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Storm Snarls Freeways : Frigid Blast From North to Last Till the Weekend

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A powerful winter storm that has already brought a taste of a white Christmas to Washington, Oregon and Northern California barreled into the Southland today, bringing with it icy rain, slick roads, snarled traffic and the promise of a soft layer of snow in the mountain ski resorts.

Rain began falling in Orange County about 10 a.m. and should last till at least midday Thursday, said meteorologist Mike Smith of WeatherData, which provides forecasting for The Times.

By 11 a.m., the California Highway Patrol began reporting numerous rain-related traffic collisions on the county’s freeway system.

A truck jackknifed on the northbound Orange Freeway, triggering a multi-car crash, CHP spokeswoman Linda Burrus said. And on each of the four connectors to the Orange-Riverside Freeway interchange, cars began colliding, closing down much of the road.

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It was not immediately known if there were any injuries, Burrus said.

“Basically, anywhere out there you are going to have problems,” Burrus said.

Accompanying the much-needed rainfall, temperatures in Orange County are expected to plummet, with highs for the next two days in the upper 40s and lower 50s. By the weekend, when the storm moves out of the area, temperatures are expected in the 60s.

Until then, Smith said, Southlanders can expect bone-chilling conditions. The storm swept into areas north of San Francisco, where snow is expected to fall all day and high temperatures are in the low 40s, Smith said. There is a possibility of hail showers developing in Orange County as the storm moves out of the area, Smith said.

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“It’s coming in and coming in fairly strong,” Smith said. He did not know if the rainstorm will put a dent in the five-year drought that has left much of the Southland parched and dry, but he said: “You will see some substantial amounts of moisture. Given the drought, the moisture will be welcome.”

In addition to rain, snowfall was expected in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains, with the snow level falling to about 2,000 feet, Smith said.

Smith said that, unlike other recent storms that started in the Gulf of Alaska and lost much of their power by the time they reached Southern California, today’s storm was formed off the coast of Oregon and moved swiftly southeastward.

The storm has given the region its first glimpse of real winter. Blizzard conditions are expected for the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County, Smith said.

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“They are going to get very heavy snow and very high winds,” Smith said.

In Seattle, where the storm first hit landfall, temperatures dropped to about 21 degrees, and the windchill factor there dropped to 15 below zero.

“It’s going to remain very cold in the area for a while,” Smith said.

Smith said long-range forecasts for Christmas Day call for a slight chance of rain and cool temperatures.

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