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Plane Crash Kills 4 : Intense Arctic Storm Hits With Gale Winds

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Times Staff Writer

A fast-moving Arctic storm hit Southern California with a combination of wind, rain, snow and hail Monday, touching off an epidemic of gale warnings and travelers’ advisories throughout the area--and perhaps contributing to an airplane crash that claimed four lives near Anza.

Riverside County officials said a pilot and three passengers were killed when their light airplane crashed in an orchard near the desert community of Anza, shortly after takeoff from Lake Riverside Airport.

A Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman said identities of the dead will not be disclosed until families can be notified. The cause of the crash was under investigation, but a spokesman for the Riverside County Fire Department said the plane might have encountered one of the snow squalls that blew through the area during the day.

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That snow had arrived much earlier than predicted.

Meteorologists said they had seen the storm making its way south from Canada for several days, but had not expected it to arrive in force until Monday night or early this morning.

“But it speeded up on us suddenly,” said Cary Schudy, meteorologist-spokesman for Earth Environment Service, a private forecasting firm based in San Francisco, “and everything started happening half a day or more before it was supposed to.”

Gale Warnings

There was wind: By early afternoon, gale warnings were in effect for inner and outer coastal waters from Point Conception to the Mexican border, warning of northwest winds to 45 knots and seven-foot seas. Ashore, west to northwest winds gusting to 40 m.p.h. and above were reported in mountain passes and in the high desert. Southern California Edison Co. said about 10,000 high desert customers’ electric power was out for a time due to the wind, and another 5,000 outages were reported in the Los Angeles area. All were reconnected by late evening.

There was rain: Central Los Angeles was dry--and even rather sunny--for most of the day, but brief rainstorms were reported from Long Beach, where just .01 of an inch of rain fell during the day, to Cuyamaca Park, where .40 was on the ground by 4 p.m. Mountain locations such as Big Bear (.38) and Julian (.30) got the lion’s share, while coastal areas such as Torrance (.02) and Newport Beach (.12) had lesser amounts.

There was snow: Travelers’ advisories warning of hazardous visibility due to snow and blowing dust were in effect from the Tehachapi Mountains of Kern County to the high desert, and forecasters said today should see more of the same, with the snow level descending to 2,000 feet, or below, overnight.

“You could even see a snowflake or two in the higher parts of the San Fernando Valley or San Gabriel Valley this time,” Schudy said.

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And there was hail: A thunderstorm near San Diego produced hailstones the size of lentils at Miramar Naval Air Station and in San Diego Monday morning. Monday night hailstones about the size of peas fell for approximately two minutes in Irvine.

“This is an intense storm in the upper atmosphere,” Schudy said. “The air is Arctic and quite unstable at upper levels. Tuesday should see the worst of it, and by Wednesday or so things should be getting back to normal, with the skies sunny--and just a bit windy, perhaps--by Thursday.”

The first rain in Newport Beach Monday fell about 8:30 a.m., and it had ended by noon, said a deputy with the Newport Beach Harbor Patrol station of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. She said the high temperature in Newport was 61 degrees, after an overnight low of 46 degrees.

Showers Hit Beaches

Showers pelted other beach areas to the south.

Farther inland in Orange County, the reported rainfall was even less: .07 of an inch fell in Santa Ana. The high temperature there Monday was 58 degrees, a Santa Ana Fire Department spokeswoman said, and the low was 42 degrees.

“We’ve been (getting winds) gusting up to 45 m.p.h.,” the Harbor Patrol deputy said, “but it’s been pretty quiet.”

Weather conditions were rugged enough Monday to be a headache for some motorists. One trucker trying to slow down for traffic on the rain-slickened San Diego Freeway in Costa Mesa jackknifed north of the Harbor Boulevard off-ramp, the California Highway Patrol reported. That mishap, which occurred about 12:30 p.m., blocked two northbound lanes of traffic until 3 p.m. However, CHP officers said no injuries were reported.

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Times staff writer Nancy Wride contributed to this story.

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