The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

February 28, 2014

Storm lashes California, but not a drought buster

LOS ANGELES — California was lashed Friday by heavy rains that the parched state so desperately needs, though with the soaking came familiar problems: traffic snarls, power outages and the threat of mudslides.

Even with rainfall totals exceeding 6 inches in some places by midday, the powerful Pacific storm did not put a major dent in a drought that is among the worst in recent California history.

The first waves of the storm drenched foothill communities east of Los Angeles that just weeks ago were menaced by a wildfire — and now faced potential mudslides. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for about 1,200 homes in the area. Small debris flows covered one street in Glendora, but no property damage occurred, police said.

Forecasters expected the storm to last through Saturday in California before trundling east into similarly rain-starved neighboring states. Phoenix was expecting its first noticeable precipitation in two months. The storm was projected to head east across the Rockies before petering out in the Northeast in several days.

The threat of mudslides will last at least through Saturday night. Tornadoes and water spouts were possible.

Rainfall totals in parts of California were impressive, especially in areas that typically don’t receive much, but not nearly enough to offer long-term relief from a long-running drought.

Downtown Los Angeles received two inches before a midday reprieve, but remained about 12 inches below normal rainfall for the season.

“We need several large storms and we just don’t see that on the horizon. This is a rogue storm,” National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Boldt said. “We will dry out next week.”

But for this rain, the service said, this would have been the driest December through February on record in Los Angeles.

Rain also fell in the central coast counties, the San Francisco Bay region and the Central Valley. Winter storm warnings were in effect in the Sierra Nevada.

About 15 inches of new snow had fallen by mid-day Friday at UC Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab located near the Sierra summit at 6,900 feet above sea level.

“All these (storm) events move us a little higher up, but we’re still well below average,” said researcher Randall Osterhuber. Earlier in the week, the state Department of Water Resources found that the Sierra snowpack had water content at only 24 percent of average for the date.

Farmer Ray Gene Veldhuis, who grows almonds, walnuts and pistachios and runs a 2,300-cow dairy in the Central Valley’s Merced County, welcomed the wet weather but knew it would not rescue California from drought.

“Hopefully, they keep coming,” Veldhuis said of the storms. “If not, we’ll deal with the hand we’re dealt.”

The storm did more than force Californians to reacquaint themselves with their rain gear.

Numerous traffic accidents occurred on slick or flooded roads across California, including one about 60 miles east of Los Angeles involving a big rig whose driver died after falling from a freeway overpass.

Two men and their dogs were rescued from the swift waters of the Los Angeles River. A few miles downriver, another man was pulled out and carried to safety. Hundreds of miles north in San Jose, firefighters also pulled a man from swollen Coyote Creek near a homeless encampment.

Power outages hit about 32,000 customers, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Southern California Edison said.

In Glendora, a city about 25 miles east of Los Angeles that sits beneath nearly 2,000 acres of steep mountain slopes stripped by fire in January, a muddy soup of debris began to fill catch basins. With the vegetation gone, little held the dirt and rock in place.

Homes were spared. Skip loaders scraped tons of mud off a road that funneled ooze, large rocks and other debris from a dam-like catch basin below the burn area down the steep roadway.

Andrew Geleris, 59, of Pomona, spent the night with his 87-year-old mother at her home near the catch basin. “I tried to talk her into evacuating yesterday ... but she’s just stubborn.”

Weeks ago, firefighters stopped the flames 15 feet from Dana Waldusky’s back fence.

“This time there’s nothing you can do. You can’t stop water,” said Waldusky.

Meteorologists posted flood watches for many other areas denuded by fires over the past two years, and also warned of potential coastal flooding.

The storm was good news for other Californians who didn’t have to worry about mudslides.

Kite-surfer Chris Strong braved pelting rain to take advantage of strong winds that gave him about an hour of fun over the pounding surf in the Sunset Beach enclave of Huntington Beach.

“I don’t get to kite here in these conditions very often — only a handful of times — but you put them in the memory bank,” he said.

Surf schools in San Diego cancelled lessons, and asked their customers to be patient.

“It’s unruly out there now but when the storm settles and it cleans up, there will be the best waves in the next few days,” said Rick Gehris of Surfari Surf School.

Storms this winter mostly began in the Pacific Northwest and followed a U-shaped path across the country. This latest storm originated farther south and is “taking a beeline across the middle of the country,” said warning meteorologist Greg Carbin at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

“It’s a different than other storms we’ve seen so far, but this is nothing all that unusual,” he said.

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