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California braces for series of rain storms

California braces for series of rain storms
Rain dampened the Southland on Monday morning at Vermont and Olympic near downtown Los Angeles. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Large swaths of California will be pounded by rain this week, offering a bit of relief as the state enters a sixth year of drought.

Southern California was hit by scattered showers — with some areas experiencing thunder, lightning and spells of heavier rain — as a storm moved through the region late Sunday and early Monday. A bigger storm is expected later in the week.

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The Bay Area, meanwhile, was drenched with more than an inch of rain Sunday and Monday with a heavier storm that could reach as far north as Sonoma County expected later in the week. Northern California saw heavy rains earlier this month as well.

The rain in the south is particularly notable given the dry conditions so far this year. In July, experts at the weather service confirmed that the last five years have been the driest ever documented in downtown L.A. since official record-keeping began almost 140 years ago.

The Southern California storm dumped as much as an inch of rain in the mountains and brought more than 2,100 lightning strikes to Orange and San Diego counties, the National Weather Service said.  Authorities in Laguna Beach and Newport Beach asked visitors to leave the coastline through early Monday afternoon as a safety precaution.

A lighting strike ignited an oak tree surrounded by light brush in San Bernardino County earlier Monday afternoon, authorities said, but the flames failed to spread.

"Fortunately mother nature is adding rain to the mix," officials at the San Bernardino National Forest tweeted.

In Los Angeles County, the Department of Public Health advised beachgoers to be careful swimming near storm drains, creeks and rivers because of potentially hazardous runoff through Thursday.

"There is the possibility bacterium or chemicals from debris and trash could contaminate the water near and around discharge sites, and individuals who enter the water in these areas could become ill," the county said in a statement.

Though only about a half-inch of rain fell along the coast and inland valleys, it's probably a preview of more significant rainfall to come later this week, said National Weather Service meteorologist Kathy Hoxsie.

That system could dump as much as  2 inches of rain across the region, and possibly more in the mountains.

"Any thunderstorms on recent burn areas could result in the first mud and debris flows of the season," the weather service wrote in an alert. "Flash flooding and ponding of water on roadways will also be possible, along with traffic and airport delays, and localized wind damage."

With the San Gabriel Valley foothills around Duarte, Bradbury and Azusa weakened from years of drought plus occasional brush fires, the area is prone to debris flows when rain comes down in short, heavy bursts, Hoxsie said.

Officials monitored the areas closely Sunday night and into Monday morning to see how the light rain would affect ground stability, Hoxsie added.

"It was a little touchy where some of those stronger cells were going but ultimately there were no issues there," she said. "We're definitely watching."

This week's storms are the first of the fall rains in Southern California, meaning that the roads could be slicker and the runoff worse than other times, the weather service cautioned.

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UPDATES:

5:05 p.m.: The story was updated with background on the California drought.

3:20 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about rain impacts and comments from the National Weather Service, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and other officials.

This article was originally published at 5:30 a.m. 

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