Rain snarls LA traffic, prompts beach advisories

Commuters were warned Thursday of slick roads as light but steady rain was expected in parts of greater Los Angeles. Up to a half-inch could fall in some areas.
Commuters were warned Thursday of slick roads as light but steady rain was expected in parts of greater Los Angeles. Up to a half-inch could fall in some areas.
Photograph by Julian Povey / Flickr

A storm passing over Southern California triggered several accidents along major freeways during the morning commute and prompted public health officials to issue beach advisories.

California Highway Patrol Officer Siara Lund told KPCC that her patrol officers in the CHP’s jurisdiction reported 69 collisions between 6–10 a.m. Thursday. The number was almost twice as high as the previous week’s number due to rain.

“People think that rain causes the collisions, [but] it’s the drivers,” Lund said. “People don’t adjust their driving for the rain.” 

By keeping more distance between themselves and cars around them, drivers can reduce the likelihood of an accident in the rain, she said.

In one of the biggest incidents of the day, a truck carrying 36,000 pounds of dry cement overturned on the 5 Freeway's southbound connector to the northbound 14, according to Micole Alfaro, a spokesman for Caltrans. Two truck lanes were closed there while crews responded, but trucks still had access to general traffic lanes.

The California Highway Patrol said rain was believed to be a factor in a separate pre-dawn incident involving a big rig and a small car on State Route 60 in Pomona, according to the Associated Press. No injuries were reported in that crash.

Another incident involving a truck temporarily tied up traffic on the northbound 5 at Buena Vista, Alfaro said.

And on the westbound 210 at Wheatland, a vehicle went over the side, forcing the closure of the two right lanes.

"Overall the system looks pretty good, and the rain seems to be letting up in most places," Alfaro said.

Rush hour could be impacted

Alfaro advised motorists to slow down during the rain and drive safely.

"Especially look out for our maintenance crews while they're out there clearing up areas trying to alleviate traffic. It would be much appreciated," Alfaro said.

Officer Juan Galvan, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, echoed those concerns. He said driving too fast and being distracted cause accidents to increase with rainy weather.

“Typically on rain days here in L.A., our calls usually double, if not triple, depending on the amount of commuters out there,” he said. He noted that traffic is still relatively light due to the New Year.

Rain expected to continue falling steadily until the afternoon and could impact the rush hour commute home.

Most of the L.A. area saw between a quarter-inch and an inch of rain with this latest system.

A new storm coming our way will bring about the same amount of rain but over a much shorter period, said Scott Sukup, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. 

"This past one was a light steady rain that occurred over a 24-hour period, and the one that's coming in for Monday will be moderate to heavy rain in a short amount of time," Sukup told KPCC.

Officials monitoring burn areas for flooding 

With an especially wet December and more storms on tap for January, precipitation can be especially worrisome for recent burn areas, which are more susceptible to mud and debris flows.

In the city of Duarte, which was affected by the recent Fish Fire that burned an estimated 5,400 acres, officials have been preparing for severe weather conditions by installing k-rails to deter debris and have delivered more than 2,500 sandbags to residents.

"You know, the difficulty is there's just no vegetation to absorb the rainfall, so the ground gets super wet, saturated. And when that layer of mud and rock and debris gets wet enough, it just slides below it," said Duarte City Manager Darrell George.

George told KPCC that he's taken some cues from the city of Glendora, which is in the third year of post-fire recovery.

The L.A. County Public Health Department has meanwhile warned residents to be careful of swimming, surfing and playing in ocean water around discharging storm drains, creeks and rivers. Fresh rain tends to flush bacteria, chemicals, debris and trash from city streets out into the ocean.

The health department issued an advisory specifically for areas around discharge sites, and not for beaches generally. The advisory will be in effect through at least Sunday morning and could be extended because of the next storm.

Temperatures will be cold Thursday night, from the low 50s down to the mid-40s in the valleys.

This story has been updated.