First of 3 Storms Spreads Showers : Heavier Rains to Come Later

Times Staff Writers

Fitful showers dampened Orange County on Monday, and the National Weather Service said the light rain was a harbinger of bigger and wetter storms poised to hit Southern California in the next few days.

The forecasters said there is only a 10% chance of rain today, but by Wednesday the storm fronts will have advanced and the odds for more rain should go up to 40%.

While the light showers on Monday did little more than moisten the streets in many areas, traffic nonetheless became clogged in several parts of Orange County. A rash of minor accidents took place, the California Highway Patrol reported.

Traffic Slowed

By late afternoon, California Highway Patrol dispatch officer Craig Speck reported no serious accidents but added, "I would venture to say that the rain always slows things down and causes some accidents."

Ken Daily, CHP public information officer in San Juan Capistrano, said south Orange County had experienced "just the usual fender-benders" that take place during rains.

"We've had our share of accidents today," dispatcher Janelle Clem, working in the CHP's Orange County headquarters in Santa Ana, said Monday night.

"It seems we've been busy all day long," Clem said. "The Garden Grove Freeway--I'd say there's been at least five or six accidents on it since 2 o'clock. Nothing really serious but vehicles sliding off the side of the road. We've had at least one on every freeway today. On the Riverside Freeway, between State College and Harbor boulevards in Anaheim, we've gone to at least three accidents up there. Luckily, they're all non-injuries or minor injuries, so that's been really good."

Rain was reported throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties.

By 4 p.m., the National Weather Service said, .59 of an inch had fallen at Santa Barbara, .40 of an inch at Santa Catalina, .16 at Woodland Hills, .11 at Santa Ana, .07 at Long Beach and .05 at Santa Monica, Palomar Mountain and Riverside.

While the light rain lessened chances for more brush fires in the area, a blaze that had destroyed four homes in the Lake Elsinore area already had been brought under control by the time the showers began.

Firefighters Sent Home

The last of several hundred firefighers who worked through the weekend fighting the blaze in the Cleveland National Forest were sent home at 6 p.m. Monday, the California Department of Forestry said.

"It kind of sprinkled out there a little bit, but the fire was mostly out," said Capt. Brenda Seabert, public affairs officer for the state Department of Forestry.

The cause of the fire, which broke out Saturday morning near the shore of Lake Elsinore in Riverside County, had still not been determined Monday. Besides destroying four homes, the blaze gutted a garage and consumed brush over 284 acres.

By Monday night, scattered showers were reported on a line from the San Bernardino Mountains to Daggett and Needles.

Weather experts said the rain was caused by a shift in winds. "Upper-level winds over the ocean have evidently become more westerly," said Cary Schudy, meteorologist-spokesman for Earth Environment Service, a private weather service based in San Francisco.

"Previously, this part of the coast was guarded by a ridge of high pressure stretching from the Pacific to the Great Basin. But things changed radically over the weekend, and now you've got an almost perpendicular system, north-and-south along the coast from Vancouver Island to Point Conception.

"It's a weak system and moving rapidly eastward, but the one following it should contain quite a bit more rain, and there's a third storm lined up to take its turn by the end of the week."

More Rain

Schudy said the chance of more rain from Monday's system should drop to about 10% overnight in the Los Angeles area, with skies clearing to partial cloudiness this afternoon. But more clouds were scheduled for arrival tonight with the chances of rain rising to 40% Wednesday morning.

The weather service agreed, adding a prediction of scattered showers in parts of the Los Angeles Basin tonight, snow in the mountains above 7,000 feet and more rain in the high desert Wednesday.

The high temperature at Santa Ana on Monday reached 75 degrees, with a coastal temperature of 70 degrees recorded in Newport Beach.

Cooler temperatures in the 60s were forecast for today.

And the South Coast Air Quality Management District said the cooler weather and precipitation should also assure a day or so of relatively clear air and good breathing for the entire Los Angeles Basin.

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