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Rain, Snow Fall Statewide; 2 Tornadoes Hit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At least two tornadoes touched down in California on Monday, and a number of other funnel clouds and waterspouts were reported from the Bay Area to the Southland. Up and down the state, there were thunderstorms, downpours and, in the mountains, heavy snows, making further inroads against the state’s drought.

Authorities issued an hourlong tornado warning for northwestern San Diego County after two waterspouts were seen off Oceanside. A four-county area in the San Joaquin Valley around Fresno was put under a full-scale tornado warning for two hours in the afternoon.

In Clovis, outside Fresno, hailstones, some as large as four inches in diameter, were reported to have covered the ground. Some crops were reported damaged, but the extent of the loss had not been determined.

The storm also had a positive side. Officials said the water content of the Sierra and Cascade snowpack had risen to 18.3 inches. That is 63% of normal for this time of year, said Frank Gehrke of the Department of Water Resources. Just last week, the water content--a key indicator of spring runoff--was 53% of normal.

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The forecast was for a continuation of the present storm pattern, with a succession of low-pressure fronts pushing through California for at least the next week. More heavy snow was predicted for mountain areas.

“Right now, we’re looking at this storm that we have to persist through Wednesday,” said Marty McKewon of WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times. “It will dry out a bit on Thursday and Friday, but there is a possibility of another system this weekend, not as potent as the present one.

“Maybe next Tuesday, a big ridge of high pressure will build to keep out the storms.”

Even though tornadoes in California seldom are as strong and destructive as those in the South or Midwest, the National Weather Service advised people to take shelter in a basement or interior room if they saw a twister coming.

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The first funnel cloud to touch the ground, thereby qualifying as a tornado, was reported in the Norwalk area of southeast Los Angeles County shortly after 8 a.m., following a night of occasionally heavy rain and an advancing cold front in the Los Angeles Basin. It broke windows, uprooted trees and cast loose a metal shed.

At about 2:20 p.m., a tornado was reported 100 miles away near the China Lake Naval Air Station, where a weather observer saw the telltale cloud moving northeast out of Kern County toward Inyo County. Residents in the small hamlet of Pearsonville on California 395 were alerted, but the tornado apparently dissipated harmlessly in the desert.

Elsewhere, funnel clouds or waterspouts were sighted in Fresno, offshore from Half Moon Bay in Northern California and near Oceanside and Camp Pendleton in San Diego County.

No injuries were reported in any of these episodes, but farmers in the Central Valley said they feared crop losses from the surprise hailstorm.

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“We have had damage throughout these storms,” said Pat Ricchiuti, co-owner of P&R; Farms in Clovis. “Today’s hail probably damaged grapes, peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots--anything that’s blossomed and budded. . . . And it’s still not over. We could still get some more.”

In Southern California, the rainstorm was linked to traffic accidents that killed two Aliso Viejo men on Laguna Canyon Road in Laguna Beach and a bicyclist in Inglewood.

Laguna Beach police said Peter S. Kim, 21, was driving his Nissan SX toward Laguna Beach about 6 a.m. from the San Diego Freeway when he lost control on a curve in heavy rain. He swerved into the opposite lane and was broadsided by a Volkswagen Fox driven by Francisco Tioleco, 37, Sgt. Don Barney said.

The impact was so great, Barney said, that Kim’s Nissan wrapped around Tioleco’s car and was severed in half, Barney said.

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“It appears they died on impact,” Barney said. “There were only wires holding the (Nissan) together. There were no witnesses, he said.

Barney said the accident was not alcohol-related.

The bicyclist in the Inglewood accident, who was hit by a tow truck, was not identified.

Half an inch of rain fell in Santa Ana, bringing the total for the season to 9.55 inches, compared to a norm for the date of 10.93 inches. But the storm was perhaps most notable for the two feet of snow that fell in much of the Sierra, the source for much of urban California’s water.

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Rain also was heavy in the state’s Central Valley, with Sacramento reporting 1.18 inches, a record for the date.

Other rainfall figures included 0.89 in Beaumont, 0.67 at Big Bear Lake, 1.10 in Monrovia, 2.06 in Montebello, 1.95 at Mt. Wilson, 1.24 in Newhall, 0.57 in San Diego and 0.85 in San Juan Capistrano.

Although March precipitation levels through most of the state have now exceeded twice the normal figures for the month, a federal water expert warned Monday that the drought is still not over.

“Basically, what they’ve done (in California) is run up quite a (water) deficit,” said Frank Richards of the National Weather Service in Washington. “You’re not going to pay that off with one or two major storms.” He said in the service’s annual spring report that dry conditions persist in California, Nevada, Utah, Oregon and North Dakota.

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Times staff writers Allison Samuels, Maria La Ganga, and Bernice Hirabayashi contributed to this report.

THE RAIN

24-hour total: 0.55 in.

Storm total : 0.55 in.

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Monthly total: 4.42 in.

Total for season: 9.55 in.

Last season to date: 7.53 in.

Normal season to date: 10.93 in.

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Figures were taken in Santa Ana by WeatherData Inc., which provides weather information to The Times.


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