaic Lake and Santa Clarita area was contributing to a rise in the Santa Clara River at the Victoria Avenue bridge between Ventura and Oxnard, said NWS meterologist Eric Boldt. There were no other threats of flooding in Los Angeles County, although flood warnings were issued for Lompoc, a city on the Central Coast 150 miles west of Los Angeles.

In the mountains, Interstate 5 over the Grapevine saw some snow sticking to the concrete at sunrise. But the slush was melted by heavy rain, driven by wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour.

``The Grapevine could have some problems tonight, but we expect the snow to stay above it,'' said Boldt.

At higher elevations, chains were required for vehicles using Big Pines Highway between the Antelope Valley and Wrightwood. Angeles Forest Highway was closed south of Palmdale in advance of the storm.

In the 24 hours ending at noon today, 2.37 inches of rain had fallen at Topanga Canyon. Other notable totals included 1.4 inches at Sylmar and 1.3 inches at Beverly Hills, although most reporting stations had less rainfall.