The Heat Is Online

Southern California Inundated by Storms, Avalanches

Storms close many roadways across California

Experts warn the risk of mudslides has not eased

 

The Associated Press, Jan. 28, 2008

 

LOS ANGELES - Several major roadways across the state were closed early Monday after the latest in a week's worth of storms, and experts warned that the risk of mudslides has not eased even as wet weather begins moving out of the region.

 

Snow forced the closure of the main artery between Sacramento and Reno, Nev., California Department of Transportation said Sunday night. Eastbound Interstate 80 was closed at Colfax about 50 miles northeast of Sacramento, and westbound traffic was being held at the Nevada state line.

 

Officials also closed a nearly 130-mile stretch of Interstate 395, from just north of Bishop to the Nevada line.

 

Highway 92 was reopened Sunday after being shut down for a few hours between Skyline Boulevard and Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco after the storms knocked down trees and power lines.

 

Experts say hillsides in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties charred by last year's wildfires remain at risk for landslides.

 

Near San Diego, mud and minor rockslides prompted California Highway Patrol officials to shut Route 78 through a burn area between Ramona and Escondido.

 

5.3 inches of rain in downtown LA

 

Downtown Los Angeles recorded 5.3 inches of rain in the past seven days, National Weather Service forecaster Ryan Kitrell said.

 

Additional snowfall accumulations of 3 to 6 inches was expected for the mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura counties before precipitation tails off by mid-morning Monday as a clearing trend takes hold.

 

The wet weather has pushed the seasonal total for Los Angeles to more than 10 inches _ well ahead of the norm of 6.5 inches for this time of year.

 

Sue Cannon of the U.S. Geological Survey's landslide hazards program said the ground has not been able to dry out because of the back-to-back storms.

 

"It still is a very hazardous situation," she said.

 

More than 7,000 customers were without power in southern California on Sunday evening, and the utilities said most of the outages were weather-related. Department of Water and Power officials said about 3,600 Los Angeles customers were in the dark, most of them in North Hollywood.

 

NBA game delayed

 

In downtown Los Angeles, Sunday's basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the L.A. Lakers was delayed 12 minutes after wet rain gear left by roofing company workers on a catwalk led to a steady flow of water on to the Staples Center court.

 

Arena spokesman Michael Roth said a roofing company inspected the roof Sunday morning and when the inspectors were finished, they removed their rain gear and left it along with some equipment on a catwalk over the north basket. The leak came from the clothing and equipment through slats in the catwalk.

 

The Santa Anita race track in Arcadia, meanwhile, canceled horse races for the sixth day this month because of wet conditions on the synthetic track.

 

About 2,700 Pacific Gas and Electric customers in the Bay Area still lacked power Sunday due to earlier storms, a spokesman for the utility said.

 

To avoid overflow, the flood gates at the Big Tujunga Dam in the San Gabriel Mountains were opened Sunday, releasing 500 cubic feet of water a second.

 

An estimated 4,000 people in eastern Washington and northern Idaho were without electricity because of the storms, which left more than a foot of new snow in some areas and was expected to bring more in the coming days.

 

Three skiers were killed Friday by a trio of avalanches that swept through canyons outside the trails of Mountain High ski resort at Wrightwood, northeast of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Mountains.

At least two traffic fatalities were believed linked to the storm. One person was killed and two critically injured Sunday afternoon on rain-soaked Pacific Coast Highway near Santa Cruz. On Saturday night, a 21-year-old man died after his truck flipped over onto rain-slicked Interstate 10 in the Southern California desert city of Indio.

 

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

 

More storms to batter Southland

Avalanches kill two skiers in Wrightwood. Officials are on guard for mudslides, floods

 

Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2008

The wave of storms battering Southern California began to take its toll Friday, causing avalanches that killed two skiers in Wrightwood, flooding roads and threatening additional damage as more rain approaches.

The new round of storms was expected to begin about 6 tonight, bringing up to 5 inches of rain to Los Angeles County, up to 3 inches in Orange County and up to 8 inches in Riverside and San Bernardino counties by Monday morning.

"The ground is already saturated with water, so this new rainfall will just hit the ground and start running," said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

In two backcountry avalanches Friday, snow tore loose from slopes near the Mountain High ski resort in the San Gabriel Mountains. One avalanche killed Michael McKay, 23, an off-duty member of the resort's ski patrol.

In the second avalanche, skier Darren Coffey, 33, also a veteran ski patrol member, was found in grave condition halfway up the slope late Friday evening after an intensive search. Coffee was declared dead at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center early Saturday. The cause of death was not immediately known, nor was Coffee's hometown.

Rescue crews were also searching for two other missing skiers who may have been trapped in yet another avalanche.

In each case, the victims were skiing off-trail, authorities said.

The first incident occurred at noon, when three skiers were caught in an avalanche in Government Canyon just outside the resort, which is near Wrightwood.

"Two of the people walked, but the man was still trapped and it took L.A. County search and rescue and ski patrol to find him," said Tim Wessel, a division chief for the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Karl Kapuscinski, president of Mountain High, said the skier was trapped in 10 to 12 feet of snow.

Rescuers, guided by his avalanche beacon, worked for an hour to recover him and get him down the mountain. McKay was pronounced dead at Desert Valley Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Jana Retes said.

Kapuscinski said McKay and his companions were experienced skiers "who know what they are doing. They know the risks in those areas." He said McKay was "a well-liked member of the Mountain High family. It is pretty tough for everyone."

About 90 minutes after the first avalanche, a second at Sawmill Canyon, just outside the resort, trapped three more skiers, he said. "The first walked out immediately. The second was found sometime later."

About 30 rescue workers used 15- to 20-foot poles to probe the snow for Coffey. The rescuers worked gingerly because of the great risk of another avalanche.

Kapuscinski said the resort received 3 feet of snow in the last two days, adding to "a couple of feet" already on the ground. "We don't see these conditions in Southern California," he said.

Pete Olson, president of Mt. Baldy Ski Resorts on the south side of the San Gabriel Mountains, called avalanches in the local mountains "a freak occurrence."

"We depend on snow-making, and snow-making doesn't lead to avalanches," Olson said. "It usually doesn't snow enough to make anything happen up here."

There have been exceptions over the last decade. Huge snows fell in 2004-'05 but did not create avalanche conditions. The last time snowfall matched this year's levels was in the 1997-'98 El Niño year.

The 2 feet of snow that fell on Mt. Baldy on Thursday and Friday caught residents by surprise.

"This was a very large event over a small period of time," Olson said.

He added that the Mt. Baldy resort was closed for the better part of Friday morning as the ski patrol stabilized the slopes. The resort is keeping the steepest slopes closed, he said, "just to be safe."

To the west, a 40-mile stretch of the 5 Freeway over the Tejon Pass reopened Friday after a two-day closure that stranded hundreds of drivers. With the new storm coming, traffic on the artery could be stopped cold again.

"If it becomes snowy or icy, they'll close down the freeway at once," California Highway Patrol Officer Miguel Luevano said.

In Malibu, geologist Kevin Schmidt with the U.S. Geological Survey said the ground that burned during the Corral Canyon fire was becoming increasingly prone to erosion.

"You can see the hillsides get incrementally destabilized," Schmidt said. If it rains much more than half an inch an hour tonight, those hillsides could give way, he added.

The storm -- cold air from the Gulf of Mexico picking up moisture from clouds over Mexico -- is also expected to pile 4 to 10 inches of additional snow on local mountains above 5,000 feet, areas that already have several feet of snow on the ground.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for tonight through Sunday evening in local mountains to alert residents to the potential for more heavy snow and strong winds.

Rangers in Griffith Park and sheriff's deputies in Orange County were monitoring the storm's progress late Friday, ready to call in extra equipment and staff at the first sign of flooding or mudslides.

Orange County authorities called for a voluntary evacuation today of Santiago, Modjeska, Silverado, Williams and Harding canyons and a mandatory evacuation of large animals in those areas.

Griffith Park rangers are patrolling 24 hours a day and saw some minor flooding and mudslides Friday, but closed only a few roads to traffic.

They said one reason the park, including its burned areas, has held up well so far is because of hydromulch dropped by helicopters last year on about 400 acres, which amounts to about half of the park's burned acreage.

Rangers expected to keep the park open today but warned that with the soil nearly saturated, tonight's storm could cause major mudslides and closures.

"Once we reach saturation, everything that comes through will drain away very quickly," even areas coated with hydromulch, Chief Ranger Albert Torres said. He added that tonight's storm has the potential to deliver the most winter rainfall the park has received in three years.

On Friday, park officials, citing debris flows and flooding on some roads, closed Zoo Drive to Griffith Park Drive, outbound Griffith Park Drive, Crystal Springs Drive and the bird sanctuary.

Many parts of the region have experienced more rain in the last four days than in all of last year, which was the driest on record.

Downtown Los Angeles received 3.32 inches of rain while some hillside and valley areas got much more.

On Friday, a Metrolink train carrying 400 passengers from Ventura ran into a slide of mud and rocks at 7:30 a.m. while en route from Chatsworth to the Simi Valley station, Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said.

No one was injured, but the train's brake lines and shock absorbers were damaged, she said.

The incident delayed about 2,000 passengers for up to 2 1/2 hours.

Friday's downpours also caused mudslides into two Woodland Hills residences and left water several feet deep on a section of Rossmore Avenue between 3rd Street and Beverly Boulevard.

Although many forecasters say tonight's storm will be the biggest of the season, they expect it to be followed by dry spells that will leave the region with less than average rainfall by April 1.

As intense as tonight's rain is expected to be, it likely won't compare to big storms of the past, such as the February 2005 storm that dumped more than 11 inches on downtown Los Angeles, said Bill Patzert, a climatologist with the Jet Propulsion Lab in La Cañada Flintridge. "This is serious for us, but this is nowhere near record-breaking," he said.

On the positive side, the storm's snows will add to the mountain snowpacks that provide much of Southern California's water.

"We're accumulating the snowpacks as opposed to just having rain, and so far they've been relatively manageable," said Frank Gehrke, coordinator of the California Department of Water Resources snow surveys program.

Staff at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said the snowpack is about 10% above normal for this time of year and will probably boost local reserves.

"We will be working to make sure we capture as much of the rain and river flows as we can so that we cannot only maintain but increase our reserves," said Debra Man, chief executive officer and assistant general manager of the water district.

 

 

More storms to batter Southland

Avalanches kill two skiers in Wrightwood. Officials are on guard for mudslides, floods

 

Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2008

The wave of storms battering Southern California began to take its toll Friday, causing avalanches that killed two skiers in Wrightwood, flooding roads and threatening additional damage as more rain approaches.

The new round of storms was expected to begin about 6 tonight, bringing up to 5 inches of rain to Los Angeles County, up to 3 inches in Orange County and up to 8 inches in Riverside and San Bernardino counties by Monday morning.

"The ground is already saturated with water, so this new rainfall will just hit the ground and start running," said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

In two backcountry avalanches Friday, snow tore loose from slopes near the Mountain High ski resort in the San Gabriel Mountains. One avalanche killed Michael McKay, 23, an off-duty member of the resort's ski patrol.

In the second avalanche, skier Darren Coffey, 33, also a veteran ski patrol member, was found in grave condition halfway up the slope late Friday evening after an intensive search. Coffee was declared dead at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center early Saturday. The cause of death was not immediately known, nor was Coffee's hometown.

Rescue crews were also searching for two other missing skiers who may have been trapped in yet another avalanche.

In each case, the victims were skiing off-trail, authorities said.

The first incident occurred at noon, when three skiers were caught in an avalanche in Government Canyon just outside the resort, which is near Wrightwood.

"Two of the people walked, but the man was still trapped and it took L.A. County search and rescue and ski patrol to find him," said Tim Wessel, a division chief for the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Karl Kapuscinski, president of Mountain High, said the skier was trapped in 10 to 12 feet of snow.

Rescuers, guided by his avalanche beacon, worked for an hour to recover him and get him down the mountain. McKay was pronounced dead at Desert Valley Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Jana Retes said.

Kapuscinski said McKay and his companions were experienced skiers "who know what they are doing. They know the risks in those areas." He said McKay was "a well-liked member of the Mountain High family. It is pretty tough for everyone."

About 90 minutes after the first avalanche, a second at Sawmill Canyon, just outside the resort, trapped three more skiers, he said. "The first walked out immediately. The second was found sometime later."

About 30 rescue workers used 15- to 20-foot poles to probe the snow for Coffey. The rescuers worked gingerly because of the great risk of another avalanche.

Kapuscinski said the resort received 3 feet of snow in the last two days, adding to "a couple of feet" already on the ground. "We don't see these conditions in Southern California," he said.

Pete Olson, president of Mt. Baldy Ski Resorts on the south side of the San Gabriel Mountains, called avalanches in the local mountains "a freak occurrence."

"We depend on snow-making, and snow-making doesn't lead to avalanches," Olson said. "It usually doesn't snow enough to make anything happen up here."

There have been exceptions over the last decade. Huge snows fell in 2004-'05 but did not create avalanche conditions. The last time snowfall matched this year's levels was in the 1997-'98 El Niño year.

The 2 feet of snow that fell on Mt. Baldy on Thursday and Friday caught residents by surprise.

"This was a very large event over a small period of time," Olson said.

He added that the Mt. Baldy resort was closed for the better part of Friday morning as the ski patrol stabilized the slopes. The resort is keeping the steepest slopes closed, he said, "just to be safe."

To the west, a 40-mile stretch of the 5 Freeway over the Tejon Pass reopened Friday after a two-day closure that stranded hundreds of drivers. With the new storm coming, traffic on the artery could be stopped cold again.

"If it becomes snowy or icy, they'll close down the freeway at once," California Highway Patrol Officer Miguel Luevano said.

In Malibu, geologist Kevin Schmidt with the U.S. Geological Survey said the ground that burned during the Corral Canyon fire was becoming increasingly prone to erosion.

"You can see the hillsides get incrementally destabilized," Schmidt said. If it rains much more than half an inch an hour tonight, those hillsides could give way, he added.

The storm -- cold air from the Gulf of Mexico picking up moisture from clouds over Mexico -- is also expected to pile 4 to 10 inches of additional snow on local mountains above 5,000 feet, areas that already have several feet of snow on the ground.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for tonight through Sunday evening in local mountains to alert residents to the potential for more heavy snow and strong winds.

Rangers in Griffith Park and sheriff's deputies in Orange County were monitoring the storm's progress late Friday, ready to call in extra equipment and staff at the first sign of flooding or mudslides.

Orange County authorities called for a voluntary evacuation today of Santiago, Modjeska, Silverado, Williams and Harding canyons and a mandatory evacuation of large animals in those areas.

Griffith Park rangers are patrolling 24 hours a day and saw some minor flooding and mudslides Friday, but closed only a few roads to traffic.

They said one reason the park, including its burned areas, has held up well so far is because of hydromulch dropped by helicopters last year on about 400 acres, which amounts to about half of the park's burned acreage.

Rangers expected to keep the park open today but warned that with the soil nearly saturated, tonight's storm could cause major mudslides and closures.

"Once we reach saturation, everything that comes through will drain away very quickly," even areas coated with hydromulch, Chief Ranger Albert Torres said. He added that tonight's storm has the potential to deliver the most winter rainfall the park has received in three years.

On Friday, park officials, citing debris flows and flooding on some roads, closed Zoo Drive to Griffith Park Drive, outbound Griffith Park Drive, Crystal Springs Drive and the bird sanctuary.

Many parts of the region have experienced more rain in the last four days than in all of last year, which was the driest on record.

Downtown Los Angeles received 3.32 inches of rain while some hillside and valley areas got much more.

On Friday, a Metrolink train carrying 400 passengers from Ventura ran into a slide of mud and rocks at 7:30 a.m. while en route from Chatsworth to the Simi Valley station, Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said.

No one was injured, but the train's brake lines and shock absorbers were damaged, she said.

The incident delayed about 2,000 passengers for up to 2 1/2 hours.

Friday's downpours also caused mudslides into two Woodland Hills residences and left water several feet deep on a section of Rossmore Avenue between 3rd Street and Beverly Boulevard.

Although many forecasters say tonight's storm will be the biggest of the season, they expect it to be followed by dry spells that will leave the region with less than average rainfall by April 1.

As intense as tonight's rain is expected to be, it likely won't compare to big storms of the past, such as the February 2005 storm that dumped more than 11 inches on downtown Los Angeles, said Bill Patzert, a climatologist with the Jet Propulsion Lab in La Cañada Flintridge. "This is serious for us, but this is nowhere near record-breaking," he said.

On the positive side, the storm's snows will add to the mountain snowpacks that provide much of Southern California's water.

"We're accumulating the snowpacks as opposed to just having rain, and so far they've been relatively manageable," said Frank Gehrke, coordinator of the California Department of Water Resources snow surveys program.

Staff at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California said the snowpack is about 10% above normal for this time of year and will probably boost local reserves.

"We will be working to make sure we capture as much of the rain and river flows as we can so that we cannot only maintain but increase our reserves," said Debra Man, chief executive officer and assistant general manager of the water district.