Saturday, January 05, 2008


(CNN) -- Flash floods, mudslides and landslides were reported across Southern California on Saturday as a dangerous winter storm pummeled much of the Golden State.


A man seeks protection Friday from wind and rain behind a small umbrella in San Francisco.

High winds, flooding and heavy rain plagued many areas around Los Angeles and Ventura counties, according to the National Weather Service.

The flooding comes a day after winds gusted to 163 mph west of Tahoe City, the weather service said.

Authorities feared heavy rainfall might trigger mudslides on hillsides scorched bare by wildfires last year.

The system packed the strength of a Category 4 hurricane, which can inflict extreme damage.

Record rainfalls of 1.75 inches at Bob Hope Airport, .7 inches at Palmdale and 1.63 inches at Paso Robles were reported Friday.

Although rain is expected to taper off, another round is possible later Saturday and into Sunday.

To the north, around 600,000 electricity customers in San Francisco's Bay Area to the Central Valley were without power Saturday, according to The Associated Press, down from the 1.5 million without power reported on Friday.

Officials in Orange County advised people living in three canyons devastated by the flames to leave Friday, the AP reported.

"It's too late once the rain starts. These areas are extremely vulnerable. You're risking your life and your family's life fundamentally" by staying, said Steve Sellers of the governor's Office of Emergency Services. Video Watch a report about 'killer slides' »

The storm could also dump more than 10 feet of snow on California mountains by Sunday. Blizzard warnings were in effect for mountainous areas.

Towercams looking at Donner Pass, just outside Truckee at more than 7,000 feet elevation, already showed heavy snow.

The weather prompted some ski resorts to close, The Associated Press reported.

"It's a whiteout here," said Neil Erasmus, general manager of Ice Lake Lodge and Rainbow Lodge in Soda Springs. "We're plowing and grooming, plowing and grooming to keep us from being buried in."

The bad weather is part of three storms that "will be easily the strongest systems to impact the West Coast this winter season and quite possibly the last few years," the National Weather Service said on its Web site. Photo See photos of the powerful storm »

The California Highway Patrol reported 196 crashes in the state since early Friday, according to CNN affiliate KCRA.

"If you don't have to go out this weekend, it might be a nice weekend to stay at home after the holidays," said Frank McCarton, chief deputy director of the state Office of Emergency Services. Video Watch as snow begins to blanket Truckee »

California transportation officials shut down the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge in the San Francisco area during Friday morning's commute when gusty winds blew over big rigs on the upper and lower decks of the bridge, CNN affiliate KTVU reported.

Winds in the nearby Lucas Valley registered 83 mph, KTVU reported. The station also said the high winds forced 35 flights to be canceled at San Francisco International Airport, where wind was gusting at more than 60 mph.

The high winds and heavy rain extended inland to the Sacramento area.

"We don't have any injuries, just a lot of trees into homes and things like that," said Capt. Jim Doucette of the Sacramento Fire Department. Traffic accidents were up as well, he said.

In Mammoth Lakes in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, people stocked up on supplies, waiting more than an hour in line at the grocery store, resident Barbara Sholle told The Associated Press. Video Watch how California gets ready for a blizzard »

Even in lower elevations, gusts could reach 60 mph, the National Weather Service said. "Be alert for flying debris," the service warned. "Secure all doors and windows and stay indoors if possible."

In Kern County, forecasters said more rain could fall this weekend than fell in all of 2007, the county's driest year since 1961, CNN affiliate KERO reported.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the state Office of Emergency Services to prepare for the bad weather.


"The state is expecting a powerful series of storms that could produce blizzard conditions in the higher elevations of the Sierra, with wind gusts of more than 100 mph and 8 to 10 feet of snow forecast at above 7,000 feet," a news release from Schwarzenegger's office said.

In addition to the wind, rain and snow, the storm will bring high surf and coastal flooding, forecasters said. Ocean tides could swell to 30 feet, prompting the Coast Guard to warn boaters not to venture out of port, AP reported.

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