A tropical storm system complete with thunder, lightning and hailstones barged through Southern California, knocking out electric power to more than 430,000 customers, sparking several small fires, delaying some airline flights and tearing up a mobile home park with what may--or may not--have been a tornado.
Flash-flood watches were in effect Saturday for parts of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, but no actual flooding was reported and the National Weather Service said most of the trouble should be over by today.
The problem, forecasters explained, was an upper-level Pacific front that combined with moist and unstable air to produce thunder, lightning, and surprisingly small amounts of rain from the beaches to the deserts.
Saturday afternoon weather maps and satellite pictures, however, showed the system moving northeast out of the area, and forecasts called for some cloudiness again this morning, followed by afternoon sunshine and warmer temperatures.
High temperature at Los Angeles Civic Center Saturday was 72 degrees--17 degrees cooler than Friday's high--and relative humidity ranged from a sopping 98% overnight to a damp 68% by late afternoon.
Rainfall amounts, however, were mostly measured in hundredths of an inch, though there were exceptions such as Monrovia, where .42 of an inch was recorded and San Gabriel, where the storm left .38 of an inch.
Later in the day, 1/2-inch hailstones fell at Pine Mountain, in Kern County, and California 166 was reported flooded near Interstate 5 in the same area.
Meteorologists said this was because the system moved in so swiftly, and kept moving.
One of its first victims was a mobile home park near Lancaster. Residents of the area and National Weather Service spokeswoman Betty Reo said it was "a small tornado," which is rare in Southern California. But other meteorologists were not so sure, saying that much the same kind of damage could be done by high winds of the non-tornadic variety.
Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Bill Glancy said he didn't know--or care--which it was.
"Either way, it was impressive," he said. "I've never seen anything like it: Two-by-fours impaled into the sides and roofs of mobile homes. We were real lucky no one was hurt."
Glancy said no one appeared to have suffered even minor cuts or bruises, but five mobile homes were damaged along Avenue I on the eastern side of Lancaster, several utility poles were uprooted and others broken in half, and about 30,000 Southern California Edison customers in the area were without power for several hours.
Lightning Set Fires
No other reports of major wind damage were received, but lightning set a series of fires in isolated desert and mountain areas, all of which were controlled without major damage to structures.
The lightning also caused power surges that resulted in numerous false alarms.
And then the front hit Los Angeles.
Department of Water and Power spokeswoman Sandra Tanaka said about 30,000 customers were without power in various parts of the city as lightning strikes knocked out transformers and damaged utility lines.
One of those lines had provided power to General Telephone's computer center near Marina del Rey. General Telephone spokesman Paul Klein said the computer center, which handles some requests for information and operator-assisted calls, went on emergency power during the night, and failed entirely about 30 minutes after noon on Saturday.
"We had intermittent problems with directory assistance and similar functions until we were able to get the emergency power system working again about mid-afternoon," Klein said.
Earlier, a partial power failure had shut down the rigs used to transfer jet fuel to airliners at Los Angeles International Airport, causing delays in several flights, and the baggage carrousel system was knocked out at Bradley International Terminal.
One lightning strike set fire to a natural gas line on the roof of the Southern California Edison Co. plant in Redondo Beach. That fire was quickly extinguished, but other strikes cut power to more than 400,000 other Edison customers since 5 p.m. Friday.
Edison spokesman David Barron said most of the blackouts were brief--one that struck about 10,000 homes in the Long Beach area lasted less than 10 seconds--but a few thousand customers in Santa Monica, Antelope Valley, Valencia and Thousand Oaks remained without power for more than 12 hours.
By late afternoon Saturday, a small craft advisory was in effect for high waves near the entrance to Channel Islands Marina at Oxnard, and scattered thundershowers were reported from the Mojave to the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains and as far north as Inyo.